Having previously introduced tobacco waste recycling to Canadian and American consumers via twin Cigarette Brigade programs, TerraCycle, the New Jersey-headquartered “waste solution development” firm dedicated to dealing with “worthless and unsavory” recyclables, is now helping to bring cigarette butt recycling to a city-wide level in a new partnership with the beautiful city of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Tackling discarded cigarette butts, one of the most if not the most pervasive types of litter in the world, can be tricky given that people, whether full-time smokers or social smokers who occasionally enjoy a puff in the company of friends, who wouldn’t be caught dead littering normally are often very much guilty of nonchalantly flicking their spent butts to the curb or stomping them out on city sidewalks, tossing them aside in parking lots, throwing them out car windows, extinguishing them in the sand at the beach, and on and on. The prevalent line of thinking associated with this act: What am I going to do do? Pick it up and carry it around in my pocket until I come across a garbage can? It’s almost if, by general rule, littering cigarette butts "doesn’t count" or is for some reason exempt due the offending item's relatively small size. I would never, ever toss an empty soda can out my car window but a cigarette butt … sure, why not.

Vancouver’s newly instituted cigarette butt-recycling scheme, the first of its kind in the world according to the city, is geared toward exactly these type of people: smokers who, while vigilant about recycling, seem to bend the rules when it comes to discarding cigarette butts. Launched last week, the six-month pilot program involves the installation of 110 fireproof, pole-mounted cigarette waste recycling receptacles across four bustling downtown business districts: Robson Street, Gastown, the West End, and Downtown. Each receptacle will be clad in oversized “Recycle Your Butts Here” stickers.

Essentially, the canisters —"Butt Bins" if you will — are public ashtrays but with one key difference: instead of entering the waste stream and eventually winding up in landfills where they will remain for decades upon decades leaching toxins into the ground, the properly discarded butts will routinely collected by members of nonprofit "street charity," United We Can. From there, the contents of the receptacles will be shipped off to TerraCycle’s Canadian recycling facility and, ultimately, the waste — the cellulose acetate found in filters, specifically — will be used to create industrial products such as plastic pallets and lumber while any lingering tobacco will be composted.

“The recycling initiatives in this unique pilot program will help keep the streets of Vancouver looking clean and provide working opportunities for disadvantaged people from the Downtown Eastside. United We Can is proud to be involved in this social venture,” says the nonprofit’s general manager, Gerry Martin, in a press release issued by the city of Vancouver. In addition to the involvement of United We Can on the service/collection end of things, another Eastside-based economic development charity, EMBERS, performed the installation of the receptacles. 

Speaking to the Vancouver Sun, TerraCycle’s fearless VP of Communications Albe Zakes explains that an impressive 10,000 pounds of cigarette butts has already been collected by the company through the aforementioned American and Canadian Brigade programs in which tobacco-using individuals, bar and restaurant owners, building managers, and litter clean-up groups send their spent butts and tobacco waste to the company through a pre-paid mailing system. 

If Vancouver's pilot program — it only cost taxpayers a total of $110 or $1 per receptacle as TerraCycle is picking up most of the tab — proves to be a success, an additional 2,000 butt bins will be installed and residents prone to flicking their butts to the curb will really have no other option but to recycle them.

Says Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson: "We have heard loud and clear that people want easy and convenient ways to keep our downtown streets and public spaces clean. Cigarette butts are a real source of litter downtown, and this innovative pilot project with TerraCycle will help keep toxic butts off our streets and out of the landfill. This is a great example of how we can move closer to our Greenest City goals, provide job opportunities for low-income residents, and keep our downtown looking great.” 

Those who don't have the extraordinary pleasure of living in Vancouver, a city which, as Robertson mentions, is aiming to become the greenest city in the world by the year 2020, but are interested in recycling cigarette butts through TerraCycle should click here to learn more about the company's stateside Cigarette Brigade program.

Butt Bin photo: City of Vancouver

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