Now that New Orleans has found a solution to its where-to-tinkle-with-dignity-during-Mardi Gras dilemma, the historic Louisiana city has set out to conquer a specific type of waste that blankets city streets and sidewalks during its debauched colorful Fat Tuesday celebrations. And no, we’re not referring to plastic baubles and beads but to something you might commonly see dangling out of parade-goers mouths while they get their laissez les bons temps rouler on: cigarette butts.

Launched in partnership with the merry — and reality show-friendly — band of waste solution specialists at New Jersey-based TerraCycle, New Orleans’ cigarette butt recycling initiative is the first citywide tobacco waste recycling scheme to be launched in the United States and the second in North America following Vancouver, B.C.

Specializing in the recycling/upcycling of undesirable and difficult-to-recycle waste items, TerraCycle debuted its pioneering Cigarette Brigade program in Canada — and the U.S. shortly thereafter — in 2012 and also worked with officials in Vancouver to launch that city’s non-biodegradable butt-recycling campaign which was the first of its kind in the entire world.

To be clear, the recycling of cigarette butts, one of if not the most pervasive types of out there, won’t be a only-during-Mardi Gras type of deal in New Orleans. A total of 50 permanent cigarette butt recycling receptacles will be eventually installed throughout the city center as part of the pilot; the first were installed at a downtown intersection (Lafayette St. and Tchoupitoulas St.) yesterday. Each receptacle is labeled: "Recycle Your Butts Here."

For the scheme, the New Orleans Downtown Development District will work with TerraCycle to ensure that the discarded cellulose acetate stubs are collected regularly and shipped off to the company’s recycling facilities where the filters are shredded, zapped of biotoxins, and melted down into plastic pellets. Any non-plastic waste such as tobacco and paper will be composted.

As Albe Zakes, TerraCycle’s VP of Global Marketing and Communications, relays to the Associated Press, the pellets will be recycled into products that are used for industrial purposes such as pallets and plastic lumber. “We don't make any consumer products from this material, mostly because of the stigma around butts,” he explains.

The Downtown Development District will be paid $4 for every pound of cigarette waste it ships off to TerraCycle. This is a potentially lucrative arrangement considering that Downtown New Orleans is home to a number of bars (smoking inside of freestanding bars is also permitted), clubs, and Harrah’s Casino. It’s also near the French Quarter. Kurt Weigle, president and CEO of the District, tells the AP that a one-day butt cleanup effort held downtown in 2011 yielded a staggering 7,000 discarded cigarette butts.

This is a huge move and it’s fantastic to see a city like New Orleans, a city famous for its let-your-hair-down-and-go-wild attitude, be the first in the U.S. to embrace cigarette butt recycling. This isn’t to say that a cloud of Pall Mall smoke permanently hovers above the Big Easy but it’s certainly not the most puritanical town on the map. People visit New Orleans to soak in the atmosphere — and that often means eating copious amounts of fabulous food, drinking, gambling, and being naughty. Smoking comes with the territory.

It would be excellent to see initiatives such as the one in Vancouver and now, New Orleans, be instituted in other cities. Apparently, this is very much a possibility as Zakes, noting that TerraCycle has collected 25 million cigarette butts since the end of 2012, tells the AP that the company is in talks with officials to bring butt recycling schemes to Toronto, Sydney, Phoenix, Tokyo, and Atlantic City.

Via [The Times-Picayune]

Mardi Gras trash photo: Phelan Riessen/Flickr

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Cigarette butt recycling comes to the Big Easy
New Orleans partners with TerraCycle to launch the first large-scale public cigarette butt recycling campaign in the U.S.