Vancouver Rolls Out Recycling Program for Cigarette Butts

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The "Butt Bins" mounted on light poles throughout Vancouver are part of an innovative recycling program. Photo: TerraCycle

The “Butt Bins” mounted on light poles throughout Vancouver are part of an innovative recycling program. Photo: TerraCycle

The city of Vancouver, British Columbia, is taking on the single biggest source of street litter in the world. And it’s ready to kick some serious butt.

In November, the city became the first in North America to initiate a program to recycle cigarette butts. As part of the campaign, they mounted 110 “Butt Bins” on light poles throughout the city to encourage residents and visitors to toss their cigarette butts in the fireproof containers.

With help from TerraCycle Canada, this unique program — called the Cigarette Waste Brigade Program — will not just keep used butts off the streets, but will keep them out of landfills as well. Smokers are being asked to save their cigarette butts at work and at home, then send them in for processing.

TerraCycle already has consumer-based cigarette-butt recycling programs, but this marks the first time it’s been done at a municipal level. TerraCycle provided underwriting for the Butt Bins, asking the city to pay just C$1 per container — which means the entire recycling program is costing the city of Vancouver a mere C$110.

The canisters will be emptied regularly and the collected butts will be sent to TerraCycle’s Canadian depot. The charitable organization United We Can, which works with the poor and unemployed residents in the inner city, is employing people to empty the canisters.

When the butts arrive at TerraCycle, the recycling company will use the cellulose acetate found in cigarette butt filters to make items such as plastic lumber and plastic pallets. The tobacco extracted from the spent butts will be composted.

The company has already collected more than 10,000 pounds of butts. If the experiment in Vancouver is successful, TerraCycle says, it would like to deploy an additional 2,000 butt-collection receptacles.