Chinese scientists report that they have found a way to extract chemicals from discarded cigarette butts in order to protect steel pipes from corrosion.
According to BBC News, around 4.5 trillion cigarette butts make their way into the environment each year. Here in the U.S., cigarette butts are the most littered item and consistently rank as the No. 1 littered item found in beach cleanups.
With the ability to survive up to 15 years in the sea, cigarette butts contain highly toxic materials.
About 95 percent of cigarette filters are composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic which does not quickly degrade and can persist in the environment, according to Keep American Beautiful.
Researchers say recycling of these butts could actually be financially viable as the rusting of steel is a major ongoing cost for oil producers.
“The scientists found that by immersing the butts in water they were able to extract nine different chemical compounds, including nicotine,” reports BBC News.
“When these extracts were applied to a type of steel widely used in the oil industry they were found to be very effective in preventing corrosion, even under harsh conditions.”
This isn’t the first major attempt researchers have made in order to combat this litter source. Last November, a London community investigated a technology that recycled discarded cigarette butts into home insulation.
The idea is to divert the butts from the landfill through a sterilization and recycling process. The process removes the toxins in an industrial autoclave (typically used to clean medical equipment) sterilizing the cigarette butts.
They are then broken down into their paper and fibrous material components and compacted into insulation “pillows.” The insulation pillows are used in homes to decrease energy consumption associated with heat loss.
In the U.K., 30,000 tons of cigarette butts are discarded and landfilled each year from the smoking of 60 billion cigarettes, according to Igloo Environmental. As for China, it consumes one-third of the world’s cigarettes.
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