Did you know cigarette butts are not fully biodegradable? But there’s a solution: TerraCycle, the company that strives to find a way to recycle everything, offers a free Cigarette Waste Recycling Program. Just sign up with TerraCycle, collect the waste, and ship it to them for recycling.
After they’re tossed on the street, the beach, or wherever they fall, cigarette butts take 18 months to 10 years to break down. Because filters are made of a type of plastic, they don’t biodegrade. Instead, they release microfibers into the environment, adding to our growing problem of microplastic pollution. Discarded butts also leach chemicals and heavy metals, the same things that kill smokers, into the environment. They often wash down the street gutters, polluting our waterways and harming fish and other wildlife.
Recycling cigarette butts is an important way to clean up after ourselves. It’s good for the neighborhood or beach, and good for the planet. Are you a smoker, or do you live or work with smokers? Or perhaps you’re one of our heroes who pick up cigarette butts from the beaches, parks, or neighborhood streets. Whatever your relationship with cigarettes, TerraCycle’s program is good news for those concerned with the waste they create.
What TerraCycle Accepts
TerraCycle’s Cigarette Waste Recycling Program accepts extinguished cigarettes, cigarette filters, loose tobacco pouches, outer plastic packaging, inner foil packaging, and rolling paper, and ash. To ensure proper recycling, don’t send any other waste with these materials. (If you have paperboard packaging, recycle it through your local recycling program.) The service is free but you must provide your own containers. Airtight containers are best, to reduce odors.
Do you have a business or community location where you’d like to collect butts? You can purchase aluminum cigarette waste receptacles to install in high-traffic areas. When the container is three-quarters full, empty the cigarette waste in a plastic bag, print a free shipping label, and send it in a sturdy box to TerraCycle for safe recycling.
Tips for Successful Recycling
Make sure cigarettes are fully extinguished before you collect them.
Store the waste in a re-sealable plastic bag, disposable plastic container, plastic shopping bag, or garbage bag.
When ready to ship, secure the containers to seal in the odor and ash. Take the time to package the waste carefully to suppress the odor for you and the people who handle it in transit.
Download and print a free shipping label from TerraCycle, place your full container in a sturdy box, and ship it to TerraCycle.
How Are Cigarettes Recycled?
With funding from Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, the cigarette waste that you collect gets recycled into a variety of industrial products, such as plastic pallets. Check out this infographic from TerraCycle that explains the process.
Learn more about the free Cigarette Waste Recycling Program, or explore other free TerraCycle Recycling Programs.
Feature image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay. Originally published on July 4, 2020, this article was updated in May 2023.