TerraCycle originally joined forces with North Carolina-based Keep New Hanover Beautiful (KNHB), a Keep America Beautiful affiliate, in 2017 to collect and recycle cigarette butts outside of county buildings, local bars, restaurants, Wilmington International Airport and along Wrightsville Beach.
Through this program, KNHB is not only addressing the nation’s most commonly littered item but also a form of hazardous plastic waste. Since employing its cigarette recycling initiative in April 2017, the organization and its volunteers have collected and recycled more than 500,000 discarded cigarettes, or approximately 500 pounds of cigarette waste.
“After discovering that cigarette butt filters take many years to breakdown, leach toxic chemicals and contribute to the buildup of dangerous landfill gases, we realized there had to be a better way to dispose of cigarette butts,” said KNHB Executive Director Dick Brightman in a statement. “When we discovered the TerraCycle program, cigarette butt recycling became a terrific environmental effort that helps eliminate discarded butts from our streets and waterways, as well as help reduce stress on our landfill.”
To date, KNHB has been able to place a total of 90 cigarette receptacles throughout New Hanover County, all of which are being serviced by board members and volunteers. The majority are placed in easily accessible public areas like at the Wilmington International Airport, outside county buildings, restaurants, in the Army Corp of Engineers facility and along entry points to Wrightsville Beach.
When processed, the paper and tobacco are separated from the filter and composted. The filter is recycled into plastic pellets, which can be used by manufacturers to make products such as shipping pallets, ashtrays and park benches.
“These receptacles will help keep the county of New Hanover free of one of the most littered items on the planet,” said Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle and a 2019 Waste360 40 Under 40 awards recipient, in a statement. “With this program, Keep New Hanover Beautiful is taking a step to reduce the amount of trash going to landfill while also preserving the area’s natural beauty.”
TerraCycle has collected hundreds of millions of cigarette butts globally. Additionally, through its various recycling programs, it has engaged more than 200 million people across 21 countries to collect and recycle more than 8 billion pieces of waste that were otherwise non-recyclable.