This statistic is just mind-blowing: every year, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are discarded. With that in mind, a group of Chinese researchers set out to see if they could give people a reason to recycle butts.
Given that just one butt with a little leftover tobacco attached is enough to poison a liter of water and kill half the fish living in it, a few trillion could potentially do a lot of environmental damage.
Efforts to recycle butts are few and far between, probably because one person doesn't tend to smoke them by the thousand — and even a pack's worth of spent smokes only make a tiny, insignificant-looking pile of trash.
But boy do they pack a punch. Cigarettes contain all kinds of foul chemicals, including cancer-causing benzenes and heavy metals, to say nothing of the toxicity of nicotine, a natural pesticide produced by tobacco plants. When smoked, at those lovely bits go into the butt (and your lungs, too).
The researchers wanted to find out if this
noxious brew had any beneficial applications in the industrial world.
Oddly enough they did. Chemical extracts from cigarette butts were found to bolster N80 steel — commonly used in the oil and gas industry — against corrosion.
The results were pretty dramatic. In a near-boiling solution of 10 and 15 percent hydrochloric acid (HCl; same stuff as stomach acid), the cigarette-derived cocktail reduce corrosion by between 90 and 94 percent.
Is this a perfect idea, using cigarette butts to help shore up industrial steel? Maybe, maybe not. It's possible that a big chemical company could come along and find a
cheap way to produce this protective coating that further damages the
Interestingly though, the team led by Jun Zhao of Xi’an Jiaotong University found that nicotine was among the active ingredients protecting the steel. So if people are going to smoke anyway, we may as well stop their polluting ways and help out steelworkers in the process.
Image: American Chemical Society