Cigarette Butts Turned into Plastic

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Discarded cigarette butts can be recycled into a wide range of industrial plastic products, such as pallets -- the trays used to ship heavy goods.
Corbis

"The purpose of TerraCycle is to make things that are non recyclable recyclable," CEO Szaky told AFP at the New Jersey headquarters. Soon they'll be doing chewing gum and dirty diapers, but Szaky said his "personal favorite" is used cigarettes.

"It's the ash, the cigarette butt, it's the packaging, everything," he said.

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"After we launched it in May in Canada, it was so successful, we collected over a million cigarettes in a short period of time. We had all these great organizations collecting and the tobacco industry was so excited that they launched the program in the US, in Spain."

Expect to see the project spread across Europe and possibly Mexico in the next four months, Szaky said.

It takes between 1,000 and 2,000 butts to make a plastic ashtray, and more than 200,000 to make a garden chair. Not that there's any shortage of supplies: 37 percent of the world's litter is in cigarette butts, with up to a couple trillion thrown out yearly, Szaky said.

About 35 million people across 22 countries take part in TerraCycle's collection programs, which are financed by businesses, like Old Navy clothing in the United States and Colgate, which supports the toothbrush collection.

"When we created the cigarette solution, we went to big companies and showed them plastic made from used cigarettes. They couldn't believe it and the companies got very engaged," Szaky said.

"They not only finance the program and pay for all the costs, they are out here, and are going to do very aggressive promotion."

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Szaky's company began when two people had the idea of harvesting worm excrement for fertilizer. Now it employs about 100 people.

"I want to solve every kind of garbage that exists," he said. "My real goal would be that there is no such thing as garbage. Garbage doesn't exist in nature."

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