Cigarette butts are the most common discarded waste item in the world. You see them everywhere. Outside restaurants, in sidewalk cracks, parking lots and grassy areas. Smoking is not only a bad addiction, but it also leads to a bad habit of littering. However, New Orleans is the first U.S city to install a recycling receptacle for cigarette butts.

TerraCycle Inc, a New Jersey based recycling company, developed the program in 2012. The company works with more than 100 major brands in the United States and 22 countries collecting used packaging and products that would otherwise be destined for landfills. The first citywide receptacles were placed in Vancouver, British Columbia, in November 2013. There were 110 cigarette recycling receptacles located in the Downtown Vancouver, West End, Robson Street and Gastown Business Improvement Areas with identifiable stickers that say “Recycle Your Butts Here.”


cigarette butt recycling in new orleans“Globally we have collected 25 million butts since November of 2012,” said company spokesman Albe Zakes. The officials of New Orleans Downtown Development District found interest in this innovation and had no reason not to embrace this program. The Big Easy is known for the French Quarter district that’s filled with restaurants, bars and shops. It’s a no-brainer that this entertainment hot spot will bring in a lot of smokers.

There was a one-day sweep in 2011 collecting nearly 7,000 butts downtown. New Orleans will be paid $4 for each pound of cigarette waste collected. The organic materials of a cigarette, such as tobacco and paper, are composed. According to Zakes, cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate, which is a plastic. When collected, they are shredded and bio-toxins are removed with the use of gamma radiation.  It is the same exact process used on fish and other meats to assure there are no bio contaminants. The filters are melted into plastic pellets for industrial use.

cigarette pellets

The pellets are used for industrial applications such as plastic lumber and plastic shipping pallets. The company does not produce any consumer based products because of the stigma around cigarette butts. Here are just a few staggering statistics:

  • Five trillion cigarette filters weigh approximately two billion pounds.
  • There are 1.1 billion smokers in the world today.
  • Worldwide, approximately 10 million cigarettes are purchased a minute and 15 billion are sold each day.


We may not be able to break the smoking habit, but cities are more than capable of teaming up with environmental awareness programs to break the littering habit. Zakes mentioned that the company is in talks with Toronto, Tokyo, Sydney, Atlantic City and Phoenix. It is incredible to see a city like New Orleans, one famous for its wild attitude, to embrace cigarette butt recycling. Hopefully more cities like Vancouver and New Orleans will appreciate the initiative for an easy and convenient way to keep downtown streets and public spaces clean.

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