Science, Tech & Environment

Cigarette butts beware: Vancouver is coming after you

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High Diver/Wikimedia Commons

An aerial view of Downtown Vancouver.

Vancouver aims to be the world's greenest city by 2020. So what is its latest innovation to get there? Cigarette butt recycling bins — 110 of them — in four downtown districts.  

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Yes, the city is planning on turning cigarette butts into shipping pallettes and plasticized lumber, instead of sending them into landfills.

The effort will cost taxpayers just a dollar per recycling bin. Other costs will be underwritten by TerraCycle, a New Jersey-based company, and two Canadian social service agencies, United We Can and Embers. 

Albe Zakes, global vice-president of communications at TerraCycle, says his company hopes to launch copies of Vancouver's cigarette butt recycling program across the US, France, and other European locations.

"Vancouver is part of the Greener Cities initiative to make major cities far more sustainable," says Zakes. "But one of the major waste streams they didn't have the solution for was cigarette butts. So TerraCycle is incredibly proud to be able to provide a solution that nobody else can help offset, both for Vancouver and consumers globally." 

But what about that unpleasant cigarette smell? 

"We take the butts, melt them down, and then pelletize them. Through that process, not only is the smell removed, but also any toxins or carcinogens are removed, so the end plastic is completely safe." 

Over the next six months, the city of Vancouver will monitor the pilot program. If it's successful, it will add up to 2,000 additional bins across downtown Vancouver.

And if that's successful, you can expect TerraCycle to get its butts in gear and those bins coming to a city near you.

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