How Cities Can Make Money Off Discarded Cigarette Butts

somchai rakin /

More than two-thirds of cigarette butts are simply thrown to the ground. Many of those discarded butts make their way into local waterways where they can harm wildlife. And those that stay on land don’t simply go away—about 95 percent of cigarette filters are made of a form of plastic, so they don’t degrade quickly, according to

Cigarette butts, one of the most prevalent forms of urban littering, can be recycled. And a few U.S. cities have either deployed cigarette-butt recycling programs or are looking at the innovative idea more closely.

In October, Salem, Massachusetts, partnered with TerraCycle, a New Jersey-based company that specializes in repurposing hard-to-recycle materials, to launch such a program, which involves installing special cigarette butt recycling receptacles at key points around the city.  

“Cigarette waste is one of the most common forms of litter on our streets and sidewalks,” Mayor Kim Driscoll said in a statement when the program was announced. “Having these receptacles available should provide us one more tool in our efforts to keep our City clean, while maintaining our commitment to being green and eliminating our overall trash output.”

Salem’s cigarette butt recycling program, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, was inspired by a similar one rolled out this summer in New Orleans by the Big Easy’s Downtown Development District.

TerraCycle is also involved with the New Orleans program. For every pound of cigarette waste deposited in the recycling receptacles, the company gives $4 to the Downtown Development District, according to WGNO-TV.

And there’s no shortage of cigarette butts in New Orleans. The DDD’s president and CEO said that in a single day, DDD work crews collected 6,781 butts, the television station reported.

In the case of Salem, TerraCycle will donate $2 for every pound of cigarette waste collected—$1 will go to Salem Main Streets and $1 will go to Keep America Beautiful, according to the city’s October announcement.  

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