Imagine: Cigarette butts, whether on the street or in an ashtray, can now be turned into something useful. They could even help organizations do some modest fundraising.
Yes, butt recycling has arrived in Canada, thanks to a program launched mid-May by an innovative company called TerraCycle Canada (terracycle.ca).
What will those butts become? Skids or pallets made from the plastic filters, according to TerraCycle. The organic leftovers — the tobacco and paper — will be composted.
Underwriting butt recycling costs is Canada’s largest tobacco manufacturer. (The company is keeping a low profile in all of this.)
Denise Barnard, who heads communications for TerraCycle, says a first butt shipment has already arrived — more than 5,000 of them, weighing in at 4.4 pounds — from the streets of Toronto. Every pound sent to TerraCycle earns 100 points, which can be converted into a $1 donation to a charity or not-for-profit of the collector’s choice.
Launched south of the border in 2001, TerraCycle has created an unusual model for getting companies whose products generate difficult-to-recycle waste or packaging to subsidize collection and processing. The program, which now operates in 11 countries, depends on volunteer collection.
TerraCycle enlists individuals, schools, companies, and groups of all kinds that are concerned about waste. These participants join what is called a brigade, receive a box for collecting a particular waste product, and when the box is full, UPS will pick it up for free. Based on the amounts shipped, the volunteers receive points, which can be converted into donations to charities and schools of their choice. The company sponsoring a particular collection program (like the tobacco company) pays for shipping and the donations.
The collected material goes to TerraCycle’s storage facility in Mississauga, and when there’s enough in any one category, it’s sent to a third-party recycling or manufacturing facility in the U.S. or further afield.
TerraCycle now has programs for 18 categories of waste in Canada, including candy bar wrappers, personal care products, drink pouches, cellphones, printer cartridges, digital cameras, and even flip-flop sandals.
The first shipment of cigarette butts to TerraCycle arrived from a local group called Eco Duo (ecoduocanada.com). In June, it organized one of its Eco Chases, a sort of environmental scavenger hunt in which participants picked up butts along the way.
The worst place for butt litter? “Our experience from the dry run of Eco Chase was that there were a lot of butts to be found in front of the Metro Convention Centre,” says Elena Jusenlijska, one of Eco Duo’s two creators.
For TerraCycle, the cigarette program is particularly exciting. “We’ve been reaching out to municipalities, all across the country,” says Barnard. “We would also like to have shopping malls, offices and bars involved in this particular program.
“What we’re saying is instead of dumping it, here’s what we’re doing. Please send your waste to us.”
Pens and Markers
Another recently launched TerraCycle program offers a way for you to recycle old pens and magic markers. Just take them to a Staples store and dump them in a recycling receptacle.
Newell Rubbermaid, which manufactures brands such as Sharpie, Paper Mate and Expo, is supporting the pen recycling. The company will contribute two cents for each of its writing products that ends up in Staples’ recycling bins, and the chain will donate the funds to Earth Day Canada (earthday.ca). All brands are part of the collection program, however.
Recently, I took my first load of pens and markers to the Staples at Keele St. and St. Clair Ave. W. Unfortunately, the sales clerk I asked knew nothing about the program, but after a bit of scouting, I found the pen and marker bin in the store’s recycling centre.
So be persistent, and you’ll be able to find a home for those dry markers and dead pens other than the trash can. According to Barnard, they will be turned into new pens and desk accessories.
Meanwhile, check out TerraCycle’s website at terracycle.ca. Maybe you’d like to join a brigade, help raise a bit of money for a good cause, and, at the same time, keep usable material out of landfill.