Resource Use

Vancouver becomes ‘first’ city to recycle cigarettes

The City of Vancouver and waste collection company TerraCycle Canada have launched a new pilot program to recycle cigarette butts and reduce the amount of extinguished cigarettes littered on city streets.

Billed as ‘the first of its kind in the world’, the ‘Cigarette Waste Brigade’ was rolled out on a city-wide scale last week (12 November) as part of Vancouver’s ‘Greenest City 2020 Action Plan’ goal.

As part of the programme, the City of Vancouver has installed 110 new cigarette-butt recycling receptacles, known as ‘Butt Bins’, on several blocks within four ‘Business Improvement Areas’ (BIAs): Downtown Vancouver, West End, Robson Street, and Gastown.

Funded by TerraCycle Canada, the project is a partnership between the City of Vancouver, United We Can, EMBERS, and the four BIAs, to ‘keep Vancouver’s downtown clean’ and  ‘make this pervasive waste easily collectable and recyclable’.

Recycling process

Cigarette filters are not biodegradable. Filters are made from cellulose acetate, never lose their toxicity and can poison links in the aquatic food chain. As such, TerraCycle has partnered with ‘one of Canada’s largest major tobacco manufacturers’ to recycle cigarette butts into products such as ‘plastic pallets’, while any remaining tobacco will be ‘reworked into tobacco composting’.

A Cigarette Waste Brigade has been running through TerraCycle independently, but this is the ‘first’ time a city has adopted the scheme.

The ‘Cigarette Waste Brigade’ will accept:

  • All parts of extinguished cigarettes
  • Cigarette filters
  • Cigar stubs
  • Outer plastic packaging
  • Inner foil packaging
  • Rolling paper
  • Ash

However, the scheme does not accept cardboard cigarette packaging.

Although the cigarette-butt recycling scheme has been rolled out on a pilot basis, the local authority has said that it will ‘regularly’ evaluate the programme, and determine whether to ‘keep the receptacles in the piloted locations permanently and/or to expand the network of receptacles to additional areas of the city’ after a ‘few months’.

The Vancouver pilot programme will reportedly also serve as a model for potential future TerraCycle receptacle placements in other municipalities.

Convenient way to keep public spaces clean’

Speaking of the programme, the Mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, said: “We have heard loud and clear that people want easy and convenient ways to keep our downtown streets and public spaces clean.

“Cigarette butts are a real source of litter downtown, and this innovative pilot project with TerraCycle will help keep toxic butts off our streets and out of the landfill. This is a great example of how we can move closer to our Greenest City goals, provide job opportunities for low-income residents, and keep our downtown looking great.”

Nina Purewal, General Manager of TerraCycle Canada, added: “Cigarette waste is the most littered item across the globe.

“We are thrilled that the City of Vancouver has joined us to become the first city in the world to implement an integrated cigarette waste disposal and recycling program, and we are grateful for their commitment to help us eliminate this type of waste.”

Green jobs

The programme aims to provide green jobs through two local Vancouver inner-city social enterprises: staff at community economic development charity EMBERS will install and maintain the receptacles, while staff at street charity United We Can will service the receptacles and ship the cigarette waste to TerraCycle.

TerraCycle has supplied the receptacles and covered all costs related to the installation, emptying, maintenance, evaluation, collection, and processing of waste.

“The recycling initiatives in this unique pilot program will help keep the streets of Vancouver looking clean and provide working opportunities for disadvantaged people from the Downtown Eastside”, commented Gerry Martin, General Manager of United We Can, who said the charity was “proud” to be involved in the social venture.

Stephen Regan, Executive Director of the West End Business Improvement Area, added: “Having these receptacles in convenient locations will make it easier for people to do their part in keeping downtown streets cigarette litter free and keep our city beautiful.”

Read more about TerraCycle’s Cigarette Waste Brigade.