First cigarette butt recycling program in the world launches today in Vancouver

The City of Vancouver is partnering with a global recycling company in the hopes of getting smokers to butt out in one of their receptacles instead of on the ground.

Vancouver launched the world’s first cigarette recycling program today, in the form of 110 receptacles mounted on lamp posts in high-traffic areas downtown.

It’s the first phase of a pilot project.

The units will be emptied by workers from United We Can, a Downtown Eastside recycling non-profit that works with disadvantaged people from the neighbourhood.

TerraCycle will pay the United We Can employees who will be trained to go around and empty the receptacles. In addition, $5/per pound will be donated to the organization to use as they see fit.

Albe Zakes, Global Vice-President of TerraCycle, says the partnership is a win-win.

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“The City of Vancouver is paying almost nothing to run this program, they are paying a nominal $1 fee for each of the cigarette recycling receptacles, so it will cost taxpayers practically nothing. TerraCycle will cover all of the costs of shipping.”

The material will be shipped from United We Can to the TerraCycle facility in Toronto, where the company separates materials from the cigarette butts.

“We take all of the waste, the leftover plastic, aluminum from the packs, the cigarette butts, and any of the organic leftover material: paper, unused tobacco and ash. All of that material gets shredded and the organic material gets separated out. The paper, ash and tobacco is then composted, and there are strict regulations about composting tobacco products,” says Zakes.

The material is then used to create various industrial and business-to-business products.

“The left over butts are gamma radiated, which is the same process that is used on fish once it’s pulled out of the sea, to kill any bio contaminants. Once they have been gamma radiated, they can be turned into plastic pellets, which we then partner with industrial manufacturers to make industrial-only products such as plastic lumber, shipping pallets, and other B2B applications – no consumer products will be made from the material.”

Zakes says Vancouver is an ideal city for the launch of the pilot project, despite the city’s low number of smokers compared to other Canadian cities.

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“The city and the mayor’s determination to get a program up and running for this, that really enabled us to do this — we are in talks with lots of cities in Canada and the U.S. where we also run these programs, Vancouver is aiming to be the greenest city in the world by 2020 and is taking a wide-range of waste reduction efforts, so we could provide a solution where there wasn’t one. They had the momentum and the desire to actually get a program up and running.”

If the pilot project is successful, up to 1,000 butt bins could be added across downtown Vancouver, according to the city.

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