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Friday, December 2, 2022
Keeping it Green: No butts about it: Cigarette recycling comes to Niagara
Enthusiastic volunteers cleaned up littered cigarette butts at the Niagara-on-the-Lake outlet mall last spring. JOHN VERMEER

 An environmental cleanup on Nov. 12 in Niagara-on-the-Lake will mark the launch of a new Community Butt Recycling Program.

The program, run by non-profit agency A Greener Future, aims to prevent smoking litter from entering the environment.

Through annual Butt Blitz cleanups, A Greener Future volunteers have reduced pollution by plastics and toxic chemicals by picking up more than 3.3 million tossed cigarette butts.

Now, the Community Butt Recycling Program is an extension of these efforts to collect smoking litter at the source.

People who smoke can participate in the free program, which offers long-term, no-hassle recycling for this tricky type of waste.

Niagara businesses can also take part by collecting butts in receptacles to raise awareness and act as ambassadors for positive local change.

Cigarette butts collected will be recycled through TerraCycle, a company that melts the plastic filters into materials like decks, outdoor furniture, flooring and playground footings.

Sending back smoking product packaging, extinguished butts, filters, or rolling paper to TerraCycle also raises money for charity.

WHERE THERE’S SMOKE … In Niagara, more than one in every seven adults smokes cigarettes daily.

Worldwide, cigarette butts are the most-littered item: about two-thirds of the 6 trillion cigarettes smoked each year end up in the environment, according to a report at the World Health Organization’s convention on tobacco control.

Smoking is a personal choice, but the waste generated leaves a ghostly legacy in the environment.

Not only is this pollution harmful to wildlife and human health, it also starts a large number of fires. A 2019 study from the University of Fraser Valley showed that smoking materials cause about 10 per cent of fires in five provinces.

BACK TO HAUNT: “Cigarette filters are made out of cellulose acetate … a type of plastic,” says Rochelle Byrne, founder and executive director of A Greener Future. “They just break into smaller and smaller pieces. They don’t go away.”

And when a single cigarette butt is littered, it releases enough nicotine, arsenic and heavy metals to contaminate 1,000 litres of water. These chemicals are toxic to most animals, as well as humans.

Despite these chilling environmental and health impacts, cigarette butts are still the most common litter found during cleanups by A Greener Future.

GETTING GOOSEBUMPS? Though the issue of smoking litter can seem a bit monstrous, there’s no need to be scared silly.

If you smoke cigarettes or run a business that could collect waste from customers, this free recycling program will ensure that the waste is transformed into new, usable materials.

For those interested in celebrating the program launch, a kickoff cleanup will take place at 3 p.m. at the Outlet Collection at Niagara on Saturday, Nov. 12. Gloves and litter-grabbers will be available.

Cleanup participants should register on Eventbrite.

Kyra Simone is a PhD student in environmental science, with master’s degrees in biology and science communication. When not researching climate change, she advocates for a sustainable future, picks up litter and makes recycled jewelry.