Eco-Tip for 3-3-19
Mail-in Recycling Program Turns Cigarettes into Bench
By David Goldstein, VCPWA, IWMD
An on-line “unveiling” last month of a Ventura beach bench made from recycled cigarette
butts quickly generated over 153 social media shares and dozens of comments on the
Ventura Parks and Recreation Division Facebook page, as web surfers took the obvious
opportunity to crack punny jokes. Most jokes are along the line of the official name given
to the cigarette butt collection and recycling program organized by the non-profit Surfrider
Foundation, “Hold On To Your Butt.”
The city and the non-profit have purchased and installed 103 metal containers in areas
where cigarette butt litter was common, despite a city ordinance banning smoking in
public areas. Volunteers empty approximately 4,000 butts per month from these
receptacles; combined with the butts they collect from beach cleanup events, they have
collected over 270,000 butts in a little over two years, according to Juli Marciel, Surfrider’s
coordinator for the program.
Volunteers put these collected butts into boxes with postage paid labels supplied by
Terracycle, a company recycling a wide variety of products. Recycling by mail is too
expensive to be viable for nearly any material, but in the case of cigarettes, the program
is made possible through sponsorship by a product manufacturer. In fact, the sponsorship
funds are sufficient not just to pay for the free mailers, but also to donate one dollar per
pound of collected cigarettes to Keep America Beautiful, a non-profit focused on litter
prevention and clean-up. Surfrider also obtains sponsorships noted on these containers,
helping fund the cost of the containers.
Some who comment on the sponsored recycling program see corporate responsibility,
and others see “green washing” focused on improving perceptions of a product through
the misleading appearance of eco-friendliness. Lars Davenport, Environmental Specialist
with the city of Ventura, points out a major benefit of the containers and the bench.
“Cigarette butts tend to be disposed wherever a cigarette is finished,” he said, noting the
crucial role of convenience in preventing litter, “and some people seem to think their
cigarette litter is not significant” because some of it is biodegradable. A bench made from
butts drives home a message about the ubiquity of butts and their plastic content.
Indeed, Brian Hanck, a spokesperson for Terracycle, noted in an email, “We can put about
20%… cellulose acetate (plastic from cigarette butts)… into a bench, and the benches are
about 80 pounds, so we would estimate that 15,000 cigarette butts go into one park
Cigarette butts are the most common form of litter, according to the Keep America
Beautiful web site, which notes “putting them (cigarette butts) in planters and disposing
of them in waterways is (also) litter;” butts often wash out and end up on shores.
Terracycle also provides sponsor-subsidized mail-in recycling programs for other
products, ranging from Burt’s Bees “lip care products” to Solo cups. Additionally,
Terracycle has many non-sponsored programs, some of which seem designed to attract
sponsors. For example, for $102, you can purchase a small shipping box (11”x11”x20”)
and a postage paid return shipping label to send Terracycle your used chewing gum.
According to Brian Hanck, the Terracycle spokesman, “Chewing gum is made
from polymers which are synthetic plastics that do not biodegrade. The …gum is sanitized
and blended, then converted into plastic pellets. These specific plastic pellets are usually
used in creating new products made of rubber or plastic…”
Among other items, the company also has mail-in recycling programs for coffee capsules,
pens, plastic gloves, detergent booster pouches, ready-made pasta bags, contact lenses
and the blister packs containing the lenses. Terracycle previously had sponsor funding
for a program to recycle mixed plastics from beach clean-ups, but their web site indicates
the program is no longer “accepting new partners” for that program.
On the net:
Eco-Tip for 3-3-19