Partnership gives cigarette butts new purpose

When volunteers swarm Navarre Beach to collect garbage each month, cigarette butts often fill their collection buckets. Thousands of these burned, squished and tossed pieces of plastic trash are left on the beach to eventually wash into the Gulf of Mexico.

Once in the water this garbage poses a serious threat to wildlife that may accidentally consume it, but that is where TerraCycle comes in.

The Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center has partnered with this New Jersey-based recycling company to turn some of the collected waste, including cigarette butts, into new products.

TerraCycle lives by the mantra nothing is garbage, as evidenced by its slogan “eliminating the idea of waste.” The company has developed a variety of programs to prove that point, taking materials that are generally considered non-recyclable and giving them new life.

TerraCycle is the first company to create a program that recycles cigarette butts, a waste product that up to a few years ago was considered unrecyclable.

TerraCycle’s program is called the Cigarette Waste Brigade. Partners from across the U.S. and throughout Canada, Hungary, Germany, Switzerland, France, Japan and Australia help collect the cigarette litter. To date the program has collected more than 70 million spent cigarettes.

That’s a lot of butts.

When the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center holds their monthly Trash Bash garbage collection, participants receive a bucket for their found waste. Mounted on the side of the bucket is a separate container for cigarette butts.

The turtle center has also set up collection receptacles on the beach to encourage smokers to leave the beach clean. There are four such containers on the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier and one at the turtle center.

Once the cigarettes are picked up, they are sent to TerraCycle for processing. The firm sterilizes the butts using gamma radiation, then shreds them using a special machine to separate the paper and leftover tobacco from the plastic filter.

The tobacco and paper is sent off for composting, and the plastic filters are turned into plastic pellets. TerraCycle uses these pellets to create a variety of products including shipping pallets and plastic lumber which can be used to make playground equipment, outdoor benches and more. They even make table top ash trays out of the cigarettes.

More than just recycling the unrecyclable, the program also leads to donations to Keep America Beautiful’s cigarette litter prevention program.

As a leader in ecotourism, Navarre Beach residents, visitors and organizations like the turtle center are making sure that Florida’s coastline will remain beautiful for generations to come.

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

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