An estimated 195 million pounds of cigarette butts are improperly discarded in the United States annually, which is equal to the weight of about 33,000 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles.
In an ongoing effort to eliminate left over tobacco products, a non-profit organization developed a program to recycle the waste.
"It is TerraCycle's goal to eliminate the idea of waste," said Emma Swanson, a TerraCycle public relations associate. "Cigarette filters (and other related tobacco waste) are the number one item recovered during the annual Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup Day, with more than 52 million cigarette filters collected from beaches in the past 25 years."
TerraCycle is an international upcycling and recycling company that collects difficult-to-recycle packaging and products and repurposes the material into affordable, innovative products. The company works with more than 100 major brands in the U.S. and 22 countries worldwide to collect used materials otherwise destined for landfills.
In 2012, TerraCycle created the Cigarette Waste Brigade to encourage people who smoke to recycle their tobacco waste instead of discarding it through trash or litter.
Since the launch of the Brigade, cigarette recycle canisters can be found at more than 5,100 locations in the U.S.
At Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., the Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, I Corps is among the first Army units to utilize this conservation method.
"Most of the trash collected during police calls are cigarette butts," said Master Sgt. Michael Lindsay, senior operations noncommissioned officer, HHB.
Lindsay was referred to the program by Shelia Martin, Recycling Outreach Coordinator with the JBLM Public Works Environmental Division.
"I asked him if he would be willing to follow the parameters of the program and he agreed," Martin said. "There are so many different items that can be recycled and not recycled based of the market and industry and we are always trying to reduce our refuse bill and increase our diversion numbers."
As of Aug. 4, Soldiers can now utilize any of the six medium sized gray plastic canisters and large green receptacles located in the Battalion area.
The plastics recovered from the filters are melted down into pellets for use in industrial products, such as shipping pallets. Prior to the filters being melted, the cigarette waste must be collected and shipped to TerraCycle. The company provides each organization or representative with free, pre-paid shipping labels for the waste to be sent to their warehouses.
Littered cigarette filters, with the assistance of human and natural forces, rarely stay in the place they first touched the ground.
"Contrary to popular belief, cigarette butts are not biodegradable and do not break down quickly," said Swanson. "A study from San Diego State University states one cigarette butt can contaminate one liter of water and create threats to important parts of aquatic food chain. They're made from cellulose acetate which never loses its toxicity and can poison essential links in the aquatic echelon."
The environmental hazard of cigarette filters was another contributing factor for HHB to sign up for the Cigarette Waste Brigade.
"The filters not only affect the aquatic system, small animals and birds may mistake them for food and potentially choke on them or get sick," Lindsay said. "Recycling cigarette waste not only keeps the environment and wildlife safer, but also reduces the amount of trash in the dump."
Lindsay estimated the Soldiers in HHB who will be using the program will help keep roughly 15 to 20 pounds of waste from being deposited into the dump each month.
For each pound we recycle of cigarette waste, the unit receives a credit from TerraCycle to donate to any school or charity, said Lindsay.
TerraCycle also donates money to the Keep America Beautiful program. From the start of the program through the end of June 2014, TerraCycle has donated more than $15,000 said Swanson.
Keep America Beautiful is the nation's leading nonprofit organization that brings people together to build and sustain vibrant communities. They work with governors, mayors and other local government and community leaders including state recycling organizations to help create communities that are socially connected, environmentally healthy and economically sound.
"The Cigarette Waste Brigade is one of our most successful programs," she added. "Our Brigade members have collected more than 14 million units of cigarette waste and the number of people collecting has steadily increased since the program's inception."
Martin said if the program achieves the desired effect, it may be implemented into JBLM's waste management program.
"TerraCycle is excited that Joint Base Lewis-McChord is now a collector for the Cigarette Waste Brigade," said Swanson. "The Brigade is now open in Canada, Europe and Japan and is also in the process of signing up stadiums, cities and more military bases."