Thursday, June 19, 2014

2250 Butt Out

I reported recently about the resourceful butt bums that come by and harvest cigarette butts from outside ashtrays. "Recycling," I called it. But one reader noted in a note to me that it's not quite so. They only process the smokeable part and then scatter the butts further afield than if they'd remained in the ashtray. Like a bat dispersing fruit seeds through its fecal matter.

I stand corrected. Butts are a problem. According to the Keep America Beautiful website, Americans smoke fewer cigarettes than at any time since 1951, but cigarette butts remain the most littered item in the US. And cigarette butts don't disappear. That's because about 95% of each butt contains cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that doesn't quickly degrade and persists in the environment. Cellulose acetate, by the way, is also used in award ribbons, clothing, diapers, and Legos. 

Butt filters are harmful to waterways and wildlife. About 18% of them, traveling through stormwater systems, end up in local streams and rivers. They also impact wildlife directly when animals mistake them for food.

So I was intrigued at a meeting recently when the speaker reported that some new school lunch trays were made out of recycled butt material. Which at first sounded icky, but then I remembered: Cellulose acetate -- Legos -- duh. It's just plastic. My kids could have been Lego-ing together repurposed cigarette butts for all I know. 

I did some digging and it turns out a guy named Curtis Baffico at a website called pays out a butt redemption value of $3 a pound. It only takes 1500 butts to make a pound. 

A lot of work sure, but hey. One nagging question is finally answered. We finally know what a buttload is worth. 

America, ya gotta love it.

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