Trenton company recycles discarded cigarette butts

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A recycling company in Trenton is collecting millions of discarded cigarettes in an effort to turn them into something reusable. (WPVI)

A recycling company in Trenton is collecting millions of discarded cigarettes in an effort to turn them into something reusable.

Discarded cigarette butts: they seem to be everywhere, littering the streets.

"Cigarette butts are the most ubiquitous form of litter in the world. There are 3.5 trillion cigarette butts that are littered every single year," said Albe Zakes, vice president of TerraCycle.

What would happen if they were recycled and served another purpose?

That's a question scientists at Trenton's TerraCycle are answering.

They've been collecting discarded butts in boxes all over downtown and have volunteers sending them in from across the country.

"Most cigarette filters are actually a high-grade plastic called cellulose acetate. This is the same plastic that's actually in your sunglasses," said Rick Zultner, product development director for TerraCycle.

In a process developed by the recycling company, the filter is separated from the cigarette and fed to a machine that melts the filter down, creating a string of hard plastic that's cut into pellets.

"We sell the pellets to companies that can turn them into things like shipping skids, railroad ties, plastic lumber and a variety of other building materials," said Zakes.

Because they've been exposed to nicotine, the pellets are not used to make household products.

Several smokers told us they'd seen the collection boxes around town but didn't know the story behind them.

TerraCycle has made a name for itself by globally re-purposing and up-cycling products like candy wrappers and juice bags.

Cigarette butts are just the latest project, but not the last.

"We are working on technology for used chewing gum, for used dirty diapers; all the difficult, gross, expensive things to recycle that no one wants to take care of - TerraCycle that's what we want to focus on," said Zakes.

It's all about turning trash into something new.

Related Topics:
sciencerecyclingn.j. newscigarettessmokingTrenton
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