Familiar habit: step outside, smoke a cigarette to relieve urban stress, toss what’s left on the concrete. This small action, multiplied a few trillion times around the world, produces 1.2 trillion tons of waste. This waste is not strictly organic; mixed in with the plant products are heavy metals that can contaminate land and water. Even the increased popularity of vaping will do little to combat the increase of cigarette waste, which is predicted to grow by up to 50 percent by 2025. Perhaps inspired by the concrete on which so many butts have been dumped, Dr. Abbas Mohajerani, engineer at RMIT University in Melbourne, has proposed repurposing this waste into bricks for building.
“I have been dreaming for many years about finding sustainable and practical methods for solving the problem of cigarette butt pollution,” says Mohajerani. If the material for only 2.5 percent of the global production of bricks was sourced from cigarette butts, it would offset the waste produced by cigarette butts. Bricks produced using cigarette waste are cheaper and less energy intensive than traditional bricks. The cigarette butts are mixed into traditional clay bricks, reducing the energy required by 58 percent. The resulting bricks are more insulating, which would cut down the cost of heating or cooling a home, and easier to move due to their lighter weight.
Mohajerani believes that his techniques could make a huge dent in the problem of global pollution. “Incorporating butts into bricks can effectively solve a global litter problem as recycled cigarette butts can be placed in bricks without any fear of leaching or contamination,” says Mohajerani. How these cigarette butts will be effectively collected is unclear. Although the mass production of cigarette butt bricks is still far on the horizon, the work of Mohaherani and his team have helped to clarify a creative solution to an enduring human problem. If we must smoke, let us build something too.