The Cigarette Waste Brigade pilot project began this week in Vancouver, Canada as part of the city’s efforts to become the greenest on the globe by 2020. The program’s first step was to install 110 recycling receptacles in four downtown areas where haphazardly discarded butts are commonly found. But these collected butts won’t just end up in a landfill, they will be recycled into usable building materials such as planks and shipping pallets.

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Even though Vancouver has one of the lowest smoking rates among Canadian cities, it’s still not immune to the problem of cigarette butts being tossed onto the city streets. Deputy Mayor Andrea Reimer said during the project’s announcement, “As a city councillor the last five years, I can not tell you how many people complain about the problem of litter on our streets, and most especially cigarette butts.”

The government has teamed up with TerraCycle to turn the cellulose acetate used in cigarette filters into building materials such as planks and shipping pallets. TerraCycle will supply the receptacles, cover costs for installing and emptying them, and collect the butts while also providing employment through two inner-city charities. With an estimated 3.5 trillion cigarette butts littered every single year, the problem is more than just an eyesore. “Not only is this a massive amount of waste, but they’re incredibly toxic. Just one cigarette butt in a litre of water can poison and kill the fish, based on studies done by San Diego University,” said Albe Zakes from TerrayCycle.

One of the charities involved is called United We Can, which has operated a bottle recycling depot for 15 years in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and pays some of the city’s most marginalized people for their collected bottles and cans. Gerry Martin, general manager of United We Can, said enthusiastically: “This plan accomplishes the recycling of cigarettes butts, cleaning our streets, sidewalks, and employing people who are sometimes hard to employ, but appreciate the dignity of employment.”

If this is only the first of many exciting initiatives to come out of Vancouver in their attempts to be the globe’s greenest, then we’re excited to see what else they can come up with.

Via GlobalPost

Images by Axolot, c_thylacine