Cigarette Butts can be recycled

Quotes and Data

Cigarette butts make up the largest portion of micro litter in Texas.

One of the more common items I pick up with my family on our neighborhood walks are cigarette butts. They’re also the second hardest to grab since they’re so small. Small random bits of plastic are the hardest. When researching data for this post, I found out that this syncs with Texas and other areas’ data. According to Don’t Mess With Texas, “71% of litter consists of micro litter (two inches or smaller) such as cigarette butts, straws and gum wrappers.” Cigarette butts are commonly strewn along the sidewalks, alleys and parks in my neighborhood, as well as left all around our ponds where people like to sit, rest and fish. Please let me emphasis two things and I encourage you to share this: First, leaving your cigarette, cigarillo and cigar butts and mouthpieces on the ground is littering. “Litter is trash that is not disposed of properly in a trash can. (Apple cores and banana peels are litter too [even though they break down naturally -> take these home to compost]),” and “You can be fined $500 every time you litter in Texas.”  Second, cigarette filters are made of plastic and will not biodegrade; they won’t breakdown naturally into the soil. I used to think cigarette butts were cotton and would break down into the soil, so I get it if this is new and surprising to you too. All the cigarette butt does is break apart into smaller and smaller plastic fibers that are ground into the soil or blown into water, and personally they are very hard to collect when the breakdown process starts happening. I’m about to start bringing a shovel and tweezer’s on some of these cleanup walks.

One of the biggest sources of plastic pollution is from tobacco products. Nearly every year International Coastal Cleanup® volunteers pick up more cigarette butts than any other item. 

Over the past three decades, volunteers have picked up more than 30 million cigarette butts from U.S. beaches and waterways during the annual cleanup. Most concerning, inside each of those butts is a filter made of slow-degrading plastics that can harm our ocean and the animals that live there.

Ocean Conservancy newsletter 02.25.22

When tossed on the street, the beach, or wherever they fall, cigarette butts take 18 months to 10 years to break down [again, this is not “returning to the earth” but just breaking apart]. Discarded butts leach chemicals and heavy metals, the same things that kill smokers, into the environment. They often wash down the street gutters, polluting our waterways and harming fish and other wildlife. Recycling cigarette butts is an important way to clean up after ourselves. It is good for the neighborhood or beach, and good for the planet.


Personal Responsibility: practice Leave No Trace. If you bring it in, take it out with you, or find a trash receptacle if there is one and you aren’t able to take your waste home with you to process into trash, recycling and compost. Keep in mind when going out that you may not always find a trash can and this can be for a few reasons: 1) the park or site is discouraging waste to begin with so they removed trash cans, 2) there are staff or funding shortages so they have reduced or removed trash cans, 3) the site did not add trash cans or recycling cans for aesthetic reasons, etc. These are the most common reasons I’ve experienced. Think Poirot here, author Agatha Christie’s most famous detective. Poirot always carried a little container for his ashes and stubs. These are still available today. Searches for “portable ashtray” or “pocket ashtray” will bring you modern options. P.S. On a personal note I thoroughly enjoy being able to share one of my favorite characters and shows with you.

Hercule Poirot’s pocket ash tray. Image from

Cleaning up after others: If you have the passion, time and an efficient way to do it, separate out the cigarette waste from your cleanup to be recycled. Trash tongs make picking up cigarette butts a breeze, and save your back. Using my discount code TAYLORYOUNGBLOOD 20 at 4ocean will pull one pound of trash from our oceans, waterways and coastlines and save you 20% on 4oceans trash tongs, or your first three purchases. Trash tongs are also available on Amazon for the exact same price but you don’t fund trash cleanup (yes this is an obvious plug for more litter cleanup). If you choose Amazon, don’t forget to use Amazon Smile and pick your favorite charity and a portion of your purchase will support that charity. Also wait and try to fill up a box to reduce packaging and shipping.

How to Recycle

Cigarette waste can be recycled for free with TerraCycle’s Cigarette Waste Recycling Program. How cigarette butts are recycled process is here.

Here’s a screenshot of the accepted items you can collect yourself and they’ll send a prepaid shipping label.

The items accepted, which are most of what I find when we clean up, need to be completely extinguished and dry. You can collect them in “a re-sealable plastic bag, disposable plastic container, plastic shopping bag, or garbage bag” and then contact TerraCycle for your free downloadable shipping label. If you’re near water like ponds, a creek or a stream, just make sure the butts dry out before you ship them. I have those we collect in a paper bag outside to dry out and then I reuse a re-sealable plastic bag from the pharmacy to store them for shipping.

Making a Difference

For every pound of cigarette waste collected through TerraCycle’s program, $1.00 will be donated towards the Keep America Beautiful Cigarette Litter Prevention Program.

If you live in or near a building that houses a lot of smokers and there aren’t any proper receptacles, contact the building management and encourage them to provide collection receptacles. I recommend including pictures as photos help make an impact and support the story. Trash collected properly over litter is good, a recycling collection would be even better, even greener.

#cigarettes #cigarettebutts #cigars #cigarillos #terracycle #recycle #trash #plastic #plasticfilter #cleanup #neighborhoodcleanup #parkcleanup #ashtray #pocketashtray #packaging #fishing #thinking spot #poirot #alittlemoregreen #LeaveNoTraceATX #EnjoyYourWorld

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