In May 2012, Tom Szaky, the young American CEO of TerraCycle, launched a huge scheme for recycling cigarette butts in North America. Building on its success, he now aims to see how it unfolds in Europe.
Launched in Canada in May 2012 and then rolled out to the United States and Spain, his company TerraCycle runs a volunteer programme to collect discarded cigarettes. The paper and tobacco are composted. The cellulose acetate, a plastic material, used in the filters is melted and recycled into the manufacture of a wide range of products that are then marketed.
Tom Szaky estimates that it takes around 1000-2000 cigarette butts to make an ashtray and probably the upper side of 200,000 for a plastic garden chair. Given that 1000 to 2000 billion cigarette butts are discarded worldwide each year, his niche market is not set to go up in smoke!
The processing is paid for by a tobacco industry that is more than happy to shell out for environmentally responsible behaviour. "When we met with the tobacco industry and showed them the plastic we make from cigarette butts, they couldn’t believe it," says the young entrepreneur. "They came on board, and are not just paying for but also promoting the programme."
35 million people in 22 countries have now signed up to the collection programme on the website.