We’ve all seen them dotting city streets and scattered over the sands of our favorite surf spots – cigarette butts. Some of us have been guilty of the post-nicotine fix flick, maybe reasoning that one tiny cigarette filter couldn’t possibly hurt the environment. However, this seemingly innocuous act of littering is measured collectively in volumes normally reserved for mathematicians and astrophysicists alike, who ponder how many stars occupy a handful of galaxies. While great strides have been made in the states to outright ban cigarette smoking in a number of public and private venues, six trillion cigarettes are still produced every year. Yes. That’s trillion, with twelve zeros after the six. Regrettably, as the odds would have it, cigarette butts end up just about everywhere, including our beloved seas and drinking water. According to National Geographic, New York state alone produces an estimated 1.5 million tons of cigarette butts a year and by some estimates, it accounts for the world’s number one litter problem.
Inventing and executing solutions to deal with cigarette butts is nothing new. Regarding our shared surfing heritage, Matt Warshaw notes in The Encyclopedia of Surfing that Dorian Paskowitz and his late 1950s Israeli surf crew were using cigarette filters to perform ding repairs. However, there aren’t enough surfboard dings in the world to eradicate the problem and the logical solution is to end cigarette smoking altogether. Sure. No prob. It’s on the list right after world peace. In the meantime, there are more practical initiatives to deal with the deluge of this toxic waste. Most recently, a team at RMIT University in Australia discovered that they can effectively mix cigarette butts into clay-fired bricks. Their research demonstrated that they can “reduce contamination caused by cigarette butts and provide a masonry construction material that can be either loadbearing or non-loadbearing.” It’s encouraging to note that they calculated only 2.5% of the world’s annual brick production is needed to totally neutralize the global cigarette waste plague.