Canadian Manufacturing

Recycling firm turns cigarette butts into pallets

by Dan Ilika   

Operations Sustainability Transportation recycling Sustainability

TerraCycle rolls out program to turn cigarette waste into industrial-use pallets

Toronto—A New Jersey-based recycling firm is putting Canadian butts to work as it looks to turn discarded cigarette waste into industrial-use pallets.

TerraCycle, a firm that reuses and reprocesses hard-to-recycle waste, has launched its Cigarette Waste Brigade program, which diverts cigarette butts—along with plastic and foil cigarette packaging—from landfills and uses them to make pallets for industrial shipping.

“I’m personally very excited about cigarette butts because it’s a landmark waste stream,” said TerraCycle founder Tom Szaky. “It’s a massive litter issue.”

According to Szaky, TerraCycle set out with three goals in mind: recycle cigarette butts; recycle used chewing gum; and recycle used diapers.


“Our basic premise is a simple one,” Szaky said, “we make things that are not recyclable … recyclable.”

The ball got rolling early with the cigarette butt program, but look for a chewing gum initiative in Brazil and a used diaper plan in U.S., to be launched by year-end.

Exclusive to Canada, the cigarette recycling program banks on the initiative of individuals, businesses and anti-litter groups to collect the discarded waste and send it to TerraCycle in increments of up to 70-lbs. per package, free of charge.

Once the butts arrive at a TerraCycle facility in Toronto they are sanitized through a radiation process, shredded and separated: organic material goes through specialty composting and made into compost, with the plastic melted down into pellets for industrial use.

According to Szaky, the plastic is safe for multipurpose use, though his company would rather not take any chances.

“The plastic we’ve tested independently at labs … is proven to be safe but to be extremely careful from our end—because we want to just be very, very cautious about this—we’re only allowing the plastic to go into industrial uses,” he said.

From there the pellets are sent to a pallet manufacturer in the northern U.S., where they are melted down and formed into an alternative pallet to the traditional wood or virgin plastic products used across the continent and around the globe.

“We aren’t a plastic pallet company,” Szaky said. “There’s already a huge plastic pallet industry out there and that industry is the one that’s buying this raw material to replace their current raw material.”

Though TerraCycle recycles the cigarette waste at a loss, Szaky said the program is subsidized by Canada’s largest tobacco company to make it economically viable.

In the first 30 days of operation the program received more than 5,000 butts, which Szaky is pleased with.

“(It) may not seem like a big deal at all but the fact that (it’s) happened already in the first 30 days is pretty amazing,” he said.

The project, still in its infancy, has garnered the attention of some of the world’s largest tobacco companies.

“Since we launched in Canada we have been getting massive interest from the top three cigarette companies around the world to replicate the program,” he said, noting TerraCycle has signed a deal for a U.S. program and is in talks for another in Europe.

If the environmentally responsible nature of the program isn’t enough to get people involved, the social aspect is sure to draw interest.

“In addition to free shipping and recycling the material … we also give $1 for every pound of butts that you send us to any charity or school that you wish in Canada,” Szaky said, adding there is no limit to the amount of waste people can send in.


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