Every year, human beings drop billions of cigarette butts on the floor in what is arguably one of the the single largest acts of littering ever undertaken by our species.
Now though, scientists at RMIT University in Australia say they’ve found a way to actually make use of all the discarded butts rather than having them clutter up our pavements.
What they’re proposing is to actually build our pavements out of cigarette butts.
The team were able to mix the butts into asphalt and show that the resulting mixture can not only handle very heavy traffic loads but also showed reduced thermal conductivity.
Not only would this help solve a huge environmental problem but the team note that thanks to its thermal properties the roads could reduce the urban heat island effect that is common in cities.
Dr Abbas Mohajerani, a senior lecturer in RMIT’s School of Engineering explains how the process works.
“In this research, we encapsulated the cigarette butts with bitumen and paraffin wax to lock in the chemicals and prevent any leaching from the asphalt concrete. The encapsulated cigarettes butts were mixed with hot asphalt mix for making samples,” he said.
“This research shows that you can create a new construction material while ridding the environment of a huge waste problem.”
A frankly staggering six trillion cigarettes are produced every single year, leading to around 1.2 million tonnes of waste.
Despite the decreasing numbers of smokers, that figure is actually expected to rise by more than 50% by 2025 thanks to population growth.
Having filtered all the harmful chemicals from the cigarette, the littered filters can then cause huge damage to the surrounding environment by releasing those chemicals into the soil.
Dr Mohajerani most recently demonstrated how you could recycle cigarette butts inside bricks.
He found that if just 2.5% of annual brick production contained 1% cigarette butts it would offset the world’s cigarette production entirely.
Mohajerani said: “Incorporating butts into bricks can effectively solve a global litter problem as recycled cigarette butts can be placed in bricks without any fear of leaching or contamination.
“They are also cheaper to produce in terms of energy requirements, and as more butts are incorporated, the energy cost decreases further.”