Recycling Cigarette Butts Into Clothing

Recycling Cigarette Butts Into Clothing

Many are aware of the health implications of cigarettes, but few realize that they also have a significant environmental impact. Tobacco products are the most littered item on the planet, with 4.5 trillion cigarette filters entering the world’s oceans, rivers, sidewalks, and beaches yearly, totaling an estimated 766,571 metric tons annually. A significant contributor to this appears to be improper disposal, according to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Out of 7,532 smokers over a 24-hour period, respondents self-reported having littered 25,380, or 46%, of the cigarettes they smoked.

At first glance, this might not seem like a problem, as cigarette filters look like cotton and are therefore perceived as biodegradable. However, 95% of cigarettes are made of cellulose acetate, a plastic that can take up to 18 months to degrade. On the ground level, there’s a need to rethink how cigarettes are used, but on the macro level, a multi-sector approach must be implemented to decrease cigarette-fueled waste.

Creating a smoke-free future

The nicotine industry has been looking for ways to dramatically reduce the
environmental impact of their items by transitioning users to smoke-free products. Case in point, the VELO nicotine pouches featured on Prilla are next-generation, smokeless, and tobacco-free products that use plant-based fibers, which are typically derived from natural sources like eucalyptus and pine, serving as a carrier for nicotine and other ingredients. Unlike traditional tobacco products, these pouches don’t contain any tobacco leaf, which reduces their environmental impact, as tobacco farming can degrade soil, threaten biodiversity, and expose farm workers to pesticides and fertilizers. Moreover, VELO packages their pouches in reusable tins, allowing users to avoid improper disposal.

Philip Morris International is also making strides away from their Marlboro brand
cigarettes and toward an utterly smoke-free future with IQOS. This electronic device
warms tobacco rather than burning it, allowing users to experience real tobacco sans fire and ash, with less smell than a cigarette. About 33% of their revenue comes from these smoke-free products, which they aim to increase to 50% by 2025. But while the industry works toward those goals, there are a few ways some innovative minds have transformed cigarette butts into wearable, rather than wasteful, items.

From cigarettes to clothing

Tobacco-based fashion initiatives have existed for years now. United States-based
Ploughboy Organics worked with tobacco stalks – in other words, agricultural waste from tobacco plantations – to create natural fabrics that can be blended with cotton, silk, and cashmere. They also use the raw material to make 30 shades of dye in a process that uses little water and low temperatures, which removes the need to treat the resulting wastewater. Meanwhile, designer Alexandra Guerrero has created her spin on tobacco-based fabric in Chile. By combining cellulose acetate with natural wool, her brand Mantis created unique pieces made from the resulting yarn. The yarn has an eccentric macrame-like look and feel, which allows them to develop hand-knit ponchos,headwear, and other statement pieces.

Believe it or not, cigarettes can keep you warm, but not in the way you might think.
Julian Paque, a French entrepreneur, has found a way to channel at least part of the
23.5 billion cigarette butts that, according to the French Ministry of Environmental
Transition, are thrown into public spaces yearly. His startup TchaoMégot uses a neutral solvent to clean the cellulose acetate from used butts all without the use of water or any toxic ingredients. The finished item can then be used in two ways: as insulation for construction projects like roofing and flooring or as insulation used in the padding of down jackets.

In our article "The Future of E-Waste Recycling"; we talked about doing our part to reduce e-waste, which is something people who use vape cartridges or e-cigarettes
should be mindful of. But if the above creative initiatives are any indication, it shows that when met with industry support and proper government regulations, ingenious solutions could pave the way for a world with much less tobacco-related waste.