Tartu company to recycle cigarette butts

Tartu 2024.
Tartu 2024. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Special collection boxes for cigarette butts have been set up in Tartu, which the company behind the initiative plans to recycle as the first such project in Estonia.

Cigarette butts are the world's most serious garbage problem. Data from the World Health Organization suggests over 750,000 tons of cigarette ends land in nature every year.

Founder of Filaret OÜ, creator of the collection boxes, Ines-Issa Villido said that while cigarette butts might not be a prominent problem at first glance, you can see them lining the streets once you start keeping an eye out. "Recent tobacco sales statistics suggest around 300 tons of cigarette filter waste is created in Estonia in a year. That is equal to roughly one hundred truck loads," she said.

Filaret is the first company to recycle cigarette ends in Estonia. Villido said that they should be a separate type of waste.

"A single collection box holds around 6,000 butts, which comes to ten liters or one kilogram. A kilogram of butts is turned into a kilogram bioplastic. We have also used it to make 3D printing filament," the founder explained.

Filaret OÜ also wants to keep toxic substances used in cigarette butts from ending up in the natural environment. Helen Orav-Kotta, assistant professor of marine biology at the Estonian Marine Institute, said it takes 10-20 years for a cigarette butt to decompose in nature, depending on the conditions.

"During this time, harmful substances in the butts slowly seep into the surrounding environment. It is merely a matter of time before these chemicals, heavy metals, lead, acetate, nicotine reach living organisms, such as earthworms," Orav-Kotta said.

The biologist added that if these toxic substances end up in water, there is a good chance they will eventually land on the menu of humans and pets through fish.

Throwing cigarette butts on the ground is also a major fire risk. Elari Kliiman, prevention partner for Rescue Center South, said that cigarette ends can ignite other garbage when thrown into trash cans. The Rescue Board has been forced to put out 650 garbage can fires between start of last year and May of this one.

"Once people accept that, the risk of garbage fires falls and rescue workers can spend their time doing something other than putting out trash fires. It often makes up a lot of our work, especially in cities," Kliiman said.

Filaret's collection boxes for cigarette butts will stay in various Tartu locations until mid-August. Rein Haak, head of Tartu's Department of Business Development, said that there will be various events in the city center during that period.

"The period will end when the Car Freedom Avenue closes. It is important for the test period to coincide with large crowds in the city center. Let us all contribute to a cleaner environment," Haak added.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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