Sometimes ideas sound better on paper (or monitor) than in reality, and I’m wondering if Greenbutts is one of them.
Greenbutts seeks to do something about a source of blight and environmental impact that cuts across cultures and classes: cigarette butt waste. I’ve long been astonished by how many people casually toss their cigarettes, often still lit, into the street or gutter. According to the Greenbutts site, an estimated 4.5 trillion of them a year. Small butts, big impact.
Greenbutts solution is to create filters that are made from a blend of cotton and hemp, and can include tree, fruit, herb or flower seeds, capable of growing, “…when placed under a thin layer of soil.” Both biodegradable and compostable, they would seem an ideal solution to a huge problem. According to the Greenbutts site, “In the 2006 International Coastal Cleanup, cigarettes and cigarette butts constituted 24.7% of the total collected pieces of garbage, over twice as many as any other category.”
While I applaud their intention, I foresee some unintended consequences.
Smoking, no matter how organic the ingredients, is a deadly, addictive activity. Creating something that lends cigarette smoking a cleaner, healthier air to it could lower the bar to young, new smokers starting, and those already smoking having a further rationalization to keep doing it. This is definitely a case where giving a product a greener profile does not necessarily mean increased well being for all.
And though its site makes a point to say Greenbutts doesn’t condone littering, encouraging customers to put them in their garden or compost bin, the reality remains: Smokers often think nothing of tossing their butt into the street. And with Greenbutts, they may have even less reason, in their minds, to refrain from littering. Only the most motivated would likely collect and take them home to compost.
Yes, these filters can certainly biodegrade in less than the 10-15 years typical of conventional cigarette butts, but that will only happen if they’re left out in the open or in a loose pile of other organic matter, not tightly compressed in the sealed environment of a landfill, thus denying or at least vastly slowing the biodegrading process.
I’m not saying Greenbutts shouldn’t be made. Attempts to reduce waste are definitely to be encouraged. Along with that, however, there needs to be more effective efforts to reduce smoking, especially in prevention from it even starting.
Alternatively, to expect all buildings to provide ashtrays where their tenants smoke is foolish and thinking about the problem backwards. Until we substantially reduce how many people smoke, there will continue to be a waste issue that makes its way down our drains and into our oceans.
That said, smoking isn’t going away any time soon, Greenbutts are one way to make a positive impact in present time, however potentially flawed it might be.
Readers: What’s your thoughts on Greenbutts, how effective this startup could be in terms of waste reduction, and the potential negative impacts it could have?
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations around, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media.