Despite a nearly 30 percent decline in cigarette smoking in the U.S. over the past decade, cigarette butts are still the most littered item across the country and the planet, according to Keep America Beautiful.
To tackle this litter problem locally, Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, home to the National Hockey League’s Predators, has teamed up with the Nashville Clean Water Project and upcycling company TerraCycle to collect and recycle cigarette butts discarded at the sports and concert venue. The arena is one of the first venues in North America to launch a recycling program for this traditionally difficult-to-recycle material.
“We’re proud of our building and our community, and we are taking this opportunity to set an example in Music City and show how simple it can be to help reduce litter and maintain clean water,” Chris Parker, Nashville Predators’ executive vice president, said in a statement.
Under the program, Bridgestone Arena staff collects cigarette butts littered outside the venue on sidewalks and in plaza areas where concert-goers and Predators fans are allowed to smoke. Butts are packed in boxes and shipped to TerraCycle’s New Jersey recycling plant, with postage paid by the upcycling company.
TerraCycle, which specializes in collecting materials that cannot be recycled through most curbside programs and turning them into innovative, affordable products, recycles the cigarette butts it receives into industrial shipping pallets and reworks any remaining tobacco into tobacco composting.
Since Bridgestone Arena began collecting cigarette butts in mid-December, the venue has rounded up an estimated 30,000 butts, weighing in at 30 pounds.
As someone who coordinated recycling programs for cities in the San Francisco Bay Area, I understand all too well that no matter how many recycling and trash bins you install and no matter how much try to educate the public, some people will always throw away items in the wrong bins or litter. That’s why Bridgestone Arena’s program is commendable: The company is using precious staff time to gather and sort out cigarette butts – rather than simply set out collection bins for the material and expect visitors to dispose of them properly. Then the program takes its environmental responsibility a step further: not only preventing cigarette butts from entering the environment and endangering wildlife, but also recycling the waste material into a valuable new commodity.
Cigarette butts make up 38 percent of U.S. roadway litter, according to Keep America Beautiful, often ending up in waterways and oceans where they are toxic to aquatic life.
Bridgestone Arena’s collection program is part of a campaign by the Nashville Clean Water Project to collect and recycle cigarette litter in Tennessee’s capital. The nonprofit is currently raising funds through Indiegogo to start similar collection programs throughout the city – at other businesses and through neighborhood associations.
“The participation of the Nashville Predators and Bridgestone Arena shows exceptional community leadership,” Mark Thien, said executive director of the Nashville Clean Water Project, operating nationally as Water City USA, in a statement. “We hope organizations throughout the country will follow their lead and join our no-cost program.”
Businesses and offices across the country can sign up for TerraCycle’s Cigarette Waste Brigade and collect and ship cigarette butts to TerraCycle for recycling.
Image credit: Flickr/Maxwell GS
Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru