Thanks to a grant from Keep America Beautiful, Keep Dalton-Whitfield Beautiful (KDWB) will soon be placing special cigarette litter collection bins across Whitfield County. These "ballot bins" allow users to vote for one of two options in the bin. They are used to increase participation in the program and decrease litter.

But did you know that the cigarettes in these bins are going to be recycled? With 5.5 trillion cigarettes disposed ever year, finding a way to reuse the waste is valuable for smokers and non-smokers alike.

Once full, each bin will be collected and shipped to a company called Terracycle. Terracycle, based in New Jersey, focuses on finding unique solutions to waste issues and creative ways to upcycle and recycle. One of those unique problems is cigarettes. So, they started a program that finds a use for this waste instead of preserving the cigarettes for thousands of years in landfills across America.

Recycling can be costly, especially for unique items like cigarettes, so one company stepped up to help fund the program. Terracycle states, "With funding from Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, the waste collected through this program is recycled into a variety of industrial products, such as plastic pallets, and any remaining tobacco is recycled as compost."

All of the extinguished cigarettes, cigarette filters, loose tobacco pouches, outer plastic packaging, inner foil packaging, rolling paper and ash can be recycled in these bins. While you can't throw the box away in there, the paperboard box can be tossed into your regular paper recycling bin where the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Materials Recovery Facility will handle it.

The inside packaging materials and filters get melted, molded and turned into plastic packaging. The ash and paper part of the cigarettes gets composted. The paperboard box gets sorted and pulped to become a new paper product.

Cigarettes have filters that are made from cellulose acetate, a synthetic fiber. This filter doesn't biodegrade when tossed outside and ends up in all of our waterways eventually if never picked up. It can, however, be used to make new plastic products if processed correctly. Through this program the filters go through a process called extrusion which turns it into pellets. It is a similar method that is used to make carpet from plastic here in Whitfield County. After extrusion, the filter and other inside packaging materials from the box get mixed with other materials and turned into ashtrays, pallets or lumber.

Once the insides are removed and disposed of in the yellow ballot bins, you can put the paperboard box in your regular recycling bin. This box can easily get turned into all sorts of other objects, from book covers to Wendy's napkins.

Even with the amount of smoking declining, cigarettes are still the most littered item in America. Not only that, they are the biggest ocean contaminant. Just one butt in a liter of water can poison and kill a fish. Though it’s hard to estimate exactly how much damage this does to oceans worldwide, we can deduce that it is leading to major problems below the surface.

For every pound of cigarette waste collected and sent into Terracycle for recycling, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company donates $1 towards the Keep America Beautiful Cigarette Litter Prevention Program. Keep America Beautiful helps clean up cigarettes that have been littered by coordinating cleanups, donating supplies and supplying grants similar to the one that was given to KDWB.

Cigarette litter causes problems for our wildlife, waterways and environment. Yet, they still get littered here every day. With the incentive to not only keep our town clean, but also the knowledge that these cigarettes can be used as a resource more of those butts should end up in the right place.

Amy Hartline is the recycling and education program coordinator for the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority. Have a recycling question? Contact her at (706) 278-5001 or at ahartline@dwswa.org.

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