An appalling number of cigarette butts litter our sidewalks. An estimated 1.3 million tons of them are produced in a year worldwide. It takes years for them to decompose, and even then the toxic chemical load continues to pollute water bodies. Disposing them in landfills doesn’t eliminate the problem, as the plastic filters aren’t biodegradable.
However, a solution has been found. A team from the Australian RMIT University, led by scientist Dr. Abbas Mohajerani, are giving these cigarette butts a new life.
You will still find the cigarette butts on the sidewalk – just that they’ll be sealed up inside roads and footpaths. The researchers have found a new way to contain the chemicals from cigarette butts and use them to improve roads.
As part of the study, the cigarette butts were coated in paraffin wax and bitumen – a gooey, black oil-based substance – and added to asphalt mixtures. They then applied pressure to simulate use as a road surface. Depending on the density of cigarette butts in the sample and the quality of bitumen used, the new material was able to withstand a range of conditions – from light to heavy traffic.
The team was able to demonstrate that asphalt mixed with cigarette butts can handle heavy traffic and also effectively reduce thermal conductivity. This innovative product can not only solve the huge waste problem caused by cigarette butts, but also effectively reduce the urban heat island effect common in cities.
Dr. Abbas, who is also a senior lecturer in RMIT’s School of Engineering, has been trying to find sustainable and practical methods for solving the problem of cigarette butt pollution for many years now.
Talking about the innovation, he said, “In this research, we encapsulated the cigarette butts with bitumen and paraffin wax to lock in the chemicals and prevent any leaching from the asphalt concrete. The encapsulated cigarettes butts were mixed with hot asphalt mix for making samples.”
“This research shows that you can create a new construction material while ridding the environment of a huge waste problem,” he added.
If the average number of cigarettes produced in a year is 6 trillion, it produces over 1.2 million tonnes of cigarette butt waste. Owing to the increasing world population, these figures are expected to increase by more than 50 per cent by 2025. This innovation can be replicated in most metro cities around the world.