Waste as a resource: is there an afterlife for cigarettes and cigarette filters?

7. 6 .2022, Antonina Konarzewska

Regardless of your beliefs towards the afterlife, you might want to listen to this case study. At Cyrkl, we believe in the afterlife and in prolonging the life of materials, especially challenging ones. That’s why we’re happy to give you a sneak-peak into our experience working with the waste from the tobacco industry.

On average,  10 millions cigarettes are sold every minute.  The average lifetime of a cigarette is around 6 minutes. Afterwards, more than 50% of them are not disposed of properly, resulting in increased littering and environmental pollution. 

 

The estimated annual discarded waste from global cigarette consumption is roughly 340–680 million kg! Not including almost two million tonnes of paper, ink, cellophane, foil and glue that are used in tobacco product packaging. 


Process of cigarette production

There are many stages involved in the process of cigarette production- from tobacco treatment, through the production of a filter to the packaging process. In our Cyrkl projects we have focused on the cigarette filters. During the cigarette production process, the cellulose acetate is treated with a plasticizer which improves the mechanical performance of the finished filter. During this process, some filters are classified as faulty due to improper length or other issues. As a result, a waste stream of clean cigarette filter elements is being generated. The dominant current waste management practice of this waste stream in Poland, Czech Republic and potentially other European countries, is incineration with energy recovery. However, as we found out during the project, the calorific value of such material is rather low and it’s only used as an additive to other, more calorific wastes. It is not, however, the highest possible recovery method according to the waste hierarchy. 

 

Isn’t post-consumer waste the biggest challenge though?

Last month, we wrote about a second life for post-consumer waste.  

Cigarette butts are one of the most common types of waste found during beach clean-ups. More than 40% of all items that are collected during different clean-ups and removed from public areas such as beaches and parks are cigarette butts and other tobacco-related products (Bonanomi et al., 2015; Ariza et al., 2008).

 

A Slovakian company, EcoButt, has come up with a solution for this massive problem - turning cigarette butts into an additive to asphalt!

 

What about post-production waste, what is currently happening to this waste stream?

 

At Cyrkl we have had the pleasure of working with two companies generating this type of waste - including one of the biggest producers of tobacco products. It was fascinating to find out how cigarettes are made and even more fascinating to see how clean the waste from the filters seems.

 

We left the facility motivated to find an afterlife for this material and eventually… we did!

 

Seeing how clean and valuable this “waste” stream was, inspired us. Since it is post-production waste, it’s much cleaner than post-consumer waste, and thus, the prospects for recycling this material are much bigger. 

 

We have managed to create a connection between the waste producer and companies willing to test this material for much better use than energy recovery. Thanks to Cyrkl, this material is currently being tested in two countries to become a valuable material in the building sector! 

 

Would you like to guess what the afterlife for a cigarette filter might be? 

Stay tuned for more details! 

‐ Antonina Konarzewska

Cyrkl in the media