Road PaversWith more than 7 billion people living on planet earth, minimizing environmental impact is becoming a serious concern.

Car manufacturers and companies that recycle vehicles have made great strides and nearly seventy percent of modern cars are recyclable, but there are other places where environmental impacts can be reduced. Right now, cigarette butts are the most pervasive form of litter in the world, with more than one million tons of them ending up in landfills every single year, and no matter where anyone goes, it’s almost a sure bet that they’ll find cigarette butts at their feet, but soon they might find them under their tires in a good way.

Study at RMIT University

A study at RMIT university in Melbourne, Australia has come out looking into the possibility of using cigarette butts in the construction of roads. “Cigarette filters are designed to trap hundreds of toxic chemicals and the only ways to control these chemicals are either by effective encapsulation for the production of new lightweight aggregates or by incorporation in fired clay bricks,” said Abbas Mohajerani, head researcher and engineering lecturer. The researchers were looking for a way to reduce the 1.2 million metric tons of cigarette butts that end up in landfills every year, and they found that coating the butts with bitumen (a material currently used to store nuclear waste in France) and paraffin wax would prevent toxic chemicals from leaching out into the asphalt. They also had success with encasing the butts into bricks for use in new buildings. Cigarette butts are meant to capture a number of toxins created by the process of smoking the cigarette in the first place. It’s important to keep the toxins stored in the butts from leaching into the groundwater or affecting nearby soil. Cigarette butts contain traces of cadmium, lead, and arsenic and currently leach those chemicals into the water.

Mohajerani and his team have spent 5 years looking into the problem, and has come up with some good results. He’s found that using the butts in the asphalt has another benefit besides simply removing them from landfill waste. They also reduce the amount of heat built up by roadways in urban areas, possibly reducing heating costs as well as water quality and greenhouse gas emissions. These areas that are warmer due to this effect are known as ‘urban heat islands’ and they can make it as much as 22 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in town in the evenings compared to rural areas near the city. This means that using cigarette butts in road building and in bricks would have major side benefits besides simply removing from landfills. With less heat buildup from hot asphalt heating bills could be reduced as well.

Mohajerani predicts that if they put if they put around 40 pounds of cigarette butts in each cubic yard of asphalt that it would make a huge impact on the waste problem posed by cigarette butts. They use the butts on a lower layer of the road and then cover it with standard asphalt, meaning that there also isn’t any chance of road wear making the butts come to the surface expose their chemicals to the environment. They’ve tested their compound with exposure to simulated heavy traffic and their results are looking good. They saw good resistance to the heavy traffic and have high hopes for the future of their material. They also submitted their findings to the journal of construction and building materials in hopes of putting their findings out there in the world where they can do good and help the planet.

The Benefit

With cigarette butts being recycled into bricks and roadways as well as being sterilized and made into plastic products by companies like Terracycle, there are big steps being made towards making the planet a cleaner place. With researchers like Abbas Mohajerani and his team working to make even more scientific strides to reduce as much trash as possible there may be a day in the future where landfills are a thing of the past.