Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Call to Recycle Cigarette Butts by Emily B. Hager - City Room Blog -

Read original...

Street value: $1.57 - Shaun Best/Reuters

When a constituent came into Assemblyman Michael G. DenDekker’s office recently and suggested he propose a cigarette butt recycling program, Mr. DenDekker admits he “had a little chuckle.” Then a staffer, half joking, suggested a cigarette butt deposit, just as is done with bottles. But before completely dismissing the idea, Mr. DenDekker agreed “to see if there is a market on it.”

A little Googling and Mr. DenDekker discovered that in China, scientists had found that soaking cigarette butts in water creates a solution that can protect steel pipes used by the oil industry from corroding. In Brazil, a fashion designer, Alexandra Guerrero, cleans cigarette butts, dyes them and spins them with sheep wool into clothing. And in Ohio, an inventor has a patent pending to turn cigarette butts into adhesives and sealants.

Now two weeks later, Mr. DenDekker, a Democrat from Queens, has proposed a bill that would create a statewide cigarette butt recycling program. “There are two reasons to do it,” he said. “One is to create jobs, the other is to clean our environment a little.”

The bill would task the departments of environmental conservation and health to develop the recycling program, and require a minimum one-cent deposit per cigarette.

“I don’t want this to be an unfunded mandate,” said Mr. DenDekker, 48, who smoked for 30 years and now says he doesn’t care if smokers have to pay more. “I’m sorry, but look at the amount of waste that cigarette butts cause in our cities.”

Cigarette butts have immediate dangers and long side effects: small children sometimes pick up them up and eat them; additionally toxins remaining in the butts can leach into the environment and poison fish.

According to Mr. DenDekker’s office, more than 176 million pounds of cigarette butts are discarded each year in this country.

Thomas E. Novotny, a former assistant surgeon general and the head of California’s Cigarette Butt Pollution Project, said he agreed with the goals of the bill but added, “Before New York commits itself to finding new purposes for these butts, we need to remember that they are toxic hazardous waste, not simple litter, and that needs to be the focus of efforts on keeping them out of the environment.”

While cigarette butts may prove to be an untapped resource for future products, establishing a recycling program is very difficult. Mr. Novotny and several others said they did not know of a cigarette recycling program anywhere in the country. Last year, San Francisco levied a 20-cents-a-pack fee on cigarettes to pay for the cost of picking up after smokers, but Philip Morris USA has sued to block it.

Mr. DenDekker’s bill is its infancy. How it would be financed remains unclear; he has not yet secured the support of the chair members of the economic and health committee, but he said, “I don’t think I’ll have a problem getting a senate sponsor.”

He added: “This is something that is going to be a long process. But imagine if we had started cleaning them up 20 years ago.”