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Brussels finds life after trash for 900,000 cigarette butts

Brussels finds life after trash for 900,000 cigarette butts

Cigarette butts take 15 years to decompose and can contaminate up to 500 litres of water with their heavy chemicals

Recently, local authorities in Brussels announced they have collected 900,000 cigarette butts in the city last year. For the past two years, the project of collecting and recycling the butts has been a major focus of the Alderman of Public Cleanliness Zoubida Jellab, who made the announcement.

The strategy has two main pillars: installing special street ashtrays to help separate the butts and tightening control over cigarette littering by increase the number of issued fines.

The cigarette butt – a plight in the city and the environment

Cigarette butts are made from over 4,000 different chemicals and they take roughly 15 years to decompose. At the same time, they make up 30% of the street litter in Brussels and people throw out an estimated 30 million butts in Belgium every day.

At the same time, according to the city, because of the high percentage of cigarette littering takes up in the city, street cleaners are burdened with extra work, circling back to the consumer, who ends up funding the cleaning service through taxpayer money.

Furthermore, the usual fate very cigarette butt is to get washed away by rain, then float down a river and into the ocean. There, experts estimate that each butt contaminates 500 litres of water.

recycling binA cigarette butt recycling bin, Source: We Circular website

This is why Alderman Jellab decided to focus on cigarette butts. One of the pillars of her measures are the 296 additional ashtrays installed in the city since 2019. 165 of them are part of redesigned traffic lights and another 131 have been attached to trash cans.

The second pillar of her campaign is to increase the number of fines for cigarette littering. In 2019 local law enforcement issued 199 fines, then in 2020, the number jumped to 477. In the first half of 2021, they have issued 198 fines.

Life after trash

It is not enough just to collect the butts or to punish the polluters, the city needs to have a plan on what happens next. Luckily, they have joined forces with We Circular, a start-up aiming to promote a circular economy in Belgium.

After the city collects the butts, We Circular sends them to France where a subcontractor cleans the material. Then they are used as raw material to produce office accessories like clocks, coasters and ashtrays.

You might also like: In France cigarette butts are turned into urban furniture

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