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To Deal with Pesky Cigarette Trash, Oklahoma City Turns to Recycling

The city is setting up collection stations downtown to give cigarettes a second life.

by / July 28, 2016
Oklahoma City will soon offer 23 of these aluminum cigarette recycling stations in its downtown. Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City has an idea for dealing with the inexorable tide of cigarette butts dirtying its sidewalks and washing into its storm drains — turn them into plastic.

It’s a little more roundabout than that, but a group of organizations have collaborated to install 23 cigarette recycling stations on light poles in downtown Oklahoma City. The aluminum boxes will serve as collection points for filters and other tobacco products, and the nonprofit group Downtown OKC will send it all to “a private company” for recycling.

Though a city press release didn’t specify which company, one company has been basking in attention for its program recycling used cigarettes into plastic and composting material. That company, TerraCycle, has made headlines for turning cigarette filters into feedstock for products ranging from benches to backpacks.

According to a 2009 study from Keep America Beautiful, tobacco products are the most common type of litter on U.S. roadways.

The program could help Oklahoma City in a few ways. It has the potential to keep trash off the streets, which fits in with larger efforts to redesign and beautify the downtown core. It could also help the city avoid water quality issues.

“Storm drains too often end up as litter receptacles,” Oklahoma City Sustainability Manager T. O. Bowman said in the press release. “The toxic chemicals in cigarette waste can then leach into our waterways.”

Repurposing the material also ensures it doesn’t end up in a landfill for at least one more product lifecycle.

The program’s funding came in the form of a $240,000 grant from Keep America Beautiful.