National Wildlife Refuge System

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Who Knew You Could Recycle Cigarette Butts?

Friends of Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge, MO, joined students at the University of Missouri to collect 12 pounds of cigarette waste on Big Butt Recycle Day.

Recycled cigarette butts may be gross, but they proved to be a catalyst for collaboration between the Friends of Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge, MO, and students at the University of Missouri. 

The Friends group had worked with students on individual projects, but “they’re only here for a few years and then they leave. We are trying to work with a student organization that provides some stability and consistency,” says board member Diane Oerly.   Oerly, who is a university employee, initiated the contact with Sustain Mizzou. Late last year, this student group along with the Friends and another conservation organization, River Relief, created a Stream Team Association, one of several thousand in Missouri working to protect streams and water quality. 

Friends of Big Muddy decided recycling cigarette butts could help raise awareness that the poisons of cigarette waste can leach into the fresh water supply.
Credit: Steve Hillebrand

As the university made preparations to become smoke-free, the new partnership planned a Big Butt Recycle event in June with the help of the MU Sustainability Office – a day to pick up cigarette butts all over campus.  Twenty students and other volunteers picked up 12 pounds of cigarette butts during two four-hour events.  All the bags were shipped to Terracycle, a company in New Jersey whose Cigarette Waste Brigade recycles all types of cigarette waste into industrial products like plastic pallets and mulch. The same company also recycles drink and baby food pouches, Scotch® tape dispensers and old costume jewelry.

 “We thought this project was an interesting way to engage students and advance our stream team association – and a great opportunity to raise awareness that cigarette butts can be recycled rather than wash into streams and rivers where they poisons they contain leach into our fresh water supply,” says Oerly, who expects the Friends to organize at least one project or activity with the students each semester.

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Last updated: August 22, 2013