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Vancouver introduces cigarette recycling bins

A smoker walks past a newly installed cigarette-recycling receptacle in downtown Vancouver on Nov. 12, 2013.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The City of Vancouver has already cleared its bus stops and beaches of smokers, and now it wants to ensure even the leftover evidence of the much-discouraged behaviour is treated like toxic waste.

The city, with an oft-boasted goal of becoming the world's greenest by 2020, announced on Tuesday that smokers will be encouraged to dump their cigarettes into fireproof receptacles in the downtown core so they can be recycled.

The Cigarette Waste Brigade pilot project, which will have 110 such bins labelled Recycle Your Butts Here, is being hailed as the world's first municipal recycling effort for butts, and could lead to about 2,000 such receptacles in Canada's third-largest city.

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"It's about how you take a very toxic piece of waste and turn it into something useful," deputy Mayor Andrea Reimer said at a news conference. "Ultimately, we would like to see everything that is on our streets or waste products in our city, whether they're in homes, businesses or on the streets, turned into something useful."

Toronto-based TerraCycle Inc. will process the butts for the cellulose acetate in them to produce plastic pellets that can be used to make shipping pallets and plasticized lumber.

Albe Zakes, a TerraCycle vice-president, said his company intended to launch the project in a larger city, but focused on Vancovuer because Mayor Gregor Robertson began lobbying them several years ago.

"The reason we chose Vancouver is Vancouver chose us," Mr. Zakes said.

"We would love to do this in New York and Chicago and London and Tokyo and the world's biggest cities, but we also need buy-in from the city, from the mayors themselves and we found that excitement, that enthusiasm and commitment here in Vancouver."

City taxpayers will effectively pay $1 for each of the 110 units, but TerraCycle is picking up other costs.

While city officials hailed the project as a green milestone, it prompted heckling from a homeless man, who said the green initiative is cutting off his supply of free smokes.

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"I don't have any cigarettes, and one thing I have done is go around picking up butts, and when they put this sort of thing in, there's no butts anymore," he said. "It's wrong. They're shafting it to the poor people."

But Ms. Reimer said higher priorities are at play, noting that targeting butts would help Vancouver meet its greenest city goals.

"As a city councillor the past five years, I cannot tell you how many times I hear from people about the problem of litter on our streets, and most especially cigarette butts, whether it's downtown Vancouver or in our parks or in our beaches," she said.

Mr. Zakes put the issue in global terms, calling butts "one of the most pervasive waste streams on the entire planet," with an estimated 3.5 trillion butts thrown out globally each year, generating about 768 million kilograms of toxic cigarette waste.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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