How do you take the remains of a nasty habit and turn it into something that benefits everyone? Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, may have a solution.
Every year, trillions of cigarette butts are produced worldwide, and most of those are discarded into the environment. Loaded with toxins, they take a very long time to break down, and when they do, all their poisonous chemicals are released into waterways.
But the team at RMIT University, led by Dr. Abbas Mohajerani, has shown that cigarette butts can be mixed with asphalt and lead to a product that not only tolerates wear and tear of daily traffic but also reduces thermal conductivity.
What this means is that the disgusting remains that some inconsiderate smokers leave behind can solve a big waste problem and could help to reduce the urban heat island effect common in large cities.
“I have been trying for many years to find sustainable and practical methods for solving the problem of cigarette butt pollution,” said Mohajerani, a senior lecturer in RMIT’s school of engineering.
“In this research, we encapsulated the cigarette butts with bitumen and paraffin wax to lock in the chemicals and prevent any leaching from the asphalt concrete. The encapsulated cigarette butts were mixed with hot asphalt mix for making samples,” he added.
About 6 trillion cigarettes are produced each year, resulting in more than 1.2 million tons of cigarette butts. As the world’s population—and the number of smokers—continues to grow, these numbers are expected to increase by more than 50 percent by the year 2025.
“Encapsulated cigarette butts developed in this research will be a new construction material which can be used in different applications and lightweight composite products,” Mohajerani said. “The only ways to control [the chemicals in the cigarette waste] are either by effective encapsulation for the production of new lightweight aggregates or by the incorporation in fired clay bricks.”
How’s that for an unlikely solution to a big problem? I think this idea is pretty darn brilliant, and I’ll be curious to see how the research plays out in real-world applications.