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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Local organization boosts Wrightsville Beach, county cigarette butt recycling efforts

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By Jennifer Fisk


Thanks to the efforts of a local beautification organization, Wrightsville Beach and New Hanover County are among the leaders in a nationwide effort to collect and recycle cigarette butts.

With 47 collection canisters spread throughout Wrightsville Beach, and more throughout the county, Keep New Hanover County Beautiful is sending more cigarette butts than even some casinos, cruise lines and major municipalities.

According to statistics from recycling company Terracycle, New Hanover County ranks fourth in the country among all municipalities participating in the program, and comes in 19th overall, compared with other participating entities with high-volumes of cigarette waste, including casinos and cruise ships.

“Cigarette butt filters take 70 to 80 years to breakdown,  leach toxic chemicals, and contribute to the build-up of dangerous gases in our landfills.” said Brian Hanck, Strategic Partnership manager of Terracycle.  “Since the start of our partnership in April 2017, Keep New Hanover County Beautiful has collected 600 lbs.or roughly 600,000 cigarette butts.”

To achieve this accomplishment, the organization’s leadership had to not only find the right recycling company, but also containers that were appropriate for the mission.

Beginning in April 2017, Dick Brightman, executive director at Keep New Hanover County Beautiful and his staff, volunteers, and interns started collecting cigarette butts in these canisters for recycling and preventing their disposal in landfills.

In searching for a recycling company that can handle cigarette butts, Brightman found New Jersey-based Terracycle, which offered what he described as an innovative mission to eliminate waste. Terracycle partners with leading consumer companies, retailers, and cities to recycle products and packages, from dirty diapers to cigarette butts, that would otherwise end up in landfills.  

Terracycle repurposes cigarette filters by separating the paper and tobacco for compost and then recycles the filter into plastic pellets used by manufacturers to make pallets, ashtrays, and public benches.  

Brightman also found Sidewalk Butler, a company in Maine that makes cigarette butt canisters that are protected from the elements of weather and lock so people can’t get into them.   

“It was not an easy transition and took a lot of research to find out how to dispose of cigarette filters without putting them in landfills,” Brightman said.  “Before we started recycling filters they were collected in ashtrays on the side of garbage cans around Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach but were just dumped into the trash and taken to landfills.”  

After collaborating with the two companies, Brightman with his group of volunteers and interns started putting the canisters around Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach.  There are now more than 100 canisters in the county, including at county buildings, local bars, restaurants and Wilmington International Airport.

“We have one bar that will collect 1,500 butts over the weekend,” Brightman said..

At an Earth Day event at Hugh MacRae park last weekend, Brightman put out two jars of cigarette butts.  Each jar contained 1500 cigarette butts. Brightman is spreading the word and hopes that people he talks to about the dangers of cigarette butts in landfills will help to stop people from littering on our beaches and streets.

Keep New Hanover Beautiful is a non-profit organization based in Wilmington and a local affiliate of Keep America Beautiful.  The organization’s mission is to reduce litter, improve recycling and beautify New Hanover County. KNHB’s funding is solely based on donations.  To learn more about Keep New Hanover County Beautiful, please visit keepnhcbeautiful.org

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