Cigarette butts used to build roads

Trillions of cigarette butts are discarded in the environment worldwide every year. Now, new research has shown how this waste could be used to build roads instead of littering them.

Around six trillion cigarettes are produced every year, leading to more than 1.2 million tonnes of cigarette butt waste.

Most of this waste, which is expected to increase by more than 50 per cent by 2025, is discarded into the environment. Cigarette butts take up to ten years to decompose, while their toxic chemical load creeps into rivers and oceans.

Now, a team of scientists at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) has demonstrated how cigarette butt waste could be used to build our pavements and roads instead of littering them.

Led by Dr. Abbas Mohajerani, the team demonstrated that asphalt mixed with cigarette butts can handle heavy traffic and reduce thermal conductivity.

This means the product could not only solve a huge waste problem but would also be useful in reducing the urban heat island effect common in cities, explained a statement.

Mohajerani, who gained renown in 2016 when he recycled cigarette butts into bricks, said in the statement that he had been trying for many years to find sustainable and practical methods for solving the problem of cigarette butt pollution.

He explained: “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 cigarettes butts were mixed with hot asphalt mix for making samples.”

According to the statement, the encapsulated cigarette butts developed in this research will be a new construction material which can be used in different applications and lightweight composite products while solving a critical waste issue.

Mohajerani explained: “Cigarette filters are designed to trap hundreds of toxic chemicals and the only ways to control these chemicals are either by effective encapsulation for the production of new lightweight aggregates or by incorporation in fired clay bricks.”

Photo credit: Jessica Lucia/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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