Building roads and houses with cigarette butts

Annually, trillions of cigarettes are produced worldwide, resulting in millions of tonnes of toxic waste in the form of cigarette butts, many of which end up in the environment. As they do not biodegrade, but rather fall apart, they leak heavy metals and other toxins into the environment. To combat this problem, researchers at RMIT University in Australia have found a new function for the filters: use them to make bricks and asphalt.

Last year, a team at RMIT found that if 2.5 per cent of the world’s annual brick production incorporated 1 per cent cigarette butts, the annual worldwide cigarette production would be offset.

However, adding cigarette butts to the bricks is more than just a solution for litter. By adding the filters, the energy needed to fire bricks can be cut by up to 58 per cent. As more cigarette filters are added, the energy costs can be decreased further. The bricks are also lighter with better insulation properties, meaning reduced heating and cooling costs in the household. Other properties are similar to normal clay bricks.

This year, RMIT continued their research to the cigarette problem. This time, they demonstrated that asphalt mixed with cigarette butts can handle heavy traffic and reduces thermal conductivity. This would mean that in addition to combatting the litter problem, the cigarette asphalt would be useful in reducing the urban heat island effect.

The cigarette filters are encapsulated with bitumen and paraffin wax to lick in the harmful chemicals and prevent them from leaching from the asphalt concrete.

To see birdhouses and knitwear made from cigarette butts, click here.

Photo: Lindsay Fox