How to Recycle Your Cigarette Butts So They Don’t End Up On Roadways

Do you know what the most littered item is in Tennessee?

According to the latest littering study by Keep America Beautiful, cigarette butts remain the most commonly littered item in the United States. They make up nearly 20% of all litter. The 2021 report estimates that over 9.7 billion cigarette butts, e-cigarettes, vape pens and cartridges are littered in the United States each year, and more than four billion of these are in our waterways. Whether they’re thrown away in the trash can or thrown on roadways or in waterways, none of these items disappear once they’re disposed of. Read more about this problem here.

Cigarette butts are composed of cellulose acetate which can take up to 10-15 years to break down, and even then, they turn into microplastics that further damage the environment. In addition to the plastic problem, littered butts leach toxic emissions (cadmium, lead, arsenic and zinc) into water and soil as they decompose, contributing to soil and water pollution and impacting wildlife habitats. You can learn more cigarette litter facts here.

E-Cigarettes, vape pens and cartridges are just as bad for the environment. The waste that comes from these products is potentially even more of an environmental threat than cigarette butts. This is because e-cigarettes, vape pens and cartridges can all introduce plastic, nicotine salts, heavy metals, lead, mercury and flammable lithium-ion batteries into waterways and soil. And unlike cigarette litter, these products do not biodegrade except under severe circumstances

So, how do we tackle this ever-growing problem?

Cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vape pens and their cartridges must be disposed of in their proper receptacles. For most of these products, that means disposing of them in a waste receptacle, like a trash can. Most e-cigarettes, vape pens and even cartridges cannot currently be recycled due to the chemicals that are in the vape liquid.

However, thanks to Keep Tennessee Beautiful and and TerraCycle‘s effort, a recycling solution has been created specifically for cigarette butts. To date, over 275,000 cigarette butts have been recycled through this program.

“Cigarettes remain the most littered item in our society today. We plan to …not only combat cigarette litter in our beautiful state but also keep a lot of that litter out of our landfills by recycling via TerraCycle,” said KTnB’s Executive Director Missy Marshall. “This way we are improving our efforts to not only prevent but recycle cigarette litter being collected at each TN Welcome Center and with our affiliates, creating positive revenue for Keep America Beautiful, as KAB receives a $1 for each pound of litter received by TerraCycle.”

How does it work?

109 cigarette receptacles have been placed in Tennessee State Parks, as well as one in each of the 16 welcome centers in the state. There are also several receptacles at Bristol Motor Speedway, the annual CMA Awards and the Tennessee State Aquarium. Even Dolly Parton got in on the action. Twenty-six stations have been placed throughout Dollywood, and they have become the first theme park to recycle every cigarette butt that comes into the park.

So, what happens to the butts?

TerraCycle composts the ash, tobacco and paper and that is used for non-food applications, for example, at a golf course. The filters are turned into pellets which are used to make items like park benches, picnic tables, shipping pallets, bike racks and even cigarette recycling receptacles!

What if I’m not near a Terracycle cigarette receptacle, can I still help?

Good news! Even if you’re not near one of these cigarette receptacles, you can recycle your cigarette litter too! Head to: and create an account. Then, start collecting your cigarette waste in any box you choose. When your box is full, sign in to your account and print a prepaid shipping label. Follow the instructions on the label and send it off to be recycled! It’s easy and free and is making a huge impact on the environment and litter in Tennessee.

However you dispose of your cigarette, e-cigarette and vape litter, we encourage you to do your part and please keep it off Tennessee’s beautiful roadways.


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