Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) have found a way to solve the problem of millions of tonnes of toxic cigarette waste that harm the environment. RMIT researchers created fire bricks from cigarette butts, which will not only solve the worldwide littering crisis, but it will help save energy as well.

“Incorporating butts into bricks can effectively solve a global litter problem as recycled cigarette butts can be placed in bricks without any fear of leaching or contamination,” explains lead researcher Abbas Mohajerani, who works as a senior lecturer in RMIT’s School of Engineering. “They are also cheaper to produce in terms of energy requirements, and as more butts are incorporated, the energy cost decreases further.”

The study published in this month’s Waste Management journal says that cigarette butts do not break down that easily. In fact, it takes years while toxic harmful metals trapped inside a cigarette filter, such as chromium, nickel, arsenic and cadmium, leak into the ground and waterways.

cigarette butts

Dr. Abbas Mohajerani has shown that bricks with one percent cigarette butt content as pictured here can help the environment. Credit: RMIT University

However, when the cigarette butt is incorporated in fired-clay bricks, the metals and other toxic chemicals are trapped in it and can no longer leak out into the environment. Moreover, the cigarette butts also reduced the energy needed to fire bricks by up to 58 percent.

The team says that even as little as one percent cigarette content is enough to reduce production costs of bricks and save the environment. The bricks from cigarette butts are just as good as regular bricks although these are lighter and provide better insulation, which will also cut out the heating and cooling costs of a household.

“I have been dreaming for many years about finding sustainable and practical methods for solving the problem of cigarette butt pollution,” adds Mohajerani. “About six trillion cigarettes are produced every year, leading to 1.2 million tonnes of cigarette butt waste. These figures are expected to increase by more than 50 percent by 2025, mainly due to an increase in world population.”

An estimated 25 to 30 billion filtered cigarettes are used in Australia yearly. Around seven billion are littered but through this new approach, even a mere 2.5 percent of the global brick production utilizing cigarette butts can counterbalance the cigarette production.