While traveling through Northern California for the holidays, I saw an interesting sign at an Interstate 5 rest stop. It was a sign for “Butts to Watts.”
I had never heard of this program. It’s some partnership between CalTrans and some outfit actually called “Cigarette Butt Services” to take used cigarette butts and incinerate them to create energy. So, smokers at rest stops all through California are being asked to drop their butts into these special bins rather than the regular trash bin. According to CalTrans, 44 million people stop at California rest stops every year, so that’s a lot of smokers stopping each year as well. (I like the little bars across the top to keep people from throwing stuff other than cigarette butts into the bin, which would make the whole program pretty useless.).
Apparently, cigarette butts create a lot of BTUs and are considered a high-yield material for incineration plants. The program also seeks to get millions of pounds of cigarette butts out of landfills.
Interestingly, while trying to do a bit of research on energy from cigarette butts, there is another way being proposed to get energy out of this source of trash. Korean scientists have found that the carbon material in cigarette butts (yeah, cigarette butts may look like they’re made out of cotton, but they’re actually mostly made out of plastic), in cigarette butts could be cleaned and recycled as a medium for energy storage, like a battery. This material outperforms a lot of other common energy storage materials.