Here’s an idea that could really grow on you. What if you could train mushrooms to eat cigarette butts and use the leftover plastic to create new recyclable products?
Cigarette litter is a real pain in the butt, so Australian charity No More Butts and Melbourne-based mycologists Fungi Solutions have teamed up to start CigCycle, a research project which will determine whether Australian fungi can be used to create a viable recycling stream from cigarette butts.
According to No More Butts, approximately 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are discarded as litter worldwide every year, with Australia contributing around 8.9 billion butts to this figure.
No More Butts founder Shannon Mead said it’s important to understand the impact cigarette butts had after they ended up in landfill.
“Even when people do the right thing and dispose of their cigarette butts the correct way, once they hit the waste stream and end up in landfill, they begin leaching damaging pollutants like arsenic and lead into waterways and soil systems. It takes about 15 years for plastic cigarette filters to break down,” Shannon said.
Fungi Solutions founder Amanda Morgan said the mushrooms can use the cellulose acetate in a cigarette butt filter as a source of nutrition to grow on.
“The fungi have incredibly adaptive digestive systems, so they can get used to eating challenging materials,” Amanda said.
“We’re hoping that over time and with generations of cultivation, the fungi will become more targeted towards digesting cigarette butts.
“Then we hope to see them partially decompose the filter materials and break down some of the toxic components to create a clean by-product.”
Both Amanda and Shannon hope that the transformed butts will have uses in insulation, construction and transportation, or as a sustainable replacement for polystyrene, which is another problematic waste stream in itself.
“The final product is quite naturally quite lightweight and insulating,” Amanda said.
“That's an example of something that would be a really nice, elegant circular solution for this material.”
Funding from Sustainability Victoria will enable CigCycle to scale up this research, so Amanda and Shannon are now on the lookout for more cigarette waste, calling on businesses to be part of the solution and donate their butts.
Shannon is inviting hospitality venues, construction sites, health care centres and industrial estates within the City of Melbourne to participate in the free trial by collecting their butts and sealing them in provided snap-lock bags so they can be collected by the CigCycle team.
“We're essentially looking for any businesses that already collect cigarette butt waste through ash trays and bins,” Shannon said.
“Instead of letting these butts end up in landfill, we'll intervene, we’ll pick them up for you and use them in our research.”
To get involved, register your business with CigCycle.
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