We’ve partnered with Wollongong City Council and Fungi Solutions to run an innovative trial that uses mushrooms to detoxify and reuse cigarette butts.
It may sound like science-fiction, but this interesting trial program combines new technology and an old, food favourite to turn cigarette butts into a recycled material that can be repurposed into new objects.
Wollongong City Council Director Infrastructure + Works (Acting) Joanne Page said that this was a trial that has been successful in other countries that aimed to turn harmful cigarette butts into something useful.
“Cigarette butts are one of the most common pieces of rubbish that are found in our environment. This is especially worrying as cigarette butts contain plastic and toxic chemicals that are harmful for both plants and animals,” she said.
“Recently, Council has invested in a number of new cigarette butt bins at key locations around our community. We’re now collecting some of these cigarette butts and instead of sending them to landfill, we’re sending them to be used in this trial.
“This is a great trial program that experiments with closing the loop on such a problematic piece of rubbish. By partnering with No More Butts and Fungi Solutions we’re able to use Council infrastructure that’s already in place to collect cigarette butts and send them off to be processed.”
Founder and CEO of No More Butts, Shannon Mead said that his team were hoping to help create cleaner, safer and less toxic environmental areas, starting here in Wollongong. “We are excited by this opportunity to collaborate on this Australian-first collaboration to trial remediating cigarette butts,” he said.
“With this NSW trial, we have the opportunity not only to reduce the impact on environment of the most littered item in Australia, but also to research the potential uses of this toxic litter stream as the country looks for more innovation and circularity in the waste that we generate.
“Councils are going to be a critical part in learning how we can scale up this sort of innovative project. This project is the first in NSW and Australia. Although other Australian cities have done similar, they send their cigarette butts overseas to be processed.”
This trial project will serve as a proof-of-concept that tests the feasibility of running all stages of the process locally.
Founder and Head of Research and Development at Fungi Solutions Pty Ltd, Amanda Morgan provided more information on the science that makes this project work. “Our process involves us [Fungi Solutions] adapting a species of fungi over time to grow on and digest the combination of components present in the cigarette filter,” she said.
“Cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, a carbon based microplastic which provides the nutrition source for the fungi. As the mycelium (the root network of the mushroom) grows through the cigarette filters, it will secrete digestive enzymes that will break down the components (of the cigarette) into simpler forms and begin dismantling the toxins present.
“This process becomes more effective with each generation of mushrooms cultivated. Our research with No More Butts is looking into the efficacy of this process and if there are any opportunities to produce a material by-product from the recycling of the butts.
“Wollongong Council’s participation in this program will contribute to our understanding and advancement of the remediation process… and assist in the development of a circular solution to this waste challenge.”
This isn’t the only time Council have looked at new technology to solve old problems. We’re currently running a trial with Telstra to use artificial intelligence to better understand pedestrian and cyclist behaviour along the Blue Mile.
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We recognise they have cared and maintained the beautiful environment for time immemorial. We would like to pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging and extend that respect to all Indigenous communities.
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