50 new cigarette recycling boxes arrive in Columbia

Thousands of cigarettes will be composted instead of littering Columbia streets and polluting Flat Branch Creek.
One of the new cigarette recycling boxes is attached to a street lamp at the corner of 10th street and Broadway in Downtown Columbia.

As Columbia nightlife thrives with MU students and residents partying downtown, hundreds of cigarette butts litter the sidewalks. The flood of party buses and thirsty scholars during the warmer rainy seasons contribute to Columbia’s cigarette litter problem, Columbia Stormwater Educator Mike Heimos said.

Litter eventually washes through untreated stormwater drains straight into Columbia streams and creeks. The solution came when 50 cigarette recycling boxes were installed over the past month in order to preserve Columbia’s creeks and sidewalks.

“What people don’t know is that when you throw cigarette butts on the ground, the rain washes thousands into the stormwater system and into Flat Branch Creek,” said Katie Essing, Downtown Community Improvement District executive director.

Essing said the recycling company TerraCycle would eventually process and compost the toxic cigarette filters that are deposited in boxes.

The boxes cost $50 each and are distributed from TerraCycle, which has collected more than 45 million cigarette filters total, according to their website. TerraCycle has boxes in 17 cities, including St. Louis, Seattle, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.

“Part of TerraCycle’s profit also goes back to the environment,” Essing said. “We figured that if we needed to buy cigarette urns anyway, then we might as well do something cool.”

Large cities like San Francisco spend millions cleaning up cigarette butts in order to prevent these toxins from leaching into water supply, according to the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.

Heimos said the interwoven plastic cigarette filters are designed to collect all the carcinogens leftover from the product.

“Just leave four or five cigarette butts in a jar of water for 24 hours,” Heimos said. “Come back and it’ll look like tea the next day. We’re not trying to pick on one group of people like smokers. We’re talking about litter and the harm that does to our creek systems.”

The 50 boxes are paid for by the Downtown Community Improvement District and cigarette waste is already piling up.

“A lot of bars and businesses are happy to have these in the alleys where so many people smoke,” Essing said.

Heimos said it’s frustrating when students disregard the importance of keeping Columbia’s environment healthy, and that they don’t think about polluting the creeks because Columbia isn’t their permanent home. What’s equally frustrating to Heimos is watching characters in movies throw their finished cigarette onto the concrete.

“Even Jessica Jones flicks her cigarette into the street every time there’s a smoking scene, and it’s frustrating,” Heimos said. “One little butt doesn’t seem like a big deal, but we need to have pride in our Columbia environment. We need to stop treating Columbia like it’s a toilet.”

Edited by Hailey Stolze | hstolze@themaneater.com

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