Can cigarette butt-bricks build a better environment?

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Incorporating cigarette butts into bricks can help reduce litter as well as energy costs

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Cigarette butts are a bigger environmental problem than you might realize, with some 6 trillion cigarettes produced every year, creating 1.2 million tonnes of garbage. And due to the chemicals and heavy metals in the filters, that garbage is technically toxic waste. So what if we could get rid of butt litter by using them to make bricks? A team at RMIT University in Australia tried the idea out.

The research, led by RMIT senior lecturer Abbas Mohajerani, found that using butts in the production of clay-fired bricks trapped the pollutants inside, preventing things like arsenic, cadmium, chromium and nickel from leaching into the environment. Countering 6 trillion cigarettes annually sounds like a losing battle, but the team believes it is achievable.

"This research shows that if just 2.5 percent of the world's annual brick production incorporated 1 percent cigarette butts, we could completely offset annual worldwide cigarette production," says Mohajerani.

Interestingly, it's not just a case of stashing the butts somewhere out of sight: bricks made with cigarette butts can actually have superior properties than those without. According to the team, the energy used to fire bricks is reduced by more than half when butts are added, and the final product makes for better insulation.

It's a potential win-win: butt-bricks could help the environment by reducing toxic waste, making brick-firing more energy efficient and saving power in home heating.

The research paper is published in the Journal of Waste Management.

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