SAN DIEGO – A San Diego based organization that started a cigarette butt redemption program last year is about to embark on another innovative idea.
Ripple Life will be the first group to send in cigarette butts to be recycled on a commercial level.
In January 2011, avid surfer and beach lover, Curtis Baffico decided to start a program that paid people based on the amount of butts they collected. The redemption program was the first of its kind in the country and generated huge support in the social media world.
Gregg Sullivan owns a surf shop in Ocean Beach. He heard about the program on Facebook and decided to get involved.
“I was always picking up cigarette butts anyway, so I thought I might as well give it a try,” Sullivan said. “I started during my run, but then was bending down every five feet to pick them up.”
Sullivan ended up taking about 20 minutes, twice a day to pick up butts. He kept a log and collected 28,000 butts.
“Some days I could collect more than a 1,000 cigarettes, other days, I picked up 2,000,” he said.
Baffico spent the last 18 months collecting and storing the public’s cigarettes. He now has more than 100,000. The butts are stored in eco-friendly, specialty containers at his home in Clairemont.
“We’ve realized that the problem is much, much bigger than we ever imagined and it’s really sad because as quick as we’re picking up littered cigarette butts, they’re being replaced almost instantaneously,” said Baffico.
Now, he has a plan for the old butts. Ripple Life has partnered with a large recycling manufacture, Terracycle, to recycle the filters.
Cigarette filters are made out of plastic, so the process is similar to recycling a plastic soda bottle, according to Baffico.
“We had three goals when we started the program. We wanted a cleaner and safer outdoors, a reduction of landfill waste and to recycle the cigarette filters,” he explained. “The third part has been the most challenging part of the project. We’ve had extreme difficulty finding anyone who wanted to anything with them.”
Terracycle is based in New Jersey and already collects other reusable products and recycles them into consumer products.
The company tells FOX 5, the cigarette butts will be converted into industrial pallets.
Terracycle estimates it will take about 5,000 butts per pallet, but in reality, it won’t start the recycling process until the company collects hundreds of thousands of cigarettes to make the conversion process cost effective and environmentally friendly.
Ripple Life is the first group in the country to send in cigarettes to be recycled on a commercial level.
“I think it shows other people in the nation who have a concern for this that it can be done,” Baffico said.
Ripple Life had about 100 volunteers from around San Diego collect butts for the project. At times, the non-profit ran contests for collection. The redemption program will give collectors $3 per pound collected, but Baffico said most people don’t take the money. Instead they donate it to one of Ripple Life’s 10 supported charities.
“What we’ve discovered is that a lot of people have are disgusted with the problem, but have less passion for getting out there and bending down and picking up butts,” Baffico admitted.
Volunteers are always welcome to help Ripple Life.