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A team of Australian researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) have recently come up with a novel technique to dispose the high volume of toxic cigarette butts generated every year in the world.
Combining bitumen and paraffin wax with the cigarette butts, this technique involves pouring the waste directly into road asphalt mix to produce tracks that are capable of withstanding the load of heavy traffic, even as it reduces the problem of road heat generated during the summers.
The Cigarette Butt Nuisance
No one likes littered cigarette butts. But while most ignore the nuisance and allow cleaners to sort them out, Dr. Abbas Mohajerani, a senior lecturer in RMIT, knew these little packages were not as innocent as they seemed.
This is because cigarette smoke contains more than 60 different types of carcinogenic chemicals. Chemicals like arsenic, cadmium, nickel and chromium that are filtered out within the butts and remain there until they come in contact with moisture contained in the soil, or fall into water bodies. That's when they leach out into the environment, poisoning both the land and sea wherever they go.
And this problem is not a small one.
With more than 1.2 million tonnes of cigarette butts tossed into landfills every year - a number that is proposed to increase by 50% by the year 2025 - these non-bio-degradable wastes pose a serious risk to the environment and our health.
From Cigarette Bricks To Cigarette Roads
When Dr. Mohajerani first started working on a solution for this enormous environmental problem, he experimented with the idea by pouring cigarette butts into various construction materials to see the results.
The first successful result of which was the cigarette brick - bricks made up of 1% waste cigarette butts - that required less heat to bake and had greater insulating capacity as compared to regular bricks.
But he didn't stop at that.
When the team poured the waste into pavement mixtures, and tested out the efficacy of the product, they discovered that the "cigarette road" was strong enough to withstand the load of heavy vehicles even as it reduced the heat that usually emanates from asphalt by absorbing most of it the same way it did with the bricks.
Additionally, to prevent the mixture from leaching toxic chemicals into the ground water and surrounding soil, the team coated the butts in bitumen and paraffin wax before using them to make the second layer of the pavement so it couldn't come in contact with rain.
At present the team is working with the Australian government to turn this into a viable project. And if the efforts are successful, then there is a good possibility that in a few years' time, the world will follow suit and end at least one environmental crisis.