USPS Recycling: Cigarette Receptacles Help Protect Local Environment

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USPS Recycling Efforts Help Protect Local River Environment

USPS® employees have formed more than 2,900 “Green” teams across the nation to help reduce energy and water waste, decrease petroleum consumption, minimize trash generation and increase recycling. One such team, based in Washington D.C., recently identified a unique problem – cigarette butts!

Cigarette butts from smokers were landing outside the traditional ash tray waste collection system in front of the building during wind and rain storms. The problem was multiplied when a new bus stop created by the city, increased the number of visitors to the front of the building. Green Team members observed that some visitors tossed cigarette waste on the ground before boarding the bus. The team was also concerned this waste was blowing around the neighborhood and could be entering the nearby Washington Channel, a body of water that feeds directly into the ecologically sensitive Anacostia River.

This USPS Green Team was keen to ensure the smoking waste be properly contained. The current waste collection system was clearly not up to the job for capturing up to 800 cigarettes per day. Was there another answer to this problem?

A team member visited a nearby city and noted a unique solution – a lockable metal cigarette butt receptacle that safely stores the waste until it is collected. Cigarette waste would no longer escape the old style open ash trays and become a neighborhood nuisance. But that’s not all. The Green Team was surprised to learn cigarette waste could be collected and then shipped to a company for recycling. The company separates the cigarette waste into components that can be composted – the paper and tobacco, and the cigarette filter that can be melted down to form new plastics.

The team tested the new receptacles, created messaging to inform people who smoke about the new tobacco waste collection system, and talked to key tobacco users to spread the word on the new program. New receptacles were installed at the same location as the old collectors and an additional receptacle was installed at the nearby bus stop.

Employees immediately noticed that the area in front of the building was cleaner and neater. Custodians responsible for collecting the waste observed that waste pick up was much easier than with the old collection system. Best of all – the team collected 35,000 cigarette butts in 1 month. This project was a win – USPS did its part in helping protect an environmentally sensitive area and a waste stream that was previously sent to landfill is now recycled.

To learn more about USPS’ recycling efforts Green Teams and other postal sustainability initiatives, read our Annual Sustainability Report.