Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, have discovered a path – brick by brick – to help alleviate the scourge of cigarette butt litter.

Keep America Beautiful’s 2009 “Litter in America” research study indicated that tobacco products comprise 38 percent of all U.S. roadway litter. While Keep America Beautiful’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program has helped to reduce cigarette litter by as much as 52 percent in areas where the program has been implemented, there are still millions upon millions of cigarette butts littering our landscape and carrying heavy metals such as arsenic, chromium, nickel and cadmium trapped in the filters that can leach into soil and waterways.

Now a team at RMIT University, led by Dr. Abbas Mohajerani, has demonstrated that fired-clay bricks made with as little as 1 percent cigarette butt content can cut brick production costs.

Mohajerani, a senior lecturer in RMIT’s School of Engineering, said: “I have been dreaming for many years about finding sustainable and practical methods for solving the problem of cigarette butt pollution … 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.”

The researchers at RMIT indicated that during firing, heavy metals and other pollutants in cigarette butts are trapped and immobilized in the bricks, reducing problems caused by leaching.

Mohajerani said, “Incorporating butts into bricks can effectively solve a global litter problem as recycled cigarette butts can be placed in bricks without any fear of leaching or contamination. They are also cheaper to produce in terms of energy requirements, and as more butts are incorporated, the energy cost decreases further.”

The research has been published in the Journal of Waste Management (Elsevier)