Cigarette buds are one of the worst pollutants in the world, accounting for close to two billion pounds of waste each year.
But now, there might be an earth-friendly solution.
Tadas Lisauskas and Xavier Van Osten first noticed the cigarette pollution on the shores of California, according to their website. It was then that they realized they needed to find a solution for the massive amounts of litter. In 2010, they started by investigating whether biodegradable butts even existed. When they realized they didn't, the ball started rolling.
"This idea could revolutionize the cigarette industry," Van Osten said. And he might be right.
Shortly after thinking of the idea, he and Lisauskas got to work in Van Osten's kitchen, testing different organic materials. They tried cotton, flax and hemp to start, all organic fibers. Then they took their idea to a research institution, who helped them find the "optimum performing" filter material. Soon enough, they had their patent.
"Every year 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide," Bill Nye says in a YouTube video. "250 billion in the U.S. alone. In just one day, volunteers retrieve just 240,000 cigarette butts right off the beaches in California."
But that's just the beginning.
After starting their website, it only took 10 days for Lisauskas and Osten to start getting contacted by cigarette companies. Before long, they were contacted by Dr. Mervyn Witherspoon, "product development director for Filtrona (now Essentra), the world leader in independent filter production."
"They were putting together a product made of a range of fibers," Witherspoon said. "I knew the best physical form for that to be is almost like a sheet of paper-like material. The industry has got equipment that can make paper filters. In that sense, we are able to use exactly the same equipment that already exists in the industry."
But just how big is the problem?
Actually, it's massive.
When someone throws out their cigarette or leaves it on the street, there is a good chance it's going to end up in the ocean.
"Many people, even smokers, are not aware that the cigarette filter is comprised of thousands of little particles of plastic," Nicolas Mallos, director of Trash Free Seas Program at the Ocean Conservancy in Washington DC, told The Guardian. "One solid filter ends up being thousands of tiny fibres that can be released into the marine environment."
Eventually, those butts find their way to marine life that can't process the acetate that the filters are made of and mistake it for food, which can result in death.
It isn't just the oceans, either. The CDC reported that one third of children who accidentally ingest cigarette butts exhibited "spontaneous vomiting, nausea, lethargy, gagging, and flushing." In San Francisco, the city estimates that it spends "$11 million per year cleaning up butts."
And that's where Greenbutts comes in. Their formula for filters will act as a "seed spreader" once it's absorbed into the soil, potentially helping flowers and grass grow. Recently, the Greenbutts team reached a major milestone when Maryland delegates proposed a bill that would ban all non-biodegradable cigarette butts. They even prompted a company in India to create Karma Tips. "Roach-tips with special seeds that sprout anywhere you throw your cigarettes," their Facebook reads.