Environmentalist in Mexico try to stamp out cigarette butts

World Today

Environmentalists point to cigarette butts as the most littered item in the world. Trillions are indiscriminately tossed each year, their toxic compounds leaching into the land and water.

Around the world, there are initiatives to tackle this problem. One company in Mexico is even turning this waste into a resource.

CGTN’s Alasdair Baverstock reports.

Mexico City, one of the world’s most populated urban areas.

Home to over 21 million people, the greater metropolitan zone produces 13,000 tons of trash a day. Plastic being separated in a truck, final shot of cigarette butts on the ground.

While a culture of recycling and trash separation is growing, there’s one piece of waste that still litters the streets: cigarette butts. One local company sees potential in this abundance.

Ecofilter, co-founded by Paola Garro, collects cigarette butts, more than three tons of them over the past three months, using volunteer programs to teach the public about the problem.

“We go to forested, urban and beach locations with a group of volunteers, where we spend a single hour cleaning the area, after which we show the local community why cigarette butts shouldn’t be thrown on the ground, and try to generate an environmental understanding,” said Paola Garro a Ecofilter Co-Founder.

But it doesn’t stop there. Once collected, the butts are upcycled. That’s done with the help of a fungus. This specific species thrives on the chemical cocktail found in the waste. While a single cigarette butt would take around a decade to biodegrade when left alone, Paola’s hungry fungi devour them in a single week.

Once mulched, the material is transformed into paper, plant pots, and even jewelry, which the company shows off at environmental seminars held at universities across the country.

“Why do we focus on universities It’s because we know that the future depends on our young people, on our kids. If they are aware of the issues around recycling and disposal, it’s going to be easier for the next generations to understand the environmental awareness that our planet is screaming out for,” said Paola Garro a Ecofilter Co-Founder.

Chuen Uac is an environmentalist, and says when it comes to changing people’s environmental habits, it’s about showing them the bigger picture.

“I think the most important thing is for people to start making these changes in themselves, and set an example for those around them. Because there’s still not much awareness of cause and effect here, and if we can’t understand the effects of our actions, then we’ll never change,” said Chuen Uac an environmentalist.

Timelapse of cigarette butts together, mounting up, closing drone shot over Mexico City

As Ecofilter grows, it hopes that with each recycled cigarette butt, it leaves behind a little lesson in environmental consciousness, which will echo into the future.