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Can you compost cigarette butts?

A number of composting advice sites indicate cigarette filters are made from synthetic plastics and do not decompose! We disagree – controlled hot Composting of cigarette butts is viable. Please read on to find out why! 
Whether a material IS or IS NOT compostable (i.e. biodegradable) is a matter of scientific fact. We like to check the science and leave you better informed.  It is rare for us to re-mind our readers our FAQ advice is provided on ‘without guarantee or indemnity’ – but on this occasion, as the topic is going to get people ‘hot under the collar’, a reminder that this is our reading of the science – we are only seeking to help inform your decision.
Searching the literature, we found that cigarette butts (the white filter bit) is made of ‘synthetic cellulose acetate’. That may sound non biodegradable but this is not the case. You can evidence this very quickly – a staggering 4.5 trillion butts are discarded each year (We can’t find a source for this number, but it is used widely on many sites, so let’s assume it is accurate). If these butts are not biodegradable – where are they now? Mass consumption Smoking has been around for 100 years or so. Despite the efforts of our Councils, if they did not decay, our sewers would be blocked and our streets piled high with cigarette butts.  Now for the science proof!
The filters are mainly made from a synthetic polymer called cellulose acetate. All sounds a bit scary, but not really. Acetic Acid (vinegar) is one of nature’s building blocks – life on earth needs it. Cellulose acetate is just lots of vinegar molecules joined together into a chain. Cellulose acetate is a short step away from cellulose (i.e. wood!). Most cigarette butts apparently still use natural cellulose acetate (i.e. tow from the wood pulp ). Even if they do not, synthetic (i.e. man made) cellulose acetate is man’s copy of nature’s science. It is used all around you – wrapped a present with cellotape recently, kept any photographic film (pre digital!) – that’s all cellulose acetate.
How fast cellulose acetate decays is directly related to the composting conditions – and principally the temperature of the heap (Q10 equation). You will often see quotes of 3,10 or 50 years as estimates for cigarette butt decomposition time. This is directly comparable the time it takes to decompose lignin (i.e. wood). Most of these tests are done outdoors (so an average of 10C is the temp for most tests). If you increase the decomposition temperature to 60C, you can divide this number by 32 and you’ll get the time it takes to hot compost it. So 10 years at 10C = 4 months at 60C (Again this is directly comparable to wood in an outdoor heap and wood in an IVC composting plant.
Even if we agree it is biodegradable, surely we do not want cigarette butts in our compost bins – they are full of toxic, carcinogenic tar chemicals the list of additives runs into 600 approved of by FDA for addition to cigarettes. If you really want to see some serious chemical names have a look at Wiki – Yes there are carcinogens in butt filters, but don’t forget – burning wood, fire smoke, the original tobacco plant, and much of nature – also has these nasty chemicals.   Someone may have tested every single item and may challenge back, but looking through the list, from our knowledge of composting bacteria, they all look like readily biodegradable organic chemicals (i.e. bacteria food). These chemicals are built up in plants and broken down by bacteria all the time. (Take the logic to the extreme – if the carcinogenic chemicals made in plants were not biodegraded,  then over the millennia they have been made by plants, they would have built up in soils – maybe even to a level that would have made soil toxic to humans?
What about the risk from “TMV – tobacco mosaic virus”. From our reading on the subject, claims are made that small fragments of tobacco carry the virus over from the tobacco leaf into the cigarette and onto the filter.  TMV is known to be resistant to low temperature composting.  However read wiki: If your heap is hot (60C), the virus is going to outcompeted, die and be eaten by the thermophilic bacteria. If you add in the fact that remote chance TMV survives the burning process at 200C, a small chance a tiny fragment gets into filter and that a tiny fragment is not then eaten by bacteria – TMV from composting butts looks a really low risk.
Only you, as the composter, can make the decision whether to compost your cigarette butts. I do not smoke, but if I did, I’d be more worried about smoking than composting cigarette butts!
So finally – what’s the alternative? Leave them lying around, hope someone cleans them up and takes them to landfill! Then what? Well they will just decompose anaerobically and release methane!
Proper HOT Composting of cigarette butts looks sound!

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Compost MORE Quickly

With International Compost Awareness week creeping towards us on 6 – 12 May 2012 – The good news is 94% of all HOTBIN users are diverting more food waste than they did before.

And here are just a few of their comments about their HOTBIN!

‘My HOTBIN is a talking point at dinner parties as composting is now much more interesting.’

‘My HOTBIN takes the grubbiness out of the composting process’

‘My HOTBIN has made me more conscious about our waste and recycling’

‘MY HOTBIN converts waste into good stuff for the garden’

‘MY HOTBIN produces something for nothing to put back on my garden’

‘MY HOTBIN is stylish and I’m a composting geek’

‘MY HOTBIN does the job brilliantly and is a Joy to use’

‘MY HOTBIN is kept right by the kitchen and I can add weeds and cooked food waste’

‘MY HOTBIN is convenient, not smelly and quick’

‘MY HOTBIN looks neat and tidy on the patio’

‘MY HOTBIN makes something useful for the garden that I would normally send to landfill’

‘MY HOTBIN provides an easy method of composting garden and food waste’

‘MY HOTBIN takes the hassle out of composting’

‘MY HOTBIN is discreet and fits nicely into a space  not far from the Kitchen’

‘MY HOTBIN is hot even in winter’

‘My HOTBIN does the job brilliantly and is a joy to use.’

‘My HOTBIN just works and works well’

‘My HOTBIN is checked everyday and it gives me great satisfaction.’

‘MY HOTBIN is fun’

‘MY HOTBIN fits both kids in if they are naughty!’

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Filed under Compost, Compost Bins, In the news, Recycling Food Waste, Uncategorized

Getting Your First Compost Out

Can Winter composting equal Spring compost? 

We asked a number of new users to start HOTBIN composting in December.
This was a massive challenge – new users, new product and freezing winter – were we crackers?

Well as it happens no, a bit crazy but not totally bonkers! We had good reason to believe it would work, and we are pleased to say the majority of users got the HotBins hot  composting between 40-60C and ran them over winter hot**.

Well it’s Spring now and we are eager to find out what the compost is like?

We will add more photo’s as they come in over the next few weeks. For now here’s what  we have and what you can expect:

A –  HotBin Compost after 120 days 

B  – Taking it Out

C  – Sieved

The woodchip we supply is graded into different sizes – about 75% will compost down, but the larger lumps end up ‘coated’ in humus. Some will sieve, others will just use  it ‘as it comes’.

D – Some 90 day samples

E – Too wet

Here’s one that got to wet! You need to quickly add cardboard and bulking agent (wood chip) and give it a really good rake. If available add a box of grass – give it another 1-2 months.

F – Obsessive quality composter!

The bin was half full of good compost. However it still had quite a few large bits of plant stalks. A large box of grass mowing was tipped in and mixed. This will start hot composting again to 60. A lot of the large stalks will be re-composted down within a month.

G – HOTBIN used in batch mode

This  HotBin was filled in one go to the very top during the late autumn garden clear up. It got hot and was then rested over winter.  It’s a different take on the weekly addition of food waste – but you get a great big load of compost in one go.

H – HOTBIN – chicken Bones

This batch had 2 roast chicken carcass, 1 duck carcass and a few spare ribs. Most of the bones were completely composted.  These here may look ‘whole’, but they are brittle, soft and crumble when rubbed. Soon after this test, we started to cut the thigh bones in half with secuters – this increases speed by double and they go even faster.

As you can see the HOTBIN can be used in different ways to achieve your different composting objectives. 

(**We acknowledge a few users did not achieve the goal – for those who like the numbers, only 5% reported a problem and to date have not hot composted. We have identified most issues as valve setup, not enough waste or too little easy to digest waste each week to keep the process going. We are working with each of them to ensure they Hot compost over the coming weeks)


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