A systematic approach to cigarette butts management with Sampoerna, including disposal, collection and upcycling.

Comb any beach and chances are you will find cigarette butts – the most common waste item on our planet. They consist of tobacco residue and paper, but also cellulose acetate (plasticised fibers) that are invisible to the naked eye and usually don’t degrade until long after the butt has been tossed away.

This simple act, repeated tens of millions of times around the Earth every day, creates a cascade of impacts that can harm humans and wildlife, especially when man-made debris washes into the ocean or waterways. According to the Ocean Conservancy, cigarette butts regularly show up in the intestines of seabirds, sea turtles, fish and dolphins, along with countless other types of garbage.

As part of Sampoerna's commitment to minimising its environmental footprint, the tobacco company has run several initiatives to manage cigarette butt littering, such as trialling waste collection systems and campaigns for raising awareness.

These are essential interventions to change the status quo, but more integrated approaches are needed to cut down the voluminous amount of butts that end up where they don’t belong.

With Sampoerna, we took a broad but systematic look at cigarette butts management, focusing on three aspects: smokers’ disposal of butts; their collection; and upcycling. Our aim: assess opportunities for designing a resilient, end-to-end system to remove cigarette butts from our environment and process them safely, ideally through a circular model.

Our starting point involved setting prioritisation criteria for the system design. To meet its goals and those of Sampoerna, what key variables should shape the system and how were each of these elements interconnected? Through discussions with Sampoerna, we pulled together criteria for disposal, collection and upcycling, allowing us to narrow down the components of the system later on.

At the second stage, we reviewed in detail the literature on efforts to reduce and manage cigarette butts litter, with a focus on behaviour change design experiments and programmes. We also observed smoker behaviours in several cafes in Jakarta, where Sampoerna was trialling cigarette butts collection with Waste4Change.

Meanwhile, our materials expert reviewed potential ways to safely process cigarette butts, so that they could be repurposed for other applications. Finally, we assessed several waste reduction and collection companies and initiatives in Bali to gauge their suitability to be part of the new system.

Among others, the results of this study, filtered through our priority criteria, allowed us to pinpoint where Sampoerna could focus its efforts to influence smokers' behaviours at a localized scale, in collaboration with partners. To extract ourselves from the current model of consumer good lifecycles, there has never been a better time for systemic solutions that draw on the spate of innovations and enterprises shaping tomorrow’s waste management solutions.