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Long Island Town Cracks Down On Cigarette Butt Pollution, Installs Half-Dozen Receptacles For Recycling

PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A trillion cigarette butts are tossed out world-wide every year, but one Long Island community is doing something about the eyesore and pollution they leave behind.

Not all smokers are going to give up the habit, but the habit of tossing what's left over just anywhere is getting easier to kick in Port Washington, where cigarette butt receptacles now line Main Street.

They were installed by a civic group that's not only fed up with the trashed look, but also the trail of butts that flows directly into storm drains and Long Island Sound waters, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Friday.

Butt Receptacle
Butt Receptacle (credit: CBS2)

"One good rain storm and it's all going into the bay. It's very upsetting," said Mindy Germian, the executive director of "Residents Forward."

Cigarette butts will now be collected and recycled. Once a week, special needs workers, paid by Main Street businesses, will empty the receptacles.

"Anything can be something else when you're done with it. Cigarettes even," Germian said.

Terracycle, a New Jersey-based company, will then separate the ash, tobacco and rolling paper and turn all of it into industrial fertilizer. The cigarette filters will help create plastic shipping palettes and outdoor furniture. What's more, 60,000 butts make a park bench and 165,000 a picnic table, Gusoff reported.

"I think that's an amazing idea. That's an opportunity to make other things, instead of polluting our streets," former smoker Elena Merlos said.

"It's really sort of like the ultimate win-win. It's the government partnering with the civic group is and business to take litter off our streets, promote recycling and hopefully encourage people to quit smoking," said Dina DeGiorgio of the Greater Port Washington Improvement District.

FLASHBACK: Survey: Cigarette Butts Are Most Littered Item

If it works Port Washington, it may be expanded. North Hempstead Supervisor Judy Bosworth said cleaning up something small can have a big impact.

"It's one step at trying to deal with the litter problem we have," Bosworth said.

And if you though the cigarette filter was biodegradable, think again. They are made of cellulose, a type of plastic that can take years to break down into particles that end up in our waterways.

Six receptacles cost the group $1,000. Other locations, like Los Angeles, Seattle and St. Louis recycle cigarette butts.

Keep America Beautiful estimates 1.5 billion pounds of cigarette waste pollute the environment every year. They are the most littered item in the world.

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