New Innovator: FiltraCycle

Recycling start-up turns discarded cigarette butts into hard plastics

Cigarette butts: Thousands of tonnes of toxic waste is flicked onto pavements every day.

Cigarette butts: Thousands of tonnes of toxic waste is flicked onto pavements every day.

 

Newly minted start-up FiltraCycle is on a mission to rid the streets of cigarette butts and turn them into something useful. Specifically, the company is recycling butts to make plastic pellets that can be used to make products such as sunglasses.

The recycled material is suitable for most types of rigid plastics manufacturing and FiltraCycle will sell the pellets on domestic and export markets.

“Cigarette butts are the most common item of litter and, once you start noticing them, you see them everywhere,” says Liam Lysaght who co-founded FiltraCycle with former Clongowes schoolmates Harry Jankola and Marc Bollée earlier this year.

“We always planned to start a business together and realised that, if we could figure out a way to recycle cigarette butts, we’d have a nearly unlimited supply of free raw material to sell.

“Our initial motive was profit. It was only when we started doing our research that we realised the scale of the environmental damage being caused by cigarette waste, particularly to ocean life. Our motivation shifted from a desire to start a business (any business) to frustration at the fact that thousands of tonnes of toxic plastic waste is being casually flicked onto the street every day.” 

Launchbox accelerator

Lysaght is a final year mechanical and manufacturing engineering student while Jankola is studying international business and Bollé’s major is maths. All three are currently taking part in the Trinity College LaunchBox accelerator for high potential student start-ups.

The founders started testing their self-developed recycling technology in the back garden of their flat towards the end of last year before graduating to “proper” equipment and successfully converting 5,000 butts into usable plastic.

Since then they have built a small production facility in Dublin and official testing is due to begin in September with a batch of 800,000 butts. The pellets produced will be sold by the tonne to the manufacturing industry.

Assuming all goes to plan, the company will be looking to raise around €500,000 over the next 18 months to build an industrial scale recycling plant.

“We are the only company in Ireland doing cigarette recycling and we have developed a new method of extracting the plastic from cigarette butts at industrial scale with no manual labour required. This gives us a competitive advantage over companies that peel cigarette butts by hand to access the filter,” Lysaght says.

“Rather than mixing the extracted cellulose acetate with other plastics to create low grade recycled material or wrapping it in other plastic to avoid having to chemically clean it, we produce clean cellulose acetate that can be used to create high quality consumer products. A good example is sunglasses and we will be launching our own brand made from our own pellets next year.”

To ensure a consistent supply of raw material, FiltraCycle has developed an IoT-linked butt bin that comes with fill-level sensors to indicate when the unit is full. The bins will be offered to retailers and the hospitality sector and the contents will be collected and recycled for a monthly subscription fee.

Concentrated cigarette waste

“Pubs, restaurants and hotels are a big source of concentrated cigarette waste and several have agreed to supply us with waste directly through these collection units. Other potential customers include waste collection companies and cigarette manufacturers who will pay for recycling as a service,” Lysaght says.

There are currently six people working in the business (all unpaid) and investment to date between founder equity and grant support is heading for €60,000 while the upcoming testing is going to cost in the region of €25,000.

All going well with the Irish roll-out, Lysaght says FiltraCycle plans to expand overseas through locally built facilities. “Our technology will travel and has been designed in such a way that on an industrial scale it is a highly automated process,” he says.

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