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Smoker embarks on cigarette butt recycling effort

| Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012, 6:02 p.m.

BETHLEHEM — Conrad Kubiak, an environmentally conscious smoker, hates the sight of cigarette butts littering sidewalks, parking lots and roads.

“It makes me sick,” he said.

So the well-known drum vendor, a regular at Musikfest and Christkindlmarkt in Bethlehem, is taking matters into his own hands. The merchant is collecting cigarette butts in sand-filled buckets this year at the popular holiday market so that they can be recycled into plastic lumber, shipping pallets, lawn furniture and ash trays.

“The idea of plastic lumber really resonates with me because I'm a woodworker,” he said. “Instead of covering the beach with cigarette butts, we can build the boardwalk with plastic lumber made out of cigarette butts. How cool is that?”

Kubiak has placed four buckets in the outdoor smoking areas of Christkindlmarkt with a sign that says, “Make your butt useful.” Smokers have responded and the buckets were brimming with butts last week.

Kubiak will send the butts he collects to TerraCycle, a Trenton, N.J., company that specializes in finding ways to recycle items that previously were only sent to landfills. It launched the cigarette recycling initiative in the United States last month, company spokeswoman Lauren Taylor said.

“We worked for more than a year to find a solution for recycling cigarette butts because they are the world's most littered item and account for 38 percent of all U.S. roadway waste,” Taylor said. “We've already collected just shy of 200,000 in the U.S. alone in less than a month. The alternative to recycling cigarette butts is what happens to them now. They go to landfills, get littered along roadways, in parks, public spaces, shopping malls, sidewalks, waterways, etc. They are the No. 1 item recovered during the annual Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup Day.”

Kubiak makes wood drums with custom carvings and decorations through his business, Spirit In The Wood Drums in Wycombe in Bucks County. An avid recycler, he boasts about salvaging discarded furniture to make drums and even reloading disposable cameras with new film.

He has been a vendor at Musikfest for 15 years and Christkindlmarkt for seven years. His carved-wood instruments, some shaped like frogs that make croaking noises, attract children like bees to honey. And his outdoor stand at Christkindlmarkt is also a gathering place for vendors taking smoke breaks. Most vendors are in heated tents where smoking is prohibited. Kubiak would regularly find cigarette butts littered near his booth.

Then he received a plastic ash tray made with recycled cigarette butts as a gift. He researched how the butts were recycled and a bell went off.

“I thought, what a great idea,” Kubiak said. “I'm at a show where people are throwing cigarette butts everywhere.”

He bounced the idea off ArtsQuest, the nonprofit group that hosts Christkindlmarkt and Musikfest, and officials loved it. The buckets and signs for cigarette butts went out last week.

“We're getting a really good response,” Kubiak said. “People didn't know you could recycle butts. The idea is to eventually recycle all the butts in Pennsylvania.”

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