According to Keep America Beautiful, cigarette butts are the single most littered item in the country. But where we see trash, CEO and Founder of EcoTech Displays Nicholas Gabbidon saw opportunity.
"When they stopped smoking inside, they created a big littering problem outside," recalls Gabbidon. "When we saw this we said, you know everyone's gonna need an ash tray, so it was a perfect business for us to go into."
Gabbidon's company, EcoTech Displays, provides small receptacles to businesses where smokers tend to gather. The boxes are free, but the company isn't a charity. They make money by selling ad space in what they say are highly visible locations like outside of bars and restaurants.
"You may see hundreds, thousands of people here during the month, or during the week. And their crowd is basically younger people, young urban professionals and tourists so if you want to meet those people with your product and who doesn't, well we have the perfect way for you to come in contact with them," says EcoTech Displays Communications Director Larry Dell.
But that's only one aspect of what they envision as a two-way revenue stream. They are working on a prototype material made from the collected cigarette butts: A post-consumer plastic that can be used to make any number of things like jewelry or guitar picks. It's a concept that's already spawned several businesses overseas.
"We found one gentleman that was filtering them and re-spooling them into wool to make clothing, another company that was using them for oil pipes to coat the inside," notes Gabbidon.
But it's not just a new green material the company is creating out of the discarded waste. They're also creating new green jobs.
With 160 units in and around New York City and plans to expand nationwide, they say they'll need workers to install and maintain the boxes and sell the ad space, not to mention staff the plant where the collected butts will be recycled and repurposed.
"Recyclables can create many, many jobs. You know the cigarettes are just one thing, that I'm sure there's so much litter that we discard and don't even realize that it can be recreated into something else and help create jobs all over the country," says Gabbidon.