Originally created in 1936 by Hungarian inventor Boris Aivaz, the cigarette filter was initially designed as a marketing tactic to make smoking more appealing to women.
Veering from the traditional cigarettes that used no filter at all — which often led to specks of Tobacco being inhaled — the crepe-paper based cigarette filter was said to keep a woman’s lips “soft” and “alluring.”
By the 1950s, cigarette companies were all focused upon the “filter problem,” which involved finding a filter that would offer significant health protection and could also be mass manufactured.
Though what began as a genuine effort to find a solution to the harmful effects of smoking, quickly became the realisation that removing the negative effects of smoke inhalation wasn’t possible without also removing the positive feeling given by the tobacco.
In short, the good couldn’t be separated from the bad.
In fact, in trying to remove the harmful effects of smoking, some companies were using filters with asbestos, which turned out to do even more damage than an unfiltered cigarette.
After a lot of back and forth, filter manufacturers eventually settled on cellulose acetate as the material for their filters, a type of perforated plastic that allows smoke to get through without getting specks of tobacco in one’s mouth.
Despite criticisms that the filter simply allows less smoke through and instead encourages smokers to take deeper inhalations, cellulose acetate has been the primary material used in filters for the past 60 years.
It can take 10–15 years for cigarette filters to break down.
And it is estimated that nearly 5 trillion cigarette butts are littered globally each year, comprising a massive 30% of global pollution.
Meet Greenbutts: Creator of the Hemp-Based Renewable Filter
In order to tackle one of the biggest pollutants on the planet, a company named Greenbutts was created which aims to popularise their hemp-based, biodegradable filters.
Greenbutt’s filters are made of a patented blend of food-grade natural fibres including hemp, cotton flock, wood pulp and abaca (also known as ‘Manila hemp’) and are said to degrade within just a few days.
To learn more, we spoke with Tadas Lisauskas, Co-Founder and President of Greenbutts.
When asked why he believed cigarettes are so frequently littered, Lisauskas responded that many people simply aren’t aware of the damage their filters can cause.
“It should be no surprise that the number one littered item in the world is the cigarette butt. They are small and seem rather harmless at first glance. Many people think that current acetate filters are already biodegradable so what’s the harm in flicking it once you are done with your cigarette?”
Lisauskas continued that while laws have been put in place to prevent second-hand smoke inhalation inside public venues, they have also had some unintended consequences.
“The anti-smoking laws which restricted smokers from lighting up in restaurants and bars then drove smokers outdoors where there are few, if any ashtrays or other receptacles for their spent filters.The vast majority of those filters end up in storm drains and find their way to our beaches and river ways where birds, fish and other wildlife tend to mistake them for food, clogging up their intestines.”
–Tadas Lisauskas, Co-Founder and President of Greenbutts
Though unlike traditional cigarette filters, the Greenbutts filter is designed to breakdown when coming in contact with water in just a matter of minutes, making it much harder to clog up animals’ intestines.
Lisauskas went on to mention the role hemp plays in the biodegradable filter, stating that “Hemp itself is a strong fibre, but when processed a certain way and combined with the other select fibres, our filter material is able to break apart and become compostable and/or disperse in water.”
Though hemp has many benefits, Greenbutts have adopted the material tactfully due to its positive environmental associations.
“We specifically chose hemp as an ingredient not only because of its tensile strength which allows for the faster production of our material substrate and avoids breakage during the manufacturing process but also for its innate association with the environmental movement and nature which is the message we want to project to the industry and customers.”
Greenbutts, LLC. holds a patent for their product in the US, UK and is ‘pending’ in Canada in the hopes that consumer demand for a renewable filter will increase with added awareness to the harms of the current acetate filter.
Though if consumer demand doesn’t change quickly enough, Lisauskas has hopes that legislation will change first, citing the California State bill (SB 424) which seeks to ban all filters on cigarettes.
Although the ban does not exclude renewable filters, Greenbutts is actively trying to amend the language in the bill to allow for an environmentally friendly alternative.
Lisauskas holds out hope for the multinational scale tobacco industry. He mentions that change is unlikely to be proactive from existing companies because the shift towards renewable filters will involve an initial rise in expenses, as well as abandoning the current familiarity of the acetate filter.
Though while speaking upon the cost differences between the Greenbutts filter compared with a traditional filter, Lisauskas says it is like comparing “apples to oranges.”
“Acetate is essentially a petroleum product and readily available with multiple gigantic companies who supply the cigarette industry with this material. Greenbutts, on the other hand, are made of natural fibres which come from farms all over the world and are inherently more expensive than synthetic material.”
And, given the volume of production with regards to cigarette filters, Lisauskas believes there needs to be a “paradigm shift” in crops grown to facilitate the massive amount of filters consumed each year.
When asked about potential partnerships in the pipeline for Greenbutts, Lisauskas responded that despite a lack of urgency from tobacco companies, many hemp farmers and marijuana growers have indeed shown interest.
“[Greenbutts] have had an overwhelming response from hemp and marijuana growers who would like to partner with us for their own brands of pre-rolled hemp flower or marijuana flower cigarettes.”
“For this reason, we have begun a shift from being strictly a research, development and licensing company to supplying mid-sized companies with our product. As the hemp flower and MMJ pre-roll market gains in strength we hope to be a supplier to all who want our eco- friendly, hemp-based filters.”
Hemp is the Future
If Greenbutts were to become adopted by any of the major tobacco companies, Lisauskas remarks that the demand for industrial hemp, Manila hemp and other fibres used would “potentially skyrocket.”
This, Lisauskas comments, would create a boom for farmers in the industry as well as a massive shift toward reducing global pollution.
Though even if not for Greenbutts being commercially adopted, Lisauskas believes the increasing dependency upon hemp to manufacture products will continue regardless.
“Hemp will be an integral part of the renewable movement not only for our product but for industries across a vast spectrum. Its unique properties such as being naturally immune to crop infestation, healing the soil in which it is grown and is an extremely strong and versatile plant, making it a perfect choice for textiles, paper, woven and non-woven materials, oils, pharmaceuticals and so on.”
“Now that hemp is essentially off the prohibition list in the USA, there are many more opportunities to research its applications to fit almost every industry.”
And it appears Lisauskas is on the money, with many predicting the existing US hemp industry will triple by 2022.
While the shift to a renewable cigarette filter may take time, Greenbutts unique idea shows that hemp may play a vital role in emerging, renewable industries in the years to come.