Using trash to collect trash: AUB sea cleanup uses paddleboard made of recycled cigarette filters

​​​​​​​Sari Mounzer​, Office of Communications, communications@aub.edu.lb

On September 17, 2019, a sea cleanup was held to celebrate the fabrication of Lebanon’s, and possibly the world’s, first stand-up paddleboard (SUP) made from recycled cigarette filters, a project led by the AUB Neighborhood Initiative, Tobacco-Free AUB​, and Recycle Lebanon. 

The #SeaOfSolutions launch event commenced with an opening speech by AUB President Fadlo R. Khuri followed by a message of support from Marcos Hado, representative of Minister of Environment Fady Jreissati. Dr. Rima Nakkash, chair of the AUB Tobacco-Free Task Force; Mona El Hallak, director of the AUB Neighborhood Initiative; and Joslin Kehdi, founder of Recycle Lebanon and Eco Souk, also spoke about the significance of the launch of the SUP. Accompanied by a musical performance from Tayyarit Waraq, the cigarette filter SUP was launched and began a sea cleanup that extended from AUB beach to Dalieh of Raouche along with a small fleet of other SUPs.

Broadly speaking, the idea is to “use trash to collect trash,” explained Mona Hallak. With funding from Tobacco-Free AUB, the Neighborhood Initiative collaborated with Paul Abbas, founder of Lebanon’s Surf Factory, to produce a stand-up paddleboard to be used for sea cleanups around Lebanon. The robust, lightweight, and leak-proof SUP was fabricated out of a low-density styrofoam core and included 24,000 cigarette filters in its design. The SUP, which is suitable for two people, is coated with a 40% plant-based eco-resin that adds rigidity and waterproofs it. The SUP used during the cleanup was made using the approximately 80 kg (an estimated 240,000 cigarette filters) collected around AUB over the course of 20 months.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cigarette filters are the most littered item in the world. Up to 6 trillion cigarettes are produced annually, 90 percent of which are manufactured using plastic filters. Each year, two thirds of an estimated 5 trillion cigarettes are disposed of by stubbing them out on pavements or dropping them into gutters. From there, they make their way via storm drains into streams, rivers, and oceans. Cigarette filters are made of a plastic known as cellulose acetate which takes one year to break down in fresh water and up to five years in salt water. Furthermore, filters trap over 4,500 toxins as they prevent the toxins from entering the human body in the form of smoke. Aside from adding up to an enormous amount of single-use plastic waste that is polluting Lebanon’s water bodies, the toxins in a single cigarette filter can contaminate around nine liters of water in an hour’s time and can kill the marine life in that volume of water within four days.

Lebanon ranks third in the world for cigarette consumption, with the average smoker consuming around 12.5 packs per month. To help do its part in addressing smoking as a threat to human and ecological well-being, AUB was declared a tobacco-free campus as of January 1, 2018 under President Khuri’s mandate. As the AUB campus became tobacco free, the Tobacco-Free Task Force knew that this might lead to smokers taking to the sidewalks just outside campus and littering the sidewalks with cigarette filters.

To raise awareness and to prevent littering, the Tobacco Free Task Force launched a campus-wide communication campaign that included banners, posters, and anti-littering campaign videos that went viral on social media. The Neighborhood Initiative also collaborated with Recycle Lebanon to launch a competition for the design of cigarette filter collection bins. The winning design was created by AUB alumnus architect Adrian Muller, who produced the bins with the support of Tobacco-Free AUB and the Neighborhood Initiative. Consequently, 50 bins were installed in 25 locations outside the AUB campus gates. With the design of the receptacle bins complete, it became possible to more efficiently collect cigarette filters and use them to a constructive end. 

The success of this initiative has led to the installation of an additional 50 bins in 25 new locations around Ras Beirut, including the Letitia Gallery in Hamra. BLOM Bank on AbdelAziz and Verdun, as represented at the event by Mohamad Khaled and Diala Sobh, have also installed cigarette filter bins. BLOM Bank has agreed to sponsor the second cigarette filter SUP with​​ the cigarettes collected at their premises. ABC Verdun has also started collecting cigarette filters as a means to reduce single-use plastic litter. An agreement is currently being finalized with ABC Verdun, as represented by Mr. Salman Abou Taam, for the installation of cigarette filter receptacles and for their sponsorship of another SUP made of the cigarette filters they collect.