Man turns 10,000 cigarette butts into stunning surfboard

Futurists follows industry leaders across all different disciplines who are advancing their fields with technology, innovation, and fearlessness. This is a look into the future of our world as we know it – and as we don’t yet. Come back every Thursday this fall to learn about more trailblazers.

In 2008, the Chicago Tribune ran a story on the impact of discarded cigarettes, citing a New Jersey-based coastal environmental organization that claimed an estimated 1.7 billion pounds of cigarette butts annually accumulate in lakes, oceans, beaches and the rest of the world.

For years, experts have agreed that the environmental damage these filters inflict is undeniable — the filters consist of a plastic called cellulose acetate and, when tossed, deposit not only the plastic itself but nicotine and heavy metals as well, according to National Geographic.

A recent study by researchers at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England, further revealed that cigarette butts affect plant growth by inhibiting germination. Other experts have also repeatedly asserted that these filters pose a choking hazard to marine animals, especially since the plastic they contain is not entirely biodegradable.

Two summers ago, Californian industrial designer Taylor Lane and a friend decided to take matters into their own hands and clean up beaches and beach parking lots in Northern California. In the process, they collected enough cigarette butts — 10,000, to be exact — to create a useable surfboard. That board went on to win a contest sponsored by surf brand Vissla and the nonprofit organization Surfrider Foundation.

"I like to solve problems," Lane told In The Know. "[I] found out about this contest that Vissla and Surfrider was holding and that was to prompt people to make articles, surf craft out of upcycled materials, and so I picked cigarette butts. And, lo and behold, 'ciggy board' came to life."

Lane has since turned the project into a marketable brand: the Cigarette Surfboard. Currently, he and filmmaker Ben Judkins are working on an environmental surf film that will use his cigarette-inspired surfboards to bring attention to littering. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, he said.

"Everyone's got their own individual reaction to the board," Lane said. "We've gotten messages where it's like, 'Hey, I've got 20,000 cigarette butts in Australia that I'm ready to send you.' I've had other people say, 'I quit smoking because I saw this board in your story.'"

Ultimately, the industrial designer said he hopes the board encourages more conversations about the environmental effects of cigarette litter.

"It's not a solution to the problem," Lane explained. "It's to show that this is something that we should talk about and then it becomes 'what can we do?'"