Starch-Based Cigarette Filter Can Reduce Environmental Impact

Cigarette filters could soon be made of starch according to research at Biotec, a joint owned subsidiary of Stanelco and SP Metal.

ORLANDO, Florida — Cigarette filters could soon be made of starch according to research at Biotec, a joint owned subsidiary of Stanelco and SP Metal. Starch is an organic compound found in products such as potatoes and rice, meaning smokers would not have to worry that fibers from the current filters, made of cellulose acetate, are entering their bodies. Starch based filters are biodegradable and compostable, dramatically lowering their impact on the environment.

Filters are primarily designed to reduce the tar in tobacco smoke and to stop tobacco flakes from entering the mouths of smokers. They typically each contain around 12,000 fibers of cellulose acetate, a synthetic fiber of which more than 680,000 tons are used in cigarettes each year. Medical studies have observed these fibers in the lungs of smokers and that they not only resist biodegrading, but that they remain coated in tobacco tar, which contains carcinogens. Medical researchers are presently trying to define the risk that this poses to smokers.

Stanelco, the company that holds the global patents to the starch material used in filters, is currently in discussions with cigarette manufacturers in Europe, America and Asia about the replacement of cellulose acetate based filters. Starch based filter tow is substantially cheaper (30-50% at current bulk prices) than that based on cellulose acetate.

The filters are just one several starch-based products from Stanelco that will reduce the use of plastic and other synthetic substances, so dramatically reducing the environmental impact. Starch is a natural substance, and even when used in products such as food packaging or cigarette filters is still fully compostable.

Howard White, Group Managing Director, and President, Stanelco Inc, commented, "It is deeply ironic that most smokers believe that filters improve their safety. There is increasing evidence that this may not be the case. We believe filters made from starch based materials will be better for smokers and better for the environment. While smokers are aware of the risks of inhaling tobacco smoke, there are very few who understand the risks of using the current filters."

"Also, filters all too often end up being dropped on the ground or at the roadside, and even when properly disposed of take many years to decompose. Our starch based filters will fully compost in as little as 60 days, with no negative effects on either soil or water supply.

"Given the very real benefits they offer, together with the fact that starch based filter tow is cheaper than cellulose acetate, there is a real opportunity to further reduce the impact of smoking. As the cigarette makers know, there is no safe cigarette, but that does not mean that they should not be cleaner and greener.

"Stanelco specializes in starch based products that are designed and manufactured to minimize the environmental impact of modern life. As a company, we take pride in our green credentials and an ethical outlook. It is widely accepted that smoking cigarettes damages health, but we believe that while it is legal, it is right to minimize the negative effects wherever possible We do not promote smoking, which is why we plan to divest ourselves of this product."

Stanelco intends to divest the filter tow technology to focus on its starch businesses, including Starpol 2000 and GREENSEAL biodegradable packaging, which are just being introduced across a wide range of product packaging in U.S. and British supermarkets.

"It would border on irresponsibility if cigarette companies did not explore options presented to lower the risk of cancer. Potentially, if research proves correct, cigarette companies could be held liable for not adopting technology to lower the risks associated with smoking. Stanelco is very excited to have the opportunity to possibly save lives with this development, and we look forward to helping to change the cigarette industry for the better," said Stephanie Morgan-Fisher, director and CEO of North American Operations, Stanelco.

-- More than 90% of the cigarettes sold worldwide have a filter.
-- Virtually all filters consist of a rod of greater than 12 000 plastic-like cellulose acetate fibers. Fragments of cellulose acetate that form the mouthpiece of a filter rod become separated from the filter at the end phase during the manufacturing process.
-- The cut surface of the filter of virtually all cigarettes has these fragments. When smoking a cigarette, some of these fragments are released during inhalation.
-- Tests in the USA on 12 popular brands show that fibers are inhaled and also ingested.
-- Laser scanning has found filter fibers in the lung tissue of patients with lung cancer.
-- Cellulose Acetate filter tow has a wholesale price of US $4,000 per ton, substantially higher than starch based filter tow.

Source: Business Wire, Stanelco