Have you noticed all the cigarette butts on the street right now?

Snow is melting and London streets are teeming with loose cigarette butts.

Cigarette butts can be recycled, but only if they're properly disposed of

Cigarette butts accumulate in a downtown London curb. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

It's a sure sign of spring in London.

The snow is melting and long-buried cigarette butts are resurfacing.

"Basically all litter that's been piling up becomes that much more visible," said Jay Stanford, the director of fleet and solid waste at the city.

So, where do they all go?

For the past few years, butts collected in the city's pole-mounted bins have been sent to Terracycle, a company that specializes in recycling unusual products.

London has a number of pole-mounted bins for cigarette disposal. These butts can be recycled, but only if they're properly disposed of. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

Aside from cigarette butts, the company also advertises recycling programs for action figures, beard nets and ear plugs.

The cigarette butts collected by Terracycle are melted down into hard plastic and the remaining ash and tobacco is composted, according to the company website.

Stanford said London's Terracycle cigarette bins collect between 500,000 and 670,000 individual butts a year. 

"That's kind of cool when you think about it," said Stanford, adding that the city also sweeps streets for litter and cigarette butts on a daily basis, as long as weather permits. 

Environmental impact

Cigarette butts that aren't picked up can be poisonous for fish and amphibians, Stanford said. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

But the city's cigarette recycling strategy only works as long as people actually use the bins. 

The amount of cigarette butts on London streets has more or less stayed constant in the past few years, which isn't a good sign, said Stanford.

"We hope people become more responsible," he said. "A cigarette filter has actually captured all sorts of toxins, so when it begins to degrade it can release those toxins again."

If they're not collected, the butts and the toxins often wind up flushed into the sewer system. After that, the butts can make their way to streams and rivers, where they can harm fish and amphibians, said Stanford.

"It's not good," he said. "These things have to be properly managed."

Stanford said the city's street cleaning programs will begin next month with London's Clean and Green Community Cleanup Day