Do you know how much litter is made up solely of cigarette butts? When Ken Beckstead realized the shocking percentage, he saw an opportunity to make a change. By developing Butts Only Box receptacles and founding the Butts To Watts program, Ken has been able to reduce litter and landfill waste, as well as create renewable energy. This StartupStory is one of innovation, hands-on learning, and thinking outside of the “box” to use business to benefit the environment.
Why were you inspired to start Butts Only Box?
I was working in construction performing stormwater pollution prevention. As I learned more about what goes into our drinking water supplies, I wanted to see what the number one contributor was. It is cigarette butts; 34% of the trash collected by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is cigarette butts. When I started my business, there were no professional cigarette litter programs available for cities, casinos, DOT’s, or businesses.
How did your business get started? From the good, bad and ugly, what was your startup process like?
I initially did not know how to weld. I bought a welder and taught myself how to weld. I made my first receptacle in my backyard after weeks of welding and grinding and welding again. After I got the receptacle made, I started the patent process. I found a patent attorney that way very nice and helpful. The patent process requires AutoCAD drawings that were very expensive. I bought a computer program, learned the program, and made the drawings myself. I applied for a Caltrans approval and was told it would be three to six years for approval. My approval came in less than three months. I asked, and they said that was the fastest approval they had ever done simply because nobody has ever placed a cigarette receptacle on the side of a highway before. Now I have a patented product approved by the largest DOT in America.
What niche or hole in the market are you filling with Butts Only Box?
The Butts Only Box® was designed to prevent Stormwater pollution by keeping cigarette waste shielded from rain and irrigation until servicing. Cigarette waste contains hundreds of chemical compounds that can leach and end up in our streams, rivers, lakes, and eventually our oceans. Our roadside model is designed so you can empty your ashtrays without fear of starting trashcan fires. Each year hundreds of roadside fires are started by carelessly discarded cigarette butts. The roadside model is also designed for freeway offramps and onramps with meters so motorists can safely discard cigarette butts.
How much has your business changed from day one until now?
The receptacles were installed at 11 Caltrans rest area as a pilot program and collected over 1,000,000 cigarette butts the first year. Caltrans then expanded the program to 45 more rest areas and Caltrans asked me to find a way to divert the cigarette waste from landfills. I did a BTU test on cigarette waste and found out that it produces over 500 watts of energy per pound. I trademarked Butts To Watts® and introduced the program to Caltrans. The San Jose International Airport saw a news clip about the program and adopted the program. They collected 381,000 cigarette butts in three months, enough to charge 11,200 cell phones for an hour. I went from a cigarette receptacle company to a renewable energy company. The largest LEED-certified building in the world, the Sands Expo in Las Vegas, uses the program. The California Conservation Corps uses the program. The Nevada DOT just adopted the program as well.
What are your biggest challenges in marketing Butts Only Box?
Reaching decision-makers. I deal with large entities and getting the right person to speak to is difficult sometimes, unless they call you and you are already talking to the correct person.
What types of marketing are most effective for your business?
I teach classes on cigarette waste and its effects on the waters of America. I have taught at WEFTEC, Stormcon, and have taught at the Tristate in Las Vegas for the past six years. Usually, after a class, I get a super contact like Sky Harbor Airport, who wants to implement the program.
What is the #1 lesson you learned since starting Butts Only Box?
Don’t take anything for granted. When I showed Caltrans their own litter chart at their headquarters, they actually asked me for a copy. They had no clue 34% of their trash was cigarette butts. When I teach, I cover all terms and basics first to give a well-rounded educational experience.
If you won $50,000, how would you invest it in your business?
I am invited to Washington D.C. this month to introduce the program to all affiliates of Keep America Beautiful. I need to travel and promote the program at Stormcon, WEFTEC, and the Tristate, and booth space is not cheap. As it is, I am a single-person company attacking the number one littered item in the world. I also need to advertise in casino magazines to get all Las Vegas casinos aware of the program. The casinos produce an immense amount of cigarette waste.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?
Do at least a millimeter a day. One phone call, one email, it all adds up in the end. Set a time to quit each day and try to stick to it. Working 18 hours a day will start you on your way to resenting your own business. Set a stop time to have time for yourself. A good bike ride or walk frees your mind and usually produces good ideas. People who have known me for a long time ask me why I never quit. I say “I do, every night.”
Do at least a millimeter a day. One phone call, one email, it all adds up in the end.Click to tweet
What can we expect from Butts Only Box in the next year?
As I was typing this, Ikea inquired about the program via email. This coming year will be focused on large producers of cigarette waste such as casinos, sporting venues, departments of transportation, and municipalities. New regulations pertaining to the trash in stormwater are being implemented. This program helps cities comply with the new laws and protect the waters of America to the maximum extent practicable with the best available technology. Cigarettes are the number one littered item in the world. Butts Only Boxes® will be protecting the waters of America for future generations and we will produce energy from every single cigarette butt. It only takes 24 cigarette butts to charge the average cell phone for an hour. With 300 affiliates of Keep America Beautiful being introduced to the program this month, it could be a great year. I am also in talks with a major waste company for a partnership agreement.
To learn more about Butts Only Box, please visit buttsonlybox.com.
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