Imagine a world where neighbourhood sidewalk gardens grew cigarette butts instead of flowers and lush trees.
Gross, isn’t it? But even as smoking rates plummet — only about 16 per cent of British Columbians over 14 smoke — a million cigarette butts are tossed in the City of Vancouver every day. That makes them, the city says, the most littered item.
Hundreds of gardeners in Vancouver’s Green Streets program know the problem too well.
They’re the volunteer heroes who plant and tend gardens in the middle of traffic circles and at street corners. They battle weeds — and cigarette butts, a more disgusting foe.
Bernie Kny, a volunteer with Green Streets, loves tending the plants and flowers but dreads the heartbreak of seeing his little worlds invaded by cigarette butts.
He had an idea to share. “One way I think would help would be a huge refundable recycling fee,” he says.
Smokers, like people buying canned pop, would pay the fee and get the money back when they returned the filters. Perhaps, he adds, smokers could have to return the filters from one pack before they were allowed to buy the next.
Kny’s not alone in looking for solutions.
Love Where You Live BC ran a “Jam One in the Can” cash-for-trash campaign, paying five cents for every butt collectors brought in. The campaign, aimed at raising awareness, gave away $2,000 in one day, including a $500 grand prize for the most butts in a single donation. (That means they collected 30,000 butts, or the amount tossed every 45 minutes.)
The City of Vancouver has also taken measures. People can be fined anywhere from $100 to $10,000 for throwing cigarette butts on the ground. The city has distributed free pocket ashtrays at outreach events and at community centres, libraries and city hall as part of “Put waste in its place,” an anti-litter public awareness campaign.
The city has also placed cigarette receptacles next to most of its on-street recycling bins.
But since the recycling program started six years ago, it’s collected 1.2 million butts — barely one day’s litter from smokers.
Kny says anything short of a deposit and recycling program is just blowing smoke.
“I have talked to people at city hall, my MLA and other politicians and even someone at the bus company,” he claims.
“Lots of talk, but no traction about doing anything.”