One of the reasons I continue to be an advocate for the role of the Main Street Kent organization is the willingness of it’s members to roll up their sleeves, tackle problems and get things done. Sure they talk a little theory and strategy but they still seem to understand that their value comes more from what they get done than what they say. That’s why I want them in my bunker and that’s why I was encouraged to hear that Main Street is continuing what it started with the downtown trash cans project by taking on the growing cigarette litter problem. Unfortunately we’re beginning to see how a little act of flicking a cigarette down on the sidewalk can add up to a significant problem. Thankfully Main Street is stepping in with a couple of new efforts that we all hope will work.
When Main Street started to replace the old trash cans downtown they saw early on that cigarette litter would be the next challenge. They looked at a possible phased program with trash cans being installed in year one and cigarette containers (that matched the trash cans) in year two. That idea went a number of different directions but with the support of the Burbick foundation it was a high priority.
A couple of the merchant members of Main Street experimented with some different types of containers at their businesses and they reported the success/failure rates of those containers back to Main Street. One even noted the unexpected importance of being able to lock the tops as they found kids reaching in to smoke unfinished cigarettes that people had tossed in the cans. Nasty.
Theft and vandalism to the container was another common problem.
Recognizing the limits of the containers (although not abandoning them), Main Street began to explore ways to clean up the sidewalks for those butts that never made it in the cans. Being the resourceful bunch that they are they soon discovered that Kent State University had an old sidewalk sweeper that they were planning to sell off and before you knew it Main Street was the proud owner of a very functional sidewalk sweeper. They still working on things like insurance on the unit before they can put it to work but I think the sweeper may be the best bet.
And being in a university city, Main Street appreciates the role of educating the patrons to stop litter from happening in the first place and they have a number of new initiatives to strike back at this growing problem.
I love all the new outdoor patios around town but I certainly don’t love the mounting cigarette issue that seems to accompany them.
A couple of years ago the Keep Kent Beautiful organization became a victim of downsizing in our City which is a sad commentary about where our finances have been at but many of the community members have kept the spirit alive and a few have asked me to post some of the Keep America Beautiful cigarette litter information on the Blog which I am happy to do.
Here’s a great information site sponsored by Keep America Beautiful on this challenging issue: http://www.preventcigarettelitter.org/
Plus here’s an article from St. Paul Minnesota which talks about the new fines they they are looking at to help motivate smokers to dispose of their butts propertly.
Campaigns seek to crack down on cigarette litter in St. Cloud
By Amy Trang
They are only about an inch and half long, but their presence has become a nuisance and an environmental worry for some.
New laws that have pushed more smokers outside have meant a growing number of cigarette butts on sidewalks and in ditches and gutters. Several St. Cloud-area residents and businesses are concerned about their unsightly appearance and the toxic impact on the environment.
Since the Freedom to Breathe Act banned indoor smoking for businesses last October, about 30 percent to 40 percent more butts are found on downtown streets, said Gerald Kaeter, assistant director of operations for the city of St. Cloud.
City maintenance crews try to sweep downtown St. Cloud at least twice a week and have installed ashtray urns in the downtown parking ramp. But what isn’t caught by sweepers is carried into sewer and storm systems, which lead into the Mississippi River, Kaeter said.
“That’s extreme pollution,” Kaeter said.
Area organizations, such as the St. Cloud Downtown Council and St. Cloud Technical College, launched cigarette litter prevention programs this year. The council was awarded a $1,500 grant last month for an educational campaign and to buy portable ash trays and receptacles for downtown.
They want to educate smokers to dispose of their butts instead of snuffing them out on the street.
On Thursday, members of the downtown’s cigarette litter program counted the number of butts in four areas of downtown St. Cloud to measure the volume of cigarette litter.
“A cigarette butt is so small, it’s such a tiny item, that the individual is not thinking of that little thing…,” said Julie Lunning, executive director of the St. Cloud Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But it’s creating a problem. To have that unsightly litter and debris laying everywhere is not a good message we are sending about our community. It’s something that has to be addressed.”
About 4.3 trillion cigarette butts are littered each year worldwide, according to Keep America Beautiful, the nonprofit organization that awarded the Downtown Council the grant.
Butt litter is part of nonpoint source pollution, the nation’s largest water-quality problem, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
That type of human-made pollution, which also includes fertilizers and grease, comes from a variety of sources and is deposited into the waterways as rainfall and snowmelt moves it across the ground.
Most cigarette butts are made of plastic fibers, which are not environmental friendly, said Mitch Bender, an associate professor of environmental studies at St. Cloud State University.
“What takes 10 minutes to smoke and consume could take many years to decompose,” Bender said.
“It definitely has implications for humans on the aesthetic and health side,” said John Bilotta, an Extension educator in stormwater resource management and policy for the University of Minnesota. “It lessens the quality of life.”
Although cigarette butts are not the biggest danger affecting Minnesota waterways, they can leach toxic chemicals, such as nicotine, lead and arsenic, when put in contact with water, Bilotta said.
Having large amounts of those chemicals in the human body can cause serious damage to the brain, kidneys, nervous system and red blood cells, according to the EPA.
Butts also can be eaten by wildlife, causing hazardous effects on animals, Bilotta said.
In January, St. Cloud Technical College president’s office received so many complaints about the cigarette litter near the entryways that the college became proactive about the issue.
Receptacles have always been placed near entrances, but people weren’t walking those extra 10-15 steps to throw their butts away, said Jodi Elness, director of admissions.
Working with the college’s advertising program, students created the Kickin’ Butts campaign, posting signs about cigarette butt litter and its harms, Elness said.
The college’s welding students built a sculpture that displayed how many cigarette butts were picked up across the campus.
“It was about, ‘Let’s have pride in this campus and how this campus looks,’ ” Elness said.
Students and staff have responded favorably to the campaign, she said. People also are becoming conscious about tossing other types of litter such as beverage containers or cigarette packages into garbage bins.
“It wasn’t just cigarette butt litter that was being thrown away,” Elness said.
A worldwide issue
Other parts of the country and world have also addressed cigarette butt litter.
Sydney, Australia, has implemented a $200 fine for anyone caught littering a cigarette butt.
In California, motorists can be fined up to $1,000 for throwing any litter out of their vehicle, including lighted cigarette butts.
In Minnesota, people who litter cigarette butts and other materials can be convicted of a misdemeanor that is entered on the offender’s driving record.
Additional offenses could lead to a fine of up to $700.
Area cigarette litter prevention programs don’t have any plans to change the local laws.
As a smoker, Pat Neilsen said he doesn’t like cigarette butt litter either.
He tries to find a place to throw it away every time he goes outside for a smoke.
“It is sort of ugly to see it lying on the streets,” Neilsen said. “It’s not just nonsmokers who don’t like to see it, it’s smokers too.”
Members of the cigarette litter prevention campaigns said they aren’t out to tell smokers that they can’t smoke, but that smokers need to think of their butt litter as equivalent to throwing a paper bag or cup on the ground.
“We’re trying to make a paradigm shift in social behavior,” said Susan Dean, a member of downtown’s cigarette litter prevention program. “We’re not out to chastise or run smokers down. We’re here to educate the community on the unsightliness, the unhealthiness of cigarette litter.”