Butt thefts mar cigarette cleanup project in St. John's, but organizers say it's a minor setback

·2 min read
A bag of cigarette butts is collected from a receptacle as part of the Clean St. John's Butt Free YYT program. (Submitted by Karen Hickman - image credit)
A bag of cigarette butts is collected from a receptacle as part of the Clean St. John's Butt Free YYT program. (Submitted by Karen Hickman - image credit)
Submitted by Karen Hickman
Submitted by Karen Hickman

A St. John's litter prevention group says a pilot project aimed at keeping the city's downtown core clean of cigarette butts is working well, albeit with a couple of hiccups — the biggest being theft.

Clean St. Johns has installed 40 cigarette butt recycling receptacles in areas across George Street, Water Street and Duckworth Street to try to keep butts from being tossed on the ground as part of the yearlong Butt Free YYT project.

But in recent days, a number of receptacles have been damaged, or even stolen, said its executive director.

"I think the ones that had been taken or damaged, it appears that the [opening] was beat off the bottom," Karen Hickman told CBC Radio's On The Go Thursday.

Hickman said it appears people wanted to pick through the butts to use personally.

"They were gone, which is disappointing to say the least, because there's a lot of work that obviously goes into a program like this.… But we're staying very, very positive," she said.

The damaged receptacles are now being replaced, with stronger brackets being used in areas where damage has been done.

Other than the vandalism, Hickman said the group has been pleased with how the project has turned out. Bins are filling up so often they're cleaning them out every week, "which is fantastic," she said.

"They are working, people are using them. All these cigarette butts are not on the street.… So I'm really enthusiastic about getting more down there."

Submitted by Karen Hickman
Submitted by Karen Hickman

Once the butts are collected, they are dried and shipped to Ontario to the recycling company TerraCycle, which turns the last bits of tobacco into compost and the filters into plastic lumber, among other uses.

"It's just the greatest thing 'cause we're keeping these cigarette butts off the ground, but they're being recycled.… We're really happy about it," said Hickman.

Data on the project will be gathered for the rest of the year and then presented to the City of St. John's in the hopes it will be willing to take over and expand programs into other locations in the city, like bus shelters.

Hickman hopes the work done by Clean St. John's will make a takeover easier, since work like research and data collection has already been completed.

If the city doesn't express interest, "to me, it would be a real step backwards," she said. "I think the City of St. John's has done a great job progressing with their waste management, so I'm hoping that they'll feel the same way.".

"I'm being very hopeful, because I'm hoping at the end of the year we can say, 'Wow, this was a huge success.'"

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