One Sunday morning in late March, a series of sky blue cans materialized along the east side of the street. They speckled the sidewalk near the front doors of variety stores and restaurants, beside TTC stops and next to planting beds — entreating smokers to “PLEASE BUTT IN.”
After several months of tidying the sidewalks and plant beds, some of our volunteers, who were part of our new RoncyWorks initiative, decided to address a pervasive little litter item that makes a whole lot of trash.
Cigarette butts were being strewn everywhere, particularly in the plant beds, which disappointingly, were being used as giant ashtrays. Although there were cigarette disposal units built into the new trash cans, many smokers weren’t using them; in fact it seemed that few even knew they existed. Not surprisingly, we learned that cigarette litter is a pervasive problem all over the world. Besides the eyesore and toxicity, it takes up significant time and expense for municipalities to deal with it. So what could the volunteers do to cut down the time spent sweeping up butts and picking them out from the plants?
A few community members collected a bunch of coffee tins and tomato cans and got to work. They primed the cans and painted them blue. They stencilled them, filled them with sand and deposited them along the street in a midnight run. Then they monitored their use.
The cans were welcomed by many of the shops, by smokers and others using the street. They are being re-positioned by the people using them, because they are portable. Sometimes they end up in bus shelters or in a planter, which is not where they belong, but they are easy to move back out. Occasionally, however, they are getting trashed by trolls who have nothing better to do. But, overall, they are a hit.
These hand-made ashcans are turning out to be a social experiment. Our volunteers are observing where they are being placed, measuring their use and seeing how much they are helping to reduce the butt problem. They seem so effective, that more are being made to fill requests made directly to our volunteer sweeps and to supply the west side of the street. What’s more, other communities are now following suit.
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