Don’t flick it!

Black ashcan installed on lamp standard with that says "Don't flick it! Stick your butt in here."

New ashcan on Roncesvalles Avenue is part of a pilot study for cigarette litter prevention.

Have you noticed the addition of some black cylinders to a few of the tree guards along Roncy? Perhaps you figured out what they were before additional clues were added.

These ashcans are part of our exploration of more permanent solutions to butt litter after rolling out our hand-made butt tins two years ago. They are also part of a pilot study in Toronto to quantify the difference they make in reducing cigarette butt litter.

RoncyWorks and the Roncesvalles Village BIA is involved in running a cigarette litter scan on a three-block area of Roncesvalles Avenue to test the effectiveness of the ashcans in combination with a public awareness campaign.

The cigarette litter problem is not just one that upsets our gardeners who see the plant beds they’re working on treated as ash trays. It’s a global litter problem that cities are grappling with. The butts are not biodegradable as many people think. They can take years to break down. They end up clogging our filtration systems and waterways. They leach toxins into our water and soil. And, they get eaten by wild and domestic animals, to their detriment, to say the least.

So, we wanted to make sure the new ash cans would be spotted by local and passing smokers, so we added stickers to these long, black, cylindrical ashcans. There’s a second set being installed that have a silver top rather than being all black, which should make them more visible, especially in the evenings. If the ash cans don’t get sufficient use, we’re rolling out some signs, posters and point of purchase items in an effort to get smokers to stop flicking their butts.

They may be small, but they sure add up fast. During our spring cleanup at the end of April, our Scan team counted over 1,000 butts in one plant bed alone that was in front of Dizzy Gastro Sports Pub. Yet Dizzy has been great these past few years at putting out pails to get their smoking customers to butt out responsibly. Now Dizzy has one of the new ashcans conveniently located out front. We’re hoping the other cafes, restaurants and bars on Roncy, as well as the convenience stores, will want want one near them too. But most of all, we’re hoping the new ashcans will get well used.

Where did the cans go?

There’s something conspicuously missing from Roncy as of yesterday evening. Those little blue Butt-In Please  cans have disappeared from the sidewalk.

Our social experiment, diligently initiated by RoncyWorks volunteers,  has happily diverted many pounds of cigarette butts from the sidewalk, gutters and plant beds since they were installed last spring. But the blue tin cans have taken a beating.  Although these low-tech, handmade cans have served their purpose rather well, they’ve been abused — used as trash cans, kicked, squashed and stolen.

In anticipation of hundreds of people walking the street during the Polish festival, we thought it prudent to remove them. RoncyWorks volunteers had been planning to put them back out next week. However, we’ve noticed that many are in too rough a shape to be reused.

We’re working on more permanent alternatives — ones that smokers will actually notice — but for that we need to have some shops on board and we need to raise funds, as we have none to speak of. So, our plans will take some time.

In the meantime, we’re wondering whether we should put the old ones back out and add some new ones. Should we take another kick at the can? Let us know if you would like to see the little blue cans back out on the street until a more permanent solution is in place.

Butting in to butt out

Please Butt In: Blue ash can on Roncesvalles Avenue.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?
Ashcan production for Roncesvalles Avenue.

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.

Please Butt In ash cansThese 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.

Clean Street: The mind, body and soul of how Roncesvalles is maintained

Roncesvalles Village is recognized as a successful trilogy of cooperation between the City of Toronto, the Roncesvalles Commercial BIA and the local citizens. We have the reputation of being trendy, without being pretentious, we care equally for our dearly departed Sister, as we do for our homeless and now, we have become known as the area who worked with City officials to improve common areas of foot, bike and vehicle traffic. We can boast that the streetscaping is laid out to further enhance Roncy’s delightful mixture of unique shops, casual chic dining and plentiful naturopathic services and holistic centres.

Information from our Councillor Gord Perk’s office,  states that;  Ron Nash from the City BIA, tells them that “the current status of Roncesvalles’ maintenance is much, much better than it was 10 years ago, but that, of course, doesn’t mean that it’s perfect.”

For 5 days a week from April 1st to November 1st:

  • Littervac operators clear the sidewalks and curbs of debris.
  • Street Sweepers (trucks) operate 4 to 5 times a week.
  • The fly squad surveys daily for manual pickup of bulky items and a manual walk about is provided every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the purpose of sweeping and litter collection.

During off season, the littervac and manual pickup is reduced and this service also fluctuates with weather conditions throughout the entire year.

In all fairness, The City of Toronto, as the governing brain with 44 municipal wards, 72 BIA’s, and about 2.5 million residents, is providing an adequate job. But, who knows the future of budget cutbacks?

The Body overseeing Roncesvalles’ commercial district is the local BIA.  An outstanding committee of business owners who rally together to promote the area, initiate events and encourage the local business members to participate in a collective. The BIA encourages owners to additionally tidy the street in front of their storefronts.  Unfortunately, group endeavors rely on equal contribution, and you’ll find that some businesses are very pro supportive, and others are less so.

Concluding the unity and without any doubt, it’s the soul of the people who motivate any action. It is the residents of Roncy who are saying loud and clear, “We’re proud of  our neighbourhood and we love living here!”   This collective pride has enticed the goodwill of the people who volunteer to be the change they want to see in the world… at least, our little part of the World!

Our increase in popularity brings many out to frequent our eateries and there may be a corresponding increase of on-the-street cigarette smoking. Cigarette butts are the number one offenders of our litter cast off.  Many a smoker’s impulse is to stomp out their butt on the ground or bury it into a planter. It’s a problem in cities everywhere. Fortunately the new trash cans have a cigarette disposal unit built in, but most smokers don’t know it’s there. Since this is not enough to curb the problem, there are talks about requesting City involvement that can also have community programs pitch in.

Right now what Roncesvalles needs is a coordinated cleaning program that supplements and supports the generous work of the Roncy Sweeps Team and what the City provides.  Awareness should be brought to issues such as proper cigarette butt disposal and on-street maintenance. With a little ingenuity and “pitching in,” Roncesvalles will continue to be the most perfect corner of Toronto!