drain butts

 - by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

A city councillor remarked at Monday's meeting that the cigarette butt situation in another municipality councillors recently visited is far worse than Owen Sound. Presumably the councillor was referring to Ottawa, where councillors attended the AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) annual conference.

Of course this is not surprising as the population of Ottawa is 45 times larger than Owen Sound, and it attracts 11 million visitors a year.

But the comment struck me because the councillor seemed to assume that the recent local concern about cigarette butts is aesthetics.

An attractive downtown is certainly a positive thing. The placement of butt recycling containers in our downtown core is absolutely a laudable step. We look forward to hearing the details of this pilot project – what are the goals, how long will it last and how will we measure success?

But the real worry about cigarette butts is their contamination of our soil, air and water, and the subsequent effect on fish, wildlife and children.

The Owen Sound Waste Watchers have been focussing most of their attention on the river and harbour edges, because those butts do not even go through the storm sewers and interceptors - they blow or wash directly into the bay. Although there are more butts when we hold special events like Harbourfest, Summerfolk, the Salmon Spectacular and the upcoming Riverside Reunion, most of the year the harbour sees plenty of visitors. Strollers, dog walkers, boat launchers, and ship watchers – statistics say 16% percent of those are smokers. We need to keep as many of their cigarette butts as we can out of the water.

Parking lots and gutters are the #1 source of butts – an unintended consequence of removing ashtrays from cars and banning smoking in buildings. Because smoking is also prohibited near entrances of many buildings, butt disposal containers have been removed, or never placed there, to discourage smoking around the door. A Catch-22, for sure.

As research for this piece, more than 500 butts were picked up in less than twenty minutes on the sidewalk and gutter in front of a few of the big stores on Owen Sound's eastern edge. It could have been done much more quickly with a broom and pan, but then the butts could not be sent to Terracycle for recycling.  

So the butt of the smoker catching a quick drag to meet their need 'twixt car and destination? Into the gutter (or a planter, or sidewalk) it goes. And from there, after a good rain or stiff breeze, into the storm sewer and then to the bay.

The Waste Watchers have kept the toxins and plastic of over 60,000 cigarette butts out of Owen Sound's water over the past four months. If our smokers smoke at the average Canadian rate, that means a little more than 1.24 days worth of our butts have been recycled so far.

Like most of the complex issues that involve human beings, there are no single, simple solutions to smoking or its by-products. We'll find the variety of approaches needed only by identifying the real priorities, facing them head on and admitting that they need addressing.

Special thanks to those who have inspired our inspirers, and led our leaders.





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