British Columbia

Community group picks up thousands of cigarette butts at annual event

For four years, community members have been picking up cigarette litter. They want a better solution.

For 4 years, community members have been picking up cigarette litter

Just some of the thousands of cigarette butts volunteers collected from Grandview Park in Vancouver on May 4, 2019. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

A group of volunteers, many colourfully dressed, picked up more than 20,000 cigarette butts from a Vancouver park on Saturday.

The group is known as the "Butt Touchers," and for four years they have been collecting — with a smile — discarded cigarette butts to keep the litter from polluting Vancouver.

Evan Cronmiller searches for cigarette butts in Granview Park in Vancouver on May 4, 2019. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Despite the humour of the group, its mission around removing the butts, which contain toxic chemicals that can accumulate in soil and water, is serious.

"They are a scourge on our environment," said Evan Cronmiller, who wore a yellow and black polka dot blazer with a pink tie and black and white tights to the event.

A volunteer with a Vancouver cigarette butt clean-up group. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

On Saturday, a small group of volunteers including Cronmiller and organizer Alexandria Weideman collected 21,288 cigarette butts from Grandview Park and surrounding streets off Commercial Drive.

Last year, the group collected around 17,000 butts. It arranges to have all the butts recycled.

"Cigarette butts are toxic litter," said Weideman, adding they also contain plastic.

Cigarettes tossed onto the ground can spread toxic chemicals into the environment. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

She says the butts take a long time to degrade, and toxins within them end up moving through the food chain when a small animal or insect eats the microfibres.

Weideman wants better recycling options for smokers to deposit their butts rather than just stricter enforcement from the city.

"I think enforcement of any kind should be paired with [incentives] and rewards," she said.

Alexandria Weideman says she would like to see better infrastructure in Vancouver to help smokers properly collect and recycle their cigarette butts. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

In 2013, the City of Vancouver launched a program to recycle cigarette butts by installing 100 receptacles where the butts could be placed to be recycled.

In the first year of the program, staff counted 200 pounds of butts. That's roughly 200,000. Since then, the city has said little about the program or other initiatives to deal with the litter.

Weideman says some smokers she's spoken to say a deposit program would provide an incentive to dispose of their butts.

"They say they would be happy to take care of their cigarette butts if they were offered a penny per butt," she said.

She's also a fan of a special pouch smokers can keep in their pockets to safely collect butts.

Pouches like this allow smokers to collect butts and keep them from becoming litter. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

With files from Joel Ballard

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