Anti-butt campaign hopes smokers kick the littering habit


Gina Hawkins, executive director of Keep Alachua County Beautiful, puts a sticker that reads, "Don't Flick It", on a cigarette butt receptacle she placed in front of DragonFly restaurant in downtown Gainesville Thursday.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 2, 2013 at 9:14 p.m.

Gina Hawkins gestured to a black, cylindrical ash receptacle set near the doors of the County Administration Building in downtown Gainesville, glancing at the cigarette butts lying in the grass beside it.

"This is like one of the few, the proud," she said of the container where smokers are supposed to stash their cigarettes once they're done with them.

Even with the receptacle there, some people are just in the habit of flicking their cigarette butts on the ground without a second thought, she said. But Hawkins, the executive director of Keep Alachua County Beautiful, plans to change that.

Walking around the county facility, she pointed out other smushed smokes lining the sidewalk.

Street corners are the worst. As they wait for the light to change, residents just flick their cigarettes to the ground and go.

Keep Alachua County Beautiful aims to cut down on cigarette butt litter in downtown Gainesville between Main and Southeast Third streets and University and Second avenues through a targeted campaign that involves placing ash receptacles around the area and raising local awareness about the problem.

In April, Keep Alachua County Beautiful collected 7,000 cigarette butts in this region of downtown Gainesville, Hawkins said. The County Administration Building, Alachua County Courthouse and the headquarters library are major locations downtown where they often are flicked away.

The organization received a grant of about $2,000 from Keep America Beautiful's Cigarette Litter Prevention Program, which is a nationwide effort to reduce this kind of litter that has led to success in many communities across the country.

Since the program was established in 2003, around 1,500 community programs have been implemented and have reduced cigarette butt litter by 50 percent on average, said Bronwen Evans, director of litter programs for Keep America Beautiful.

Keep Alachua County Beautiful has received grants in the past for this prevention program, most recently in 2010, she said.

Many people don't think of cigarette butts as litter. But they are actually the most frequently littered item in the U.S., with tobacco products making up 38 percent of all roadway litter in the country, according to Keep America Beautiful's 2009 Littering Behavior in America research.

Cigarette filters contain cellulose acetate, which is a non-biodegradable kind of plastic, according to the prevention program's website, and discarded cigarette butts and cigar tips can easily get carried into stormwater runoff and then into local waterways.

Keep America Beautiful's prevention program aims to teach the public that cigarette butts are, in fact, considered litter and to encourage smokers to dispose of them properly, Evans said. Its focus is on reducing litter, not on deterring people from smoking.

"We are trying to get them to do the right thing with their cigarette butts," she said.

Some people question whether putting out ash receptacles encourages smoking, but she emphasized that it just encourages people not to litter. Putting out recycling bins for soda cans isn't going to make people drink more soda, she noted.

For every extra ash receptacle, the cigarette butt littering rate drops by 9 percent, according to the Littering Behavior in America research.

Hawkins, of Keep Alachua County Beautiful, pointed out that many smokers are actually trying to do the right thing by flicking their cigarette butts onto the ground rather than tossing them in a garbage can where they could cause a fire.

"So they're actually trying to be responsible by not putting the butt in the trashcan," she said. That's why it is important to set up receptacles they can use instead.

Hawkins said the organization is in the process of placing receptacles around the downtown area to discourage littering. It also will be distributing pocket ashtrays to smokers.

Just 14 percent of smokers say they own a pocket ashtray, according to the Littering Behavior in America research.

Although Keep Alachua County Beautiful is spearheading this prevention effort, it has found support from several local businesses and organizations, including the city of Gainesville's Solid Waste Division, various Alachua County departments, the University of Florida Office of Sustainability, and Dragonfly Sushi and Sake Co.

The Repurpose Project, a Gainesville-based nonprofit that creates art out of reusable materials and runs a trash-to-treasure shop, also is getting involved. Co-founder Mike Myers said the organization will be using repurposed materials to create receptacles for cigarette butts, which might end up being decorated by various artists.

The receptacles probably will be made mostly out of wood, but sheet metal and other resources also might be used. Myers said he plans to use PVC pipe inside the containers so the cigarette butts can be dropped into them.

The Repurpose Project is based in the downtown Gainesville area, and he said he notices cigarette butts all the time.

"I think it's a real worthwhile program," he said.

Although Keep Alachua County Beautiful is in the early stages of its anti-litter campaign, Hawkins said she is hopeful it will see the same success other communities have with this program. Reducing the cigarette litter downtown by half would make a big difference, she said.

Maybe then she could walk down the street without noticing little white cigarette filters smushed into the dirt. Or at least without seeing quite so many.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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