Outside Mic Mac Mall in Dartmouth, Tyrone Clyke is on his 10-minute break, inhaling deeply and rapidly on a cigarette. In three hours he’ll be back here again. On average, Clyke leaves about 20 cigarette butts here a week.
Smokers like Clyke are caught between two city campaigns; one to eliminate smoking, the other to stop littering. Clyke says the city can’t stop him from smoking but it could stop him from littering. If only there were places to put butts.
“I think not having receptacles makes everything so disgusting. When I see this mess everywhere and know that I’m contributing to it, I feel bad,” he says. “But I also know that there’s no place else for us to put the butts.”
Halifax began its anti-litter campaign in April. New trash bins can be found throughout the city, but only a handful of cigarette butt receptacles have been installed. None of the anti-litter ads address cigarette litter specifically.
A 2004 survey by the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour found that cigarette filters account for over 20 percent of the city’s litter. Only food wrappers and disposable cups rank
Cigarette filters contain cellulose acetate, a plastic that takes anywhere from five to 500 years to degrade. This poses a possible environmental risk, as chemicals from the filters seep into the groundwater.
The city has purchased over 100 butt containers, but isn’t installing them. Marion Currie, Halifax’s anti-litter campaign coordinator, says if the city installed the boxes it would be encouraging people to break the no-smoking bylaw that requires smokers to stay 18 metres from all building entries. Instead, businesses can buy the small wall-mounting aluminum boxes for $180 wholesale from the city, and then install them where they wish.
Terry Harvie, the general manager of Mic Mac Mall, says that he would like to put cigarette receptacles near the doors of the mall, but the by-law poses a problem. “You could have a giant NO SMOKING sign near the doors, but if you have a cigarette receptacle underneath it, people are going to smoke there.”
The Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission bought 24 of the boxes and sent out a notice in early May to downtown businesses saying the boxes could be installed for only $50. So far, just 12 of the boxes have been installed at local businesses and office buildings, says Dan Norris, the marketing communications administrator of the DDBC.
With so few containers available, smokers are continuing to litter their butts out of habit, even when next to a box. “It’s unfortunate people aren’t using them,” says Norris. “I think a public education campaign is needed to make smokers more aware of the containers.”
Toronto, Hamilton and the Niagara region have all successfully lowered cigarette butt litter after targeting the issue in anti-litter campaigns by raising awareness and installing butt boxes.
O’Brien says that Halifax’s anti-litter campaign wasn’t introduced with cigarette butts in mind.
“We’re trying to curb litter through awareness and the threat of a penalty,” he says. “But it’s unlikely that we’ll ever fine someone $495 for throwing a cigarette butt on the ground.”
Although campaign ads warn of a fine, Currie says if the city fined people for littering butts they would “definitely come across as the bad guy.” She says the solution is to discourage littering by keeping streets clean.
With the responsibility for butt litter in the hands of businesses and smokers, O’Brien says that he hopes people simply won’t smoke. But if they must, he says “put the butts in a travel container, or in your pocket. You don’t have to throw them on the ground.”
Back outside Mic Mac Mall, Clyke finishes another cigarette before throwing it to the ground. “Putting a butt in your pocket is just like holding a diaper in your hand,” says Clyke. “Hell no. That’s not going to work. If there’s nowhere to put our butts they’re going on the ground.”