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Cigarette butt refund proposed to reduce litter, but will it work?

I was delighted to hear about the West End Cleanup Group (WECG) in Vancouver running a pilot event where people could return their cigarette butts for a refund. During car-free day (Sunday, June 16) smokers could turn in their butts for a 10 cent refund per butt or $20 for a pound. Within the first half hour the group had given away over $200 in refunds, and in the end collected over 60,000 butts. The whole idea behind this pilot project is to petition BC to put a deposit on cigarette packs and institute a refund program. WECG feels this will encourage smokers to return their butts instead of littering them all over the streets.

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By Melissa Spady (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: July 3, 2013

Earlier this year I expressed my disgust at the cigarette butts that littered the walk between my parking spot by Towne Cinema and the campus. It’s not just the sight of litter that perturbs me, but the thought of all those non-biodegradable filters slowly releasing toxins into the ground and water.

I’m not here to lecture people on smoking: the packages do that enough, and I’m a firm believer in freedom of lifestyle. If you want to smoke, smoke away (in designated smoking areas)!

But while you’re more than entitled to put whatever you choose into your body, don’t think that entitlement carries over to nature. We share the planet. Don’t be a brat: throw your trash away.

Most of the time I feel as though my pleas are dissipating into smoky air. That being said, I was delighted to hear about the West End Cleanup Group (WECG) in Vancouver running a pilot event where people could return their cigarette butts for a refund. During car-free day (Sunday, June 16) smokers could turn in their butts for a 10 cent refund per butt or $20 for a pound. Within the first half hour the group had given away over $200 in refunds, and in the end collected over 60,000 butts.

The whole idea behind this pilot project is to petition BC to put a deposit on cigarette packs and institute a refund program. WECG feels this will encourage smokers to return their butts instead of littering them all over the streets.

Vancouver’s Green Party city councillor Adriane Carr plans to back the group by introducing a motion to implement this program on a permanent basis.

“My hope is that, because this is a program that should be province-wide, that Vancouver can simply urge the province to undertake the program, but it should be done by working with Vancouver and all the municipalities in BC,” Carr told Straight.com by telephone.

Carr cites the success of the WECG pilot as the basis for her proposal, and will be urging for it to be forwarded to the Union of BC Municipalities convention in September.

Some commenters at CBC.ca argued that the removal of outdoor ashtrays was a significant part of the litter problem; giving smokers back their ashtrays could result in reduced litter around Vancouver and other cities. However, in my opinion, people are much more likely to respond to incentives rather than straight convenience.

It makes sense when you break it down: if I have to pay a deposit for the plastic bottle that holds my liquid sugar addiction, why don’t smokers have to pay for the plastic in their filters?

The bottom line is that you can’t stop people from doing what they like, but you can make it easier for them to stop polluting the Earth. I think creating a refund is the best plan I’ve heard in a long time. Extensive research into what exactly people are smoking didn’t deter people, and neither did adding horrific images of side effects on the packages. Preventative measures to reduce the effect of those smoking on nature and the rest of us is thinking out of the box, which is something I feel we need in order to create actual change.

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