Austin Heights BIA tackles cigarette litter

Receptacles installed in Coquitlam so cigarette butts can be recycled

A Coquitlam business group is tackling the problem of cigarette litter with an innovative program that not only recycles the pesky filters but also provides extra income to a local non-profit agency.

This summer and fall, the Austin Heights Business Improvement Association took on the challenge of collecting cigarette butts in partnership with TerraCycle and the Community Ventures Society.

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As many as 17 cigarette butt receptacles have been placed in high traffic areas in the Austin Heights neighbourhood in Coquitlam at a cost of nearly $2,000, with the goal of encouraging smokers to dispose of their cigarette waste instead of dropping it into the gutter.

“It’s litter but it can’t go into the regular garbage recycling and over 60% of smokers say they would use a receptacle if it was provided,” explained Lisa Landry, executive director of the Austin Heights BIA.

Community Ventures Society, which supports people with developmental disabilities and their families, will empty the receptacles as part of their arrangement with the BIA and will receive funds towards programming when they send the package to TerraCycle.

TerraCycle, an international recycling company, then recycles the waste into a variety of industrial products, such as plastic lumber, and composts the remaining tobacco and paper.

“We have a cleaner area, Community Ventures can raise funds, it doesn’t go into the landfill and TerraCycle makes useful products,” said Landry, who said she researched solutions to cigarette waste after seeing how much of it was being collected in litter pick-ups and saw what the city of Vancouver was doing with its four BIAs.

“I thought, ‘let’s be forward thinking’ because us turning a blind eye is causing more litter in our area,” Landry said.

In fact, cigarette butt litter isn’t just an eyesore, it’s a major source of pollution, carries toxic materials, according to Zero Waste Canada, and is slow to degrade in the environment.

Some have argued that cigarette manufacturers should be responsible for the waste, but it’s often left to cities to deal with.

Landry said she’s pleased her organization has come up with an effective solution, the receptacles provided by TerraCycle are easy to maintain and empty and so far appear to be used by smokers.
“We’re hopeful other areas will follow suit,” Landry said.

Meanwhile, TerraCycle is pleased that the local organization is making an effort to reduce cigarette litter. In a press release, TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky said every year billions of cigarette butts are thrown out that could be recycled.

“We give a big ‘thank you’ to the more than 2,000 locations that have helped us collect over 100 million cigarette butts through this recycling program.”

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