Local group helps collect 73M cigarette butts nationwide

Cleaning garbage off the streets of downtown Victoria can be a tedious, never-ending task, but a local group is always up to the challenge.

Cleaning garbage off the streets of downtown Victoria can be a tedious, never-ending task, but a local group is always up to the challenge.

On weekdays, the Downtown Victoria Business Association’s Clean Team, armed with green jackets and cleaning tools such as brooms, garbage cans, kitty litter and cleaner, comb downtown Victoria streets searching for garbage, such as cigarette butts, to pick up.

Over the past three years, they’ve collected thousands of cigarette butts. Now, the Clean Team, along with similar organizations around the country, have reached a new milestone — they have helped collect 73 million cigarette butts nationwide diverting them from the waste stream.

“It’s an enormous number,” said Rob Caunter, manager of the Clean Team. “Not only does it improve the aesthetics of downtown, but it keeps cigarette butts out of storm drains, out of our oceans where fish could eat them, and ultimately out of our food sources.”

The Clean Team’s cigarette butt recycling project is a partnership between the Surfrider Foundation and the City of Victoria, which began in 2014.

As part of the pilot project, cigarette butt canisters have been installed around the city, encouraging smokers to discard their butts in the canisters, rather than throwing them onto the street, where they often end up in storm drains and eventually the ocean.

“They’re not biodegradable and they are jammed full of toxins that filter out of these cigarettes,” said Caunter, adding the canisters have been helpful in reducing the number of butts on the street, but more canisters are needed.

“It’s like putting a million poisonous things in the ocean on an on-going basis.”

Every week, Clean Team members are tasked with emptying the canisters and picking up additional butts, which are then packaged and shipped off to TerraCycle Canada, a company that takes difficult-to-recycle packaging and turns it into affordable and innovative products, such as industrial plastics for palettes and garden benches.

The Clean Team is responsible for more than just picking up cigarette butts around town.

Members also wash windows, doorways, and recesses of buildings, clean up graffiti and remove drug paraphernalia year-round.