March 4, 2019 Rubbish

Cigarette litter is the nuisance of streets, parks, and beaches worldwide. Where people go, cigarette butts follow, often ending up in our waterways and oceans. Around 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are tossed aside each year, so we’re not surprised when they top our litter list after rubbish cleanups.

What did surprise us, though, was Polk Street seemed to have a particular fondness for cigarettes–especially when compared to neighboring streets. Orange and white butts littered its sidewalks and asphalt in impressive quantities.

That’s when we decided to get to the butt-om of the problem! Using the rubbish app, we mapped and tracked every piece of litter we picked up along Polk Street over six months. In our first month, we ended up with 20,000 data points for four blocks! The data pinpointed the places where people got cozy with their cigarettes… bingo! It was right in front of two bars!

So we found the hotspot, but how could we ignite some change? We knew that the life cycle of every cigarette butt starts with a flame but how could we redirect its ending? We considered the environment… there was a lot of love for cigarettes on Polk Street, so didn’t the butts deserve some love, too? After considering some potential “matches” for the cigarette butts, we had the perfect setup: a cigarette disposal station!

We decided to play a little “match-making” and set one up right out front of the bars, and crossed our fingers in hopes for a spark!

Over 6 weeks, we checked in on the relationship status, collecting cigarette butts from the station and were excited to see the love story develop! Some fun facts about our matchmaking setup:

  • The disposal attracted more butts over time! As the dates passed, the relationship grew stronger.
  • There was a true love connection… cigarette butt litter decreased by 46% on the entire block… that’s something everyone can love!
  • Over 6 weeks, we prevented over 1,000 cigarette butts from an unhappy ending (being littered).
  • All the cigarette butts we collected on Polk Street, including from our rubbish station, will be sent to TerraCycle, where they will be shown some extra love, separated into parts and recycled.
  • This love story saved the community $38 in cigarette cleanup fees/tax money that can now be used for things everyone loves — like more library books!
  • Check out more here

… And our Polk Street cigarette butt/disposal love story caught on! Two organizations (Surfrider and Russian Hill Neighbors) shared the good vibes and set up a cigarette disposal in the same location. After showing the need for (and success of) the cigarette disposal in that location, we are now eyeing other streets that could benefit from our disposal to keep this matchmaking trend going!

This Polk Street love story was a huge win for everyone. Making a dent in diverting the world’s most littered item, cigarette butts, from the source on Polk Street is something we can all be proud of, especially because this street is looking even more beautiful these days. And imagine if this trend continued: 100 dispensers could collect 1,000 cigarettes each month. Over one year, that would prevent 1.2 million cigarette butts from entering our streets, sewers, waterways, and oceans — now that’s something to love!!

This bigger impact starts locally with cleaner streets. We can each make a difference. You can uncover litter trends and possible rubbish love stories (solutions) in your neighborhood by downloading rubbish to track, map and solve litter today!