SFU is on the Road to Butt Out

The SFU Student Social Innovation Fund, a collaboration between RADIUS and Embark, provides project funding of up to $1000. Below, we get an update from Butt Out Vancouver, a project team funded earlier this year.
Did you know that cigarette butts can actually be recycled? I didn’t either until a very short time ago. Did you know that one cigarette butt contaminates up to one hundred litres of water? And that’s not the only negative impact that cigarette waste has on the environment.  With over five trillion cigarette butts littered each year, they are the world’s largest litter problem, and we want to do something about it!
Our team, Butt Out Vancouver, aims to implement a cigarette waste recycling program in the greater Vancouver area, whilst encouraging responsible consumer habits in order to protect our environment.  As recent graduates of Simon Fraser University, our team is comprised of innovative thinkers who have diverse areas of expertise and are eager to bring change not only to our campus but also to the city we call home.  Our initiative started with the small idea of not throwing our butts on the ground and has since led us to an increasingly broad range of new ideas such as making pylons out of the materials made from recycled butts, educating people on the facts surrounding butt recycling, and establishing a campus wide cigarette waste recycling program. We have now been generating research from our on campus surveying and have established partnerships in the meantime which have proven to be of great value to us in both our validity and our scope.
Butt Out 1How’d it all begin, you ask? Well, when half of our team attended a music festival in Eastern British Columbia back in 2013, we were exposed to these small devices called Pocket Ashtrays, which are, quite literally, portable ashtrays that will fit into your pockets!  On these awesome little helpers were facts regarding the negative impacts that cigarette waste has on our environment, as well as words of positive reinforcement on the inside of the pouch that read, ‘Good job! You just saved 40 litres of water!’.  This not only educated us, but it also encouraged us to develop more responsible habits of our own when we were disposing of our butts. When we returned to the same festival one year later in 2014, the merchandise headquarters were actually handing out free Pocket Ashtrays with the festival’s logo on them, which meant that clearly they had made an impact! Cool, eh?
Through our outreach efforts to implement a city-wide recycling program, we developed a relationship with the folks at Brain Garden who we learned were actually the group who brought Pocket Ashtrays to this festival in the first place! Initially, our colleagues at Brain Garden handed out Pocket Ashtrays for free outside of the festival’s mandate; however, following the clean-up that year (2013), the organizers of the festival noticed a drastic decrease in the amount of cigarette waste around the grounds and realized the significance the ashtrays had for collecting such waste.  Consequently, the following year (2014) they employed Brain Garden to make customized Pocket Ashtrays for their festival and to have a collection bin on-site, where festival-goers could empty their receptacles so that the butts would later be recycled instead of being thrown into the landfill.
The Pocket Ashtrays proved to be a key resource for butt disposal for all smokers attending the festival, and by 2016 the festival cleanup crew found nearly NO cigarette butts throughout the grounds!  Seeing the progress that such a system had made within a festival setting, we felt confident that through a combination of education, resources, and positive reinforcement we would be able to implement a system within urban areas too and so, the beginning of Butt Out Vancouver was sparked!
Back in Vancouver we began reaching out to people and organizations that had already begun or were involved with similar initiatives.  We began by connecting with friends and some of our colleagues at SFU Public Square, where we got incredibly encouraging responses.  We then met with Councillor Andrea Reimer of the City of Vancouver who was enthusiastic about our initiative and how it would help the Greenest City Initiative. She also gave us some valuable advice for moving forward.  As our scope grew, we made connections with Brain Garden, TerraCycle, and Green Chair Recycling. These associations became assets to not only our legitimacy but also the expansion of our available knowledge and resources for the project.
Butt Out 3We understood that we needed a starting point for a pilot project that would lay the foundation for a city-wide initiative.  As our entire team is made up of SFU alumni, we thought: “What better place to bring a progressive idea than to our university campus filled with innovative people?!”  So, knowing the financials of what such a venture would cost, we looked into what kind of funding would be available to us, leading us to Embark’s Sustainable Community Grant and RADIUS’ and Embark’s joint Social Innovation Seed Fund shortly thereafter.
Embark’s Sustainable Community Grant allowed us to begin the research for our project on the SFU campus’ in order to assess what type of barriers student smokers face when disposing of their cigarette waste.  In our on-going canvassing, we are asking participants what they think the university could improve upon to address this issue of litter while also educating them on the fact that cigarette waste can be recycled if disposed of properly.  Thus far in our research we have had positive responses and encouraging feedback from participants and even a few sign-ups for our volunteer list!
Then came the generosity of RADIUS’ and Embark’s Social Innovation Seed Fund, which has allowed us to move from research to implementation of a cigarette waste recycling program on the SFU campus’.  As this segment of our project is currently in its beginning stages, we are working on distributing Pocket Ashtrays to people on campus and getting feedback from people who have been using them.  Our goals include increasing the aesthetic appeal of our campuses, reducing landfill waste and encouraging the recycling of cigarette butts, making SFU a leading university in Canada by doing so.
The majority of our team is composed of smokers and thus, we have first-hand experiences with disposing of our cigarette waste, and we understand that there are many aspects to consider to properly dispose of such waste.  In our fast paced lifestyles on campus and in the city, we understand that the lack of ashtrays and disposal bins are an inconvenience in a time where convenience is everything. “If it is not convenient to dispose of the butt it just goes anywhere,” said one participant. The Pocket Ashtrays are a great way for smokers to collect their butts in order to dispose of them when they find a bin.  These can be custom made for SFU in the future and could even include facts about cigarette waste to encourage people to participate.   In order to have a recycling system on campus, we are working to strategically construct more designated smoking areas where people may comfortably smoke and have disposal bins on hand.  We will also establish butt collection stations where people can conveniently dispose of their butts.  Through our efforts, we hope to implement a long-term recycling program for cigarette waste on all SFU campuses, making SFU the first Canadian university to do so! SFU will not only be an example for other universities to follow, but their efforts will be of great help in propelling an initiative on a city-wide scale!
Would you participate in this recycling effort? Whether you’re a smoker or not, how would you perceive SFU if they were to implement such a program? Please get in touch if you have any questions, thoughts or concerns for us! Shoot us an email at buttoutvancouver@gmail.com, check out our website, find us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! Also check out our colleagues and supporters: Brain Garden and The Pocket Ashtray! They are both super awesome, innovative, and game-changing organizations that we are lucky to partner with.