Small butts, big problem

5th of March 2014
Small butts, big problem

Our correspondent in Scandinavia, Petra Sjouwerman, reports from Denmark. Danish organisations try to raise awareness about the danger of littered cigarette butts. They call small butts a ‘big problem’.

Nine million cigarette butts end up in the streets of Denmark daily. Please take time to let that sink in! Denmark is a small country, with only 5.6 million inhabitants, so do the maths for your own country. Cigarette butts end up in pedestrian streets, train and bus stations, in parks and around offices and schools.

Danish smokers are behind nearly half of all litter in the Danish public space. The organisation Keep Denmark Clean thinks it high time for a mentality change. Cigarette butts belong in the waste bin.

Since Denmark introduced its ban on smoking in the workplace in 2007 the number of cigarette butts that end up in the streets has increased spectacularly. In Denmark’s capital Copenhagen for example, the numbers have increased by 45 per cent.

International studies have shown that harmful substances like nicotine, arsenic, lead and cadmium – just to name a few - end up in the ground.

“We know from our studies that many people believe cigarette butts decompose quickly. But actually it can take up to five years for a filter to decompose,” says the director of Keep Denmark Clean Bjarke L Frandsen. “Many butts are cleaned up by sweeping machines, but those which end up on the cobblestones or train rails must be picked up manually - and this is costing the tax payers approximately two kroner per piece (0.26 euro),” he says.

That is why Keep Denmark Clean, a network consisting of different private companies, state organisations and the Danish Ministry for the Environment, has started a campaign. ‘Small pieces of litter – a big problem’, is the name of this campaign. The organisation has developed a reusable pocket ashtray out of soft material, which closes hermetically.

Around 40,000 of these pocket ashtrays have already been distributed in city centres, in malls, at bus stops and train stations throughout the country. The goal is to make Danes aware of the importance to throw even small pieces of litter, like cigarette butts and chewing gum in the rubbish bin.

Also the Danish Society for Nature Conservation is not sitting still. This organisation has proposed a kind of deposit system for cigarettes. The idea is that cigarettes should cost a little more and this extra money could be used to cover the cost of street cleaning. However this idea has not been realised.

But it has inspired others to do something about the problem. The organisers of the renowned music festival Northside in Aarhus have found a solution. Every year in June the music festival takes place in a much visited recreational area, close to a bird reserve and an idyllic river. All festival visitors are invited to collect their cigarette butts. When they return their cigarette in an empty cup, they get a free beer.


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