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BUTT Out

Cigarette butts are the most littered item on earth. Joanne Carew digs deeper into the problem.

On 26 September 2019, cigarette butts were on the menu during lunch hour at St George’s Mall. Earlier in the day, Philip Morris employees and others collected cigarette butts across the Cape Town CBD and placed all the litter they found in the centre of this busy pedestrian walkway. The pile of cigarette butts weighed 80kg. The demonstration was part of cigarette and tobacco manufacturing company Philip Morris South Africa’s (PMSA) “Unsmoke” campaign and was run together with the Central City Improvement District (CCID) and City of
Cape Town.

The display aimed to raise awareness about the massive cigarette butt litter problem that affects cities and towns across South Africa. This litter eventually lands up in our seas and rivers and does enormous damage to the environment, explains Tasso Evangelinos, CEO of the Cape Town Central City Improvement District. “What we’ve found,” adds Rishaad Hajee, head of corporate communications at Philip Morris South Africa, “is that there are many smokers out there who simply haven’t internalised that a cigarette is, in fact, litter.”

Which is why cigarette butt litter has become such a massive problem.

Cigarette butt litter is quite bad in the CBD of Cape Town, especially in public or pedestrian areas, stresses Evangelinos. For this reason, the CCID installed 300 branded, concrete cigarette butt bins a few years ago and placed them in core pedestrian areas, including in front of large corporate buildings and call centres.

“Our cleaners remove around 300kg of butts from our bins every month, but an enormous amount of butts still land up on the ground,” Evangelinos adds.

“Ultimately, we want people to dispose of their cigarette butts responsibly and the idea is to provide them with the necessary infrastructure to do so,” he continues.

“There was a time when nobody thought twice about using a straw because we didn’t really understand how bad they are for the environment. But as awareness has been raised and we have all learned about the impact of straws on the environment, we’ve started to change our behaviour,” says Hajee. “When it comes to cigarette butts, we need to raise similar awareness.”

And, so far, it seems to be working.

According to Hajee, the bright yellow “Unsmoke” branding on these cigarette bins has made the brand and the initiative that much more visible. So much so that they get regular requests from business owners asking how they can have more bins placed outside their offices.

“When you’re dealing with a problem of this magnitude, it is not something that a single player can resolve on their own,” concludes Hajee. “It requires government, business and civil society to work together because ultimately the hope of cleaning up our communities is a common goal.”

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