Butt out in the nicest possible way

As the smoking ban comes into effect this month, there may well be an increase in cigarette butt littering on the streets. But guidance is on hand to ensure it doesn't become too much of a drag

Cigarettes are already England’s most common type of litter – present on 79% of streets. But from this month, smoking-related litter could rise as those still addicted go outside to get their nicotine fix. That’s the bad news. The good news is that in the long term the ban should help reduce the number of smokers – there are currently ten million of them in England alone – and therefore smoking-related litter.

Local authorities already have a number of powers enabling them to fine and prosecute individuals and businesses for littering. These are provided by Part 4 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, as amended by the Clean Neighbourhoods & Environment Act 2005. However, guidance from Defra and Encams (which runs the Keep Britain Tidy campaign) Preventing Cigarette Litter in England shows that strong arm tactics aren’t the only solution.

Smokers often bemoan a lack of ashtrays as a reason for littering butts. Interestingly, the research found that smokers are very fearful of setting general litter bins alight and prefer dedicated cigarette bins. The bin should be large enough to hold a volume of cigarettes and be easy and clean to use with large holes to insert the butt ends. It’s also important that cigarette bins are clearly signposted to avoid cross contamination, which can lead to fires.

The research also helpfully highlights a number of common cigarette litter hotspots where ashtrays could usefully be put. These included transition points such as transport interchanges, offices/warehouse entrances and pub/hotel entrances as well as pedestrian areas such as open-air shopping malls. Designated smoking areas are another obvious place for ashtray installation and LAs should think about providing smoking areas for outdoor events as well as outdoor eating areas.

Consider bin type and location

The report recommended that the type, as well as location, of the cigarette bin should also be considered. Free-standing ashtrays in areas of high footfall that are low to the ground are not ideal as smokers may attempt, and fail, to throw their cigarette end in the receptacle. This could result in littering around the base of the bin.

Researchers found that keeping litter hotspots clean – especially around ashtrays and signage – resulted in less littering and more binning. Belfast City Council, for example, has provided staff with equipment designed to deal more effectively with cigarette related litter. It has also held training sessions to help emphasis to staff the importance of thorough cleansing around street furniture and other areas where smoking-related material can accumulate.

The report flags up the importance role local businesses will be expected to play in reducing cigarette litter. LAs are advised to engage business by communicating their legal responsibilities and encourage them to install cigarette litter bins. Councils could also provide other incentives and promotional resources such as posters and branded items.

Education campaigns can help highlight the problem of cigarette littering and galvanise local action but should be planned several months in advance. In preparation LAs should create a list of aims that are measurable and specific such as the reduction of cigarette litter by 20%.

The campaign should be conducted over a short time-scale – one to two weeks – and authorities should identify litter hotspots to target. The size of the target area should be manageable in relation to the resources available.

Techniques for reduction

A range of successful and proven techniques in reducing cigarette litter is outlined in the report. And each technique should be considered in the context of the education campaign the council plans to run. Face-to-face techniques can be a powerful way to reach a target audience. A team of trained educators, dressed in matching campaign T-shirts, can approach smokers positively and tell them about reducing cigarette litter and ask them not to litter their cigarette ends.

The team can also reward smokers with key rings or portable ashtrays. It’s important to ensure that only those of legal age are approached and targeted, which will change from 16 to 18 after 1 October 2007.

It’s also possible to get the message across while having a bit of fun. Southwark Council’s education campaign took a creative approach with its ‘Stalking Litter’ idea. This involved a series of performances by actors dressed up as giant pieces of litter – such as a cigarette butt. These spectacles were used as an opportunity to hand out information leaflets and promotional products.

The ‘tongue-in-cheek’ approach enabled the Southwark team to engage with individuals who had been difficult to reach in the past – illustrating how a little bit of humour can go a long way in getting smokers to stub out responsibly.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie