PORTLAND – A downtown restaurant owner is launching a campaign this week to get cigarette butts off the streets.

Sometime at midweek after the lunchtime rush, Mike Roylos plans to set up a table outside his Spartan Grill in Monument Square and offer 5 cents per cigarette butt picked up from a Portland sidewalk or street. He is hoping his experiment to debutt the city will take off and result in a prettier Portland.

“What do we have to lose but trash?” said Roylos.

Roylos said his No Butts Now! campaign follows months of personal frustration over the state of Monument Square and downtown Portland. Despite a ban on smoking in public parks and within 20 feet of doorways and a $100 fine for tossing butts on the street, the city is covered with smokers’ castoffs.

There are butts in the gutters, butts on the grass, butts snuffed out in planters and squashed between cobblestones.

So when he got an email from the Portland Downtown District reminding business owners that they are responsible for cleaning the butts off the sidewalks in front of their shops, Roylos decided to do some research.

“This is crazy. There has to be a better way to do this,” he said.

Roylos learned that volunteers in San Rafael, Calif., launched a successful program that buys back one ounce of butts for $1, using money donated by restaurant diners. Roylos, a former three-pack-a-day smoker, said the idea seemed like a natural for Portland.

He and City Councilor John Anton are bankrolling about $200 dollars’ worth of recovered butts and hope to persuade other Portlanders to make donations to fund more efforts. During this week’s trial run, Roylos will hand out instructional fliers and collection baggies. If all goes well, he will install donation boxes around the city to fund more cleanups.

Butts are not just unsightly, they pose a danger to wildlife, according to Roylos and Theresa Torrent-Ellis, director of the Maine Coastal Program.

They say that butts discarded in Portland eventually wash up in Casco Bay. Marine animals and birds eat the bits of plastic found inside the butts. The plastic fills their stomachs but offers no nourishment. Studies have found seabirds in Hawaii dying with stomachs full of plastic bits, said Torrent-Ellis.

Cigarette butts and cigarette debris make up the largest category of waste littering Maine shorelines. Thirty-three percent of the waste picked up from Maine shores during the International Coastal Cleanup, an annual daylong survey and collection of waste sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy, is cigarette debris.

The butts Roylos collects will be recycled through TerraCycle, a Trenton, N.J., company that offers free waste collection programs for hard-to-recycle items. TerraCycle converts the butts into plastic pellets. Other companies reclaim the chemicals that settle in the filters, Roylos said.

He said his campaign also aims to create supplemental income for Portland residents in need, such as the two men who come to his restaurant regularly to collect empty redeemable beverage cans.

Some smokers and nonsmokers in Monument Square said No Butts Now! just might work, but old habits are hard to break.

Alisa Yescas, a smoker whose job is to sweep up the butts that collect outside several Port Properties buildings, said she makes a point of storing her own butts in her cigarette pack until she can find a proper place to dispose of them.

“I have my boyfriend in training. I yell at him when I see him flick it,” Yescas said.

Robin Bartlett of Portland said he might think twice if he could redeem his butt like a redeemable beverage can.

“I must confess, I usually put my butts on the ground,” he said.

Nonsmoker Devon Pease of Union eyed the hundreds of butts littering the ground around the Portland Soldiers and Sailors Monument as he strummed his guitar Saturday.

“They are not very comely,” Pease said.

 

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com