June 27, 2013

Portland working to get butts off the street

A new poster campaign is part of an effort to reduce the litter, and health risks, of discarded cigarettes.

By Karen Antonacci kantonacci@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – City officials began a campaign Wednesday to discourage people from disposing of cigarette butts on Portland's streets and sidewalks.

click image to enlarge

The Portland City Council passed an ordinance on Monday night making it illegal to discard cigarette butts on the ground. Offenders could face a $100 fine.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

The Portland City Council passed an ordinance on Monday night making it illegal to discard cigarette butts on the ground. Offenders could face a $100 fine.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

"The Butt Stops Here" campaign features a poster with an illustration of a crumpled cigarette butt and the words "Put it out. Throw it out. It's the law." Posters will be stuck on the sides of six recycling and trash trucks.

Window decals with the design are available for local businesses. And Portland Police Cadets and Park Rangers will hand out wallet-size cards with the design and anti-littering information.

Two ordinances that took effect this year established a potential fine of at least $100 for throwing a cigarette butt on the ground and restricted smoking in public spaces.

"We're focusing on education and enforcement," said city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg.

Police Cadets have issued two fines for cigarette-butt littering since that ordinance took effect in March, Clegg said. In both cases, the individuals were fined after having been warned, she said.

Also, three people have been issued tickets for violating the rules against smoking in public places, Clegg said.

The campaign cost $1,357, paid for by a grant from the Healthy Maine Partnership, a collaboration of several state departments.

Public Services Director Michael Bobinsky said the city spends an estimated $20,000 a year to clean up sidewalks in the Old Port and downtown. In 2011, because cigarette butts were getting stuck in cobblestone and sidewalk cracks, the city invested in a $40,000 vacuum attachment for a sidewalk tractor.

One downtown business owner, Mike Roylos, offered a 5-cent bounty on cigarette butts after getting frustrated with litter in Monument Square.

Bobinsky said city workers find many cigarette butts in catch basins that are supposed to stop trash from flowing from streets and sidewalks into waterways, but many more butts get through the basins and get washed into Casco Bay. The butts include plastic in the filters that releases toxins and is slow to biodegrade.

According to data from the Ocean Conservancy, cigarette butts and filters accounted for almost a third of the waste removed from American beaches and inland waterways in an annual cleanup in 2010.

A press release from the city cited a study in 2011 that said one cigarette butt soaked in a liter of water for one day released enough toxins to kill half of the saltwater and freshwater fish exposed to the water for four days.

"We monitor the water closely, and the cigarette butts are not good for the water or the critters that live in it," said Joseph Payne, baykeeper for the Friends of Casco Bay organization.

Other cities have targeted cigarette butt litter. San Francisco, for example, imposed a 20-cent tax on cigarettes in 2009 to help pay for a $6 million-a-year effort to clean up the butts.

Clegg said the city is also fighting litter by buying 38 additional BigBelly solar-powered trash compactors -- garbage cans that compress trash so they don't have to be emptied as often. The city now has 12 of the compactors.

Payne said he hopes the city's efforts will reduce the number of cigarette butts in Casco Bay.

"We need to make it not OK to throw (cigarette butts) on the ground," he said. 

Karen Antonacci can be contacted at 791-6377 or at:

kantonacci@pressherald.com

 

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