Vancouver’s experimental cigarette-recycling program has backfired.
In November of last year, the city installed 110 cigarette-butt receptacles in several downtown locations. But the move produced unintended consequences, prompting Vancouver Coastal Health officials to bring them to the city’s attention.
“We were concerned that this leads to people being exposed to secondhand smoke,” chief medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly told the Georgia Straight in a June 2 phone interview. “And also, we were concerned that perhaps by putting up the recycling containers that this might make smoking more socially acceptable in those areas of the city.”
According to Daly, some of the boxes were mounted within six metres of doors, windows, and air intakes. This is inconsistent with the city’s own bylaw delineating this buffer zone to protect people indoors against secondhand smoke.
Daly also noted that smokers, drawn to the bins, may have started puffing in these places where they weren’t smoking before.
“This was a well-intentioned pilot [program], but they were really focusing on the litter aspects,” she said. “They hadn’t considered some of the broader aspects: will it impact secondhand smoke and smoking rates?”
Daly also mentioned that it’s not clear whether or not the initiative is achieving its objective of ridding the streets of cigarette butts. According to her, the regional health authority and the city are working together to evaluate the program.
Daly said the city has committed to move containers that are within the bylaw’s six-metre buffer zone.
The city didn’t make staff available for an interview with the Straight.
Described as the first in the world, the so-called Cigarette Waste Brigade pilot program is part of Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan. It’s supposed to be a model for other municipalities. The city’s partners in this program include TerraCycle Canada, a company that accepts difficult-to-recycle items like cigarette butts.
In January, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada issued a statement noting that the City of Vancouver has “not drawn attention” to the fact that this type of recycling program was “invented and funded by Canada’s largest tobacco company, Imperial Tobacco Ltd.”.
An Imperial Tobacco news release from last summer notes that the company teamed up with TerraCycle in 2012 to recycle butts and other cigarette litter. The tobacco manufacturer also announced a program starting in 2013 called Cigarette Waste Brigade, the same name as Vancouver’s initiative. The program gives people a $1 credit toward a donation to their chosen charity per pound of waste shipped cost-free to TerraCycle.
Dr. Stuart Kreisman, an endocrinologist with St. Paul’s Hospital, speaks on behalf of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada regarding cigarette trash. In a new paper prepared for the organization, Kreisman renewed his earlier suggestion that the province charge a deposit of $1 per pack of 20 cigarettes, refundable to the buyer upon return of the 20 butts.
Kreisman also argued that cigarette companies should not have a role in a deposit program because they are a “pariah industry”.
“Deposit funds awaiting return should be held either by the government, the collecting corporation, or one of their proxies,” Kreisman stated in the paper, which was released this month.
Citing a study of tobacco use in Canada, the doctor noted that B.C. has 515,000 smokers who light up, on average, about 13 cigarettes each per day.
In a phone interview with the Straight on May 30, Kreisman noted that it’s not surprising the tobacco industry likes to have recycling programs: “They can say, ‘Hey, we’re part of society; we’re good guys too.’ ”
Vancouver Coastal Health’s Daly is familiar with Kreisman’s proposal for a refundable butt deposit, describing it as an “intriguing idea”.
“If this pilot is not successful,” Daly said about the Vancouver program, “let’s look at other alternatives.”