Vancouver’s experimental cigarette-recycling program backfires

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      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.”




      Jun 4, 2014 at 10:21am

      In a 2002 study, it was found that BC smokers smoked almost 22 cigarettes per day on average, whereas the doctor quoted in this article claims that the number is only 13 cigarettes per day. Has the number of cigarettes smoked daily declined that much in 12 years? With cigarettes costing over $10 a pack, the cost to British Columbians of purchasing cigarettes and other tobacco products is as much as $2 billion a year. In addition, "An estimated 5,700 British Columbians lose their lives every year due to smoking. Smoking costs British Columbians an estimated $525 million (2002$) annually in medical care costs, an estimated $904 million (2002$) in productivity losses due to the premature deaths and excess disability of smokers, and millions more in costs borne directly by BC employers." That brings the total cost of smoking cigarettes by British Columbians to almost $3.5 billion annually.
      British Columbians need to reflect more on the social and economic costs of smoking, and make much greater efforts to reduce the number of people who choose to undertake this senseless behavior through education and other initiatives.

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      Jun 4, 2014 at 11:28am

      Anyone who's complaining about the butt recycling program has nothing better to do. Shouldn't the tobacco company be lightly commended for being involved in the program. At least they're finally being responsible about something. Perhaps with some encouragement they might do more responsible things, like remove the chemicals that encourage addiction from their product.

      Also, I think that the idea that people are in danger from second-hand smoke while standing on a street corner is quite ludicrous. There are more dangerous chemicals in higher concentration being belched out by the passing cars. Let's step back, take a calming breath (tobaccor or free or not, depending on your preference), and stop being quite so rabid about the whole thing.

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      Jun 4, 2014 at 12:02pm

      This article doesn't seem to be talking about the headline at all. Were cigarette butts recycled? Were there less butts on the ground around the butt bins? The real problem is that there aren't enough bins anywhere, for garbage or butts, or like most cities in the developed or otherwise world, both. I have been to some of the greatest cities in the world, most of them still have smoking on patios, and court yards, in designated areas, and there are plenty of bins with butt bins on the top. Beaches, parks, train stations. I don't understand why we can't just fill the city with appropriate waste bins, the empty can holders were brilliant, lets take the next step. And the second hand smoke thing, fair enough I'm glad it's out of the bars and restaurants but outside its negligent, car exhaust on the other hand....

      Alan Layton

      Jun 4, 2014 at 12:19pm

      A problem that's even worse than cig butts is the amount of gum on many streets downtown, especially Granville St. If you look at the photo above most of those white spots are gum. It's disgusting and embarrassing.

      In fact Granville St itself is a pigsty much of the time but Sat and Sun are the worst. There is garbage everywhere. I'm not sure why the city doesn't clean it up considering they want to be a world class city and have the world visit. Why not get those large groups of useless street kids that just lie around all day in doorways to clean it up for money? If you go to Montreal, with a much larger more vibrant night life, they have small street cleaning trucks out every morning cleaning up the debris from the night before. Time to put our punk/logger origins behind us and grow up a bit. We're no longer a city of white rednecks.

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      James Blatchford

      Jun 4, 2014 at 4:37pm

      Unfortunately, it looks like the pigs shall inherit the earth after all. Would it kill you not to smoke in public? Oh sorry, that might take some will power.

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      Miranda Nelson

      Jun 4, 2014 at 4:44pm

      @James, where exactly would you like us to smoke? There are no designated smoking areas anywhere anymore. There are no ashtrays.

      You can't smoke in rental properties or on beaches or in parks or near bus stops. You don't want us smoking in public at all. So that leaves.... where? A privately owned home or vehicle? Most people don't have those. Especially not the poor/homeless.

      Honest to goodness, if you gave us smokers designated smoke spots, we would use them.

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      Jun 4, 2014 at 7:12pm

      @Miranda, I would never have guessed you smoke.

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      Jun 4, 2014 at 7:31pm

      For whatever reason, downtown seems to stink of exhaust most days and even more so in the summer. How it manages to get trapped while surrounded by the ocean is a mystery. I lived in downtown Seattle for nine years and it's nowhere near as bad.

      Yet I never see anyone doing that passive-agressive little waving of their hand under their nose when a big honking tourist bus drives by belching clouds of stink. Never. I've seen downtown joggers sucking up the downtown exhaust like it's crystal clear oxygen.

      Smokers are the low-hanging fruit for the city's special brand of lip-pursing over-sensitive types.

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      Jun 4, 2014 at 9:36pm

      @Miranda--I thought you might be a smoker. Based on your comments elsewhere it all makes sense now.

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