Targeting tobacco trash

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The first step for a new city cleanup campaign — “Keep Minneapolis Beautiful” — is a crackdown on litter from cigarette butts.

As part of the program to curb cigarette litter, city staff surveyed Hennepin Avenue and Nicollet Mall between 7th and 9th streets to tally the volume of cigarettes on the streets. On Nicollet Mall, they counted about 1,113 cigarettes in the gutter and 1,204 cigarettes on the sidewalk. On Hennepin Avenue, which has a smaller sidewalk, they counted 372 cigarettes in the gutter and 852 on the sidewalk. Nicollet Mall has three ash receptacles in that area and Hennepin has two.

Cigarette pieces far outweigh every other kind of litter, according to the new Keep Minneapolis Beautiful group based Downtown. The new group is a local affiliate of Keep America Beautiful and members will work to decrease the amount of litter Downtown. The organization was born out of neighborhood survey responses that blasted the level of cleanliness Downtown, and the organization was convened by Tom Hoch, a member of the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association, and Liz Picking of Brookfield Properties.

“Most smokers would never litter [by dropping] a paper cup,” said Bronwen Evans, Keep America Beautiful’s program manager for the cigarette litter prevention program. “Folks really don’t know when it’s going down the storm drain and affecting the quality of the water.”

The Ocean Conservancy’s Annual International Coastal Cleanup reported that cigarette butts were the most littered item collected worldwide — more than 34 percent of the items they found in 2003. Keep America Beautiful claims that 18 percent of all litter ends up in local streams and waterways, most of it traveling through the storm sewer system. They report that most cigarette filters contain cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that does not quickly decompose in the environment.

According to Keep America Beautiful, just 10 percent of cigarettes are deposited in litter receptacles.

Survey responses submitted last summer to the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association suggested that a lack of ashtrays may contribute to the problem here. The survey asked about the kind of behavior people would like to see Downtown.

“As a smoker, I would like to see more locations for disposing cigarette butts as I end up throwing them on the ground when there isn’t one nearby,” said one Downtown worker in the survey.

Other survey respondents were not sympathetic to that predicament.

“It’s not about people who go outside to smoke, it’s about people throwing their cigarette butts anywhere but in the ashtray,” said another Downtown worker.

“I think one of the main problems in downtown Minneapolis is the smoking along the buildings and the cigarette butts everywhere,” said another Downtown employee. “Now that employees must smoke outside of businesses, each city block is a wall of smoke …”

Downtown property owners may soon need to take more responsibility for the trash outside their walls. The Minneapolis Police Department announced on July 17 they would conduct a sweep of businesses and look for violators who are not picking up litter around their premises daily as required by city law.

Kent Warden, executive director of the Greater Minneapolis Building Owners and Managers Association and a member of the Keep Minneapolis Beautiful focus group, said he hopes businesses will keep the habit of picking up litter voluntarily if the laws give them that responsibility.

“As long as it gets done one way or another,” he said.

Keep Minneapolis Beautiful will kick off the public portion of its campaign this fall, and they will encourage bars to put ashtrays outside their businesses and maintain them. Spyglass Creative, a marketing firm at 1639 Hennepin Ave., is donating media materials on littering, and next spring will mark the launch of a more extensive campaign that targets all litter.

The next steps in the cigarette litter prevention program are to install more receptacles for cigarette butts and launch an education campaign raising awareness about the cigarette butt litter problem. A second cigarette litter scan that samples the volume of cigarette litter on Hennepin and Nicollet Mall will evaluate the program’s success. Keep America Beautiful has given the city a $2,500 grant to help pay for the cigarette scans, public service announcements, pocket ash trays and new ash receptacles, which can vary widely in price.

Keep America Beautiful’s money for the program comes from tobacco company Phillip Morris USA, a sponsor of the organization for 50 years.

Evans said education campaigns in more than 50 communities last year saw average cigarette litter reductions of 48 percent.

Duluth participated in the program last year, and collected 1,200 cigarettes in a two-block area. Duluth’s program led to a 30-percent reduction in cigarette litter.

Reach Michelle Bruch at 436-4372 or mbruch@mnpubs.com.