Pilot Program to Clean up S.F.’s Dirty Butts Deemed Successful

Ash cans dedicated for cigarette butts are being installed citywide after a successful pilot program in the Richmond and Sunset.

More ash-cans will be installed in San Francisco neighborhoods, and there’s no ifs or butts.

On Wednesday, May 16 the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee received a public hearing that “Hold Onto Your Butts!” a litter-reduction campaign aimed to eliminate cigarette butt waste throughout the city, proved successful.

The pilot program, launched by Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer and Sup. Katy Tang in June 2017, installed 40 receptacles designated for cigarette butts in the Richmond and Sunset Districts. People were encouraged to throw their butts away in these receptacles instead of throwing it on the floor.

“It’s no secret that cigarette butts were the number one most littered item in the city, according to the Surfrider Foundation,” said Fewer.

The main worry of environmental advocacy groups, such as Surfrider, is that the plastics of the stray butts contribute to toxicity in marine life and the ocean.

Cigarette butts contain chemicals such as arsenic and lead, which can be harmful for marine animals to ingest. They can also contaminate the waters of the ocean, and wind up in fish and seafood we eat.

The results reported show that cigarette butt litter has decreased by an average of 58.5 percent in between the tested areas, according to Surfrider. The blocks between 22nd and 24th Streets that cross Taraval Street had only 200 butts found by volunteers in comparison to 2500 found last June, which is a 92 percent decrease.

Sunshine Swinford, the community relations coordinator from the Department of the Environment, said educating residents about the ashcans was integral to the success of the program.

They catch people hanging out smoking and say hey! Have you heard of this new program?”

Charles Sheehan from the DOE agreed that directly approaching smokers was the best strategy.

It’s been so powerful for me to see how effective it is,” Sheehan said.

Last year Public Works decided to remove trash cans from Ocean Beach, causing few options to discard butts for beach-goers. However, Public Works agreed to compromise for the purpose of this program Sheehan said. Staff dispose of the ash-cans daily as long as they already serve that area.

The success encouraged the committee to extend “Hold Onto Your Butts!” to the rest of the city after the DOE determines the most effective locations for ashcans.

The Board of Supervisors is also entertaining other environmental measures, such as new legislation from Sup. Tang calling for the end of plastic straws and coffee stirrers. Cities like Santa Cruz and Alameda already have such laws in action.

“This year’s theme is plastics in the ocean,” said Swinford. “Everyone shares the message that we care about this issue.”

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