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Colourful cans give cigarette smokers a way to butt out in Horseshoe Bay

Up to 30 colourful cans painted by West Vancouver students are now around Horseshoe Bay offering smokers a place to butt out

Colourful cans hand-painted by West Vancouver students have been scattered around Horseshoe Bay Village to encourage cigarette smokers to butt out appropriately. 

The community-led initiative, Save the Bay #buttsout, was sparked by Horseshoe Bay resident Constance Shaw in the spring after she noticed an influx of the toxic litter.

“Picking up garbage is one of my pastimes, when I walk my dog,” she said. “It's a big bugaboo of all the residents here in the Bay, because there are a lot of guests. So, we would pick up garbage and we just noticed that there's just so many cigarette butts.”

According to the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, an organization that facilitates cleanups and tracks litter, over 5,000 cigarette butts were picked up during shoreline cleanup events in the district in 2019 and 2020.  

Shaw, a Western Residents Association member, thought there was something more she and others could do about it, so she decided to test out a simple strategy of placing cans – donated by local restaurants – in appropriate areas around the village to see if smokers would use them.

“Everybody knows what a cigarette butt can on the ground is. I mean, if you're a smoker, you do, right?”

The aim of her initiative is to create sustainable and creative options for cigarette butt disposal while encouraging community collaboration for all ages.

She said the initiative was also to help demonstrate to District of West Vancouver council there was a need for dedicated cigarette butt disposal units.

“They're pretty much all being used,” Shaw said. “So, there is a strong case.”

'A chance to lead by example'

Last week, to help raise awareness of the butt bins, Shaw reached out to Aaron Campbell, principal of Gleneagles Elementary, to organize an educational day for Grade 4 and 5 students to learn about the harmful effect cigarette butts have on the environment and to help paint the cans with bright designs so smokers would take more notice of them around the Bay.  

The District of West Vancouver is supportive of the initiative. Mayor Mary-Ann Booth, councillor Sharron Thompson and inspector Roderick Carroll with the district’s Fire Prevention team all attended a Gleneagles event where they painted cans with the students and addressed questions.

“It served as an opportunity for kids to be creative and to learn about opportunities for saving the environment,” Shaw said, adding that the students learned that cigarette butts are not biodegradable, leach toxic chemicals, harm marine life, and can easily spark fires. “It was just a great teaching moment and a chance to lead by example.”

Shaw has now put flyers around the village explaining the initiative. She said she had put out 30 new colourful cans on Friday (Oct. 8) and had already noticed that they “were really being used.”

“It’s fantastic,” she said. “It's working.

“Around near the BC Ferries gate and at the corner of Keith Road and Bay Street, those ones are very popular. The ones down by the water are quite popular as well.”

The challenge is placing the cigarette butt cans in places that abide by the district’s smoking regulation bylaw, which prohibits smoking in most places, including within six metres of building openings, public transit stops, and in all district parks.

“I think we need to get creative,” Shaw said. “As a community, I think everyone needs to play their part.”

She added it had really become a hands-on community effort, with she and others taking time out of their day to monitor the cans and empty them when necessary.

While Shaw is behind the project, she said it wasn’t about her at all, it was about the “bigger picture about the environment” and it was an opportunity for everyone to help to protect it.

District of West Van to introduce cigarette butt bin pilot 

Her efforts have been noted by the district, which is now planning to implement a small-scale cigarette butt disposal pilot at an estimated cost of $7,000.

Council supported staff’s recommendation to implement the pilot, which will comply with the district’s smoking regulation bylaw, at its Oct. 4 council meeting. A motion to explore the idea was originally put forward at the June 28, 2021 meeting, by Mayor Booth, who actively takes part and supports environmental clean-ups in the community.

The pilot will begin with the installation of cigarette butt bins in three locations in Ambleside and three locations in Horseshoe Bay. The butt bins will be installed on the side of the district’s three-stream recycling bins, like the City of North Vancouver.

During the meeting, it was raised that Vancouver Coastal Health expressed concern that placing ashtrays outdoors could create areas where smokers congregate and expose other members of the public to second-hand smoke.

“The important note here, I think, is that VCH’s preference is for programs where their focus remains on actions to discourage smoking, because when smoking reduces, cigarette butt litter reduces,” Trevor Doré, community programs co-ordinator with the district’s engineering department, said at the meeting.

Along with the new bins, a campaign to encourage a general reduction in cigarette waste and connect people to resources to help them quit smoking will take place to support VCH objectives.

The district is not alone in its endeavour, with the cities of North Vancouver and Vancouver having already implemented cigarette butt disposal bins and/or outdoor ashtrays.

Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.