Downtown Chapel Hill

Downtown Blog

One Cigarette Butt, Two Cigarette Butts, Three Cigarette Butts....

The Downtown Partnership has twice received grants from Keep America Beautiful to address the cigarette litter on Franklin Street. With the 2008 smoking ban on the campus of the University of North Carolina, and the 2010 smoking ban in all North Carolina bars & restaurants— smokers spill out onto the downtown streets and the litter problem has increased.

Not only is it  unsightly - the litter makes a huge impact on the environment. The cigarette filters end up in the gutters and eventually into our water ways.

The grants required us to conduct ‘cigarette scans’ - actually counting individual cigarette butts, to determine the most littered areas.  In 2008, with the grant money, we gave 12 plastic ash receptacles directly to businesses to keep outside their front doors. Both their patrons and passer-bys could use them.

These 12 businesses were identified as having the heaviest cigarette butt litter. Some were restaurants and bars; but often the businesses were located at 'transition points' - were people who are walking make a change in their path; get on a bus, walk across the street, enter a parking lot, etc. The human tendency is to then flick or drop the cigarette before moving on.

In 2011, we sought a more permanent solution by using grant money to install metal receptacles that are durable, lock & bolt to the ground, and are consistent with the streetscape design.  We also used the grant money for the installation.

They are now installed in front of the Varsity Theatre (also the P2P bus stop); in front of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts & the entrance to Amber Alley; and across the street in front of Subway & The Library (next to the newspaper and recycling bins). All three locations are major transition points downtown. 

...One cigarette butt, two cigarette butts, three cigarette butts...

After the receptacles have been installed for at least six months we'll be back out there counting to see if there is a reduction. But I don't need to wait that long to know that the receptacles are working. 

Twice since they were installed in October - I've emptied them and they have been significantly full. It's the first time that I've ever been quite happy to handle cigarette butts!

Huge thank you to Emily Cameron (Public Works) and Wendy Smith (Storm Water Management) - both with the Town of Chapel Hill. They have helped us greatly with both grants - everything from guidance, education, installing the receptacles, and counting those cigarette butts!