Endless ends: Bulgarian student wants to cut the number of cigarette butts at RUC

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Rosen Lozev has long been tired of seeing outdoor areas all over Denmark littered with trash, also as a result of people throwing their cigarette ends on the ground. Despite his advisors’ initial scepticism, Lozev took the opportunity offered by his master’s thesis at RUC to look at just how big the problem is. He decided to examine the area around the RUC canteen, and the results he got shocked him..

Skodarbejde: Rosen Venkov har brugt mange timer på metodisk at gennemgå bede, græsplæner, stier, veje og skraldespande for skod. Foto: Rosen Venkov.

Hard work, “butt” rewarding: Rosen Losev spent many hours methodically combing flowerbeds, lawns, foot- and bicycle paths, streets and litter bins for cigarette stubs. Photo: Rosen Lozev.

Four thousand, seven hundred and forty-nine.

That’s how many cigarette butts Rosen Lozev found on 10 November 2013 after spending 16 hours collecting and counting all the stubs lying on the ground around the RUC canteen within five metres of the canteen’s outer walls. The litter bins in the same area, which he emptied and methodically combed through, contained just 638 butts.

Lozev repeated this procedure in exactly the same area precisely one week later, and this time he found a whopping 2109 cigarette butts on the ground and 258 in the litter bins. In just one week, people had thrown away more than 2300 cigarette ends in the area around the canteen, but only 11 per cent of them found their way into the bins.

“I was shocked. I thought I’d find a lot of cigarette butts, but this was more than I had expected,” says Lozev about the count.

And there’s more. Lozev also made a note of where he found the largest number of stubs: in the immediate area of the litter bins, as it turned out. Apparently, smokers do not throw their cigarette butts onto the ground because there is a lack of bins to put them in.

Major impact on work and the environment

A native of Bulgaria, Rosen Lozev has lived in Denmark for eight years. He is in his fifth year at RUC, where he studies Technological and Socio-economic Planning (TekSam). He’s been interested in the environment for a long time, and it irritates him to see smokers throw their cigarette ends everywhere:

“In green areas, you can’t even find a place to sit that doesn’t have cigarette butts all over the place,” he says.

It doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture. And as if that weren’t enough, cigarette stubs disposed of in that manner have major consequences for the environment.

“Cigarette butts are poisonous, and they aren’t biodegradable. The toxins remain in the biosphere even after the butts are removed. It affects plants, birds and fish, among other things, and at the end of the day it affects us, too, because it ends up in our food. In warmer climes, cigarette butts are far and away the most frequent cause of fires in outdoor areas,” Lozev says.

The discarded stubs also cost RUC lots of money – especially because there’s only one person to clean them up, and that person was actually hired to work as a gardener.

“I’m the only one who cleans up on campus. Sometimes it’s a bit difficult for me to keep up with the litter, and I don’t get a lot of gardening done. So that’s why I occasionally have to hire someone from outside to help me with it,” says gardener Tue Sørensen.

Sørensen spends an awful lot of time cleaning up after people: not just cigarette butts, but also things like paper cups, pizza boxes and condoms.

“I often wonder what it is exactly that goes on out here. When you add it all up, I spend three whole days a week just cleaning up trash,” he tells us.

The Student House folks haven’t exactly been happy about the littering on campus, either, says House chairman Theis Lykkegaard. According to Sørensen, no less than DKK 40 thousand was spent on bins especially designed for cigarette stubs, bins that the students are obviously not using. And when they don’t, it means extra costs for the Student House as well:

“We’ve had to pay invoices totalling as much as three thousand kronor because students threw so many cigarette butts on the ground that the gardener was forced to call in extra assistance,” says Lykkegaard.

He would much rather have spent that money on student activities.

Keep RUC Clean 

Bare i omkring kantinen bliver der hver uge smidt omkring 2.000 skod ifølge Rosen Lozevs optællinger. Foto: Rosen Lozev.

People throw about 2000 cigarette butts onto the ground every week just in the area around the canteen, by Rosen Lozev’s count. Photo: Rosen Lozev.

To put more of a spotlight on the problems with cigarette ends specifically and litter in general, Lozev has started a campaign called “Keep RUC Clean” that people can follow on Facebook. The purpose of the campaign is primarily to raise awareness of the problem and in the longer term have a campus free of cigarette butts – or at least with a smaller number of them.

With the campaign, he is trying to get people to realise how big the problem is, and he hopes to change their behaviour:

“It’s really hard to prove to people that cigarette butts have a bad effect on the environment. Not even my thesis advisors could see it was a problem. So first I have to show is that it is a problem, because how can people change their behaviour if they don’t know how big a problem it is?”

One of the campaign initiatives was to pick up cigarette butts on Earth Day, 22 April 2014. Eight volunteers showed up, and they collected 3236 butts in just one hour. However, for Lozev, the number wasn’t the most important thing.

“How many cigarette butts we find is not so important. What’s important is that we spread the word.”

The campaign will really get going in May, when Lozev will try making posters and setting up more attractive litter bins and a huge tube filled with collected cigarette stubs to make the problem more visible.

Nine million butts a day

Lozev believes that people’s habit of littering with cigarette ends and other rubbish is generally a cultural problem seen especially in Denmark:

“Our neighbouring countries don’t have nearly as much trash lying about,” he says, having travelled to many European countries.

His observation is confirmed by Hold Danmark Rent (“Keep Denmark Clean”), a network organisation claiming that Danes litter with nine million cigarette butts a day, which adds up to about three billion stubs a year. It arrived at this number based on an Australian method of calculation estimating that 50 per cent of all cigarettes purchased are smoked outdoors and that 60 per cent of them end up as street litter. The organisation, however, believes that the percentage of cigarettes smoked outdoors is even higher, i.e. 75 per cent:

“We had to increase the percentage after it became illegal in Denmark to smoke indoors at all. After that happened, there was a substantial increase in cigarette butt litter,” says Tina Dyrberg Johansen of Hold Danmark Rent.

The study also showed that the number of private homes in which smoking is no longer allowed has risen by 60 per cent.

“I was shocked. I thought there would be a lot of cigarette stubs, but this was more than I had expected.”

Hold Danmark Rent also conducted a study in 2009 that showed that cigarette butts accounted for an average of 32 per cent of the litter cleaned up. In other Danish municipalities – Copenhagen and Esbjerg, for example –cigarette ends turned out to be as much as 70 per cent.

Like Lozev and Sørensen, Johansen is not impressed by the large number of cigarette butts littering the streets:

“I think it’s undesirable. It looks bad; it costs a lot of money to remove them, and they take many years to break down in nature.”

Dr Inge Haunstrup Clemmensen of the Danish Cancer Society is of the same opinion.

“Cigarette butts take a very long time to biodegrade. They contain a lot of toxic chemicals that are carcinogenic, among other things, and they’re being introduced into the ecosystem. I can’t help wondering whether they’ll end up in our groundwater,” she says.

She also indicates that the Danish Cancer Society has thought a great deal about what can be done to solve this problem:

“We keep a close watch on what they do in other countries. For example, in some places it’s now illegal to throw cigarette ends onto the street and costs violators a fine, but there don’t seem to be any plans to do that in Denmark.”

Clemmensen also says that people are working to design cigarette packaging that can be used to dispose of the butts as well, and that there has been talk of introducing a deposit on cigarette filters.

Moreover, once a year, the Danish Cancer Society polls the entire population of Denmark to find out what they think of the problem, and many seem to believe that campaigns would be the solution.

“Smokers should be told more about how much cigarette butts pollute the environment. A lot of people think that because stubs are small, they don’t have a big effect,” says Clemmensen.

Rosen Lozev also has a couple of good ideas about what society can do to change people’s behaviour:

“Start when kids are in day care, so they learn from very small that they shouldn’t litter. You could also have mandatory courses in the different educational institutions, maybe as part of student introduction courses. Hopefully, we can reduce the amount of littering so everyone can enjoy the environment at their school.”

And, as he says,

“If everyone does it, then you’ll do it, too.”

Den grafiske fremstilling fra første optællingsdag. Bemærk, hvordan der er flest skod på jorden lige omkring de opstillede skraldespande.

A poster showing the results from the first day of counting. Note how the greatest concentration of cigarette ends is on the ground in the immediate vicinity of the litter bins.

En uge senere var mere end 2.000 nye skod blevet smidt.

A week later saw more than 2000 new cigarette butts littering the ground.

What do you think about cigarette butts? And what do you think of the smokers who throw them on the ground? Give us your opinion below.

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