Cigarette butts are plastic pollution.
Cigarettes butts are one of the most discarded objects found in our environment. Though most of us are aware that throwing a plastic straw or bottle on the ground is problematic, very few people realize that discarded cigarette butts are plastic. Within each cigarette there is a filter, and that filter contains plastic.
Detail of cigarette butts collected during May 2022 transects. © Mira Ghosh
Both our Seabin program and local cleanups demonstrate the prevalence of cigarette butts in the environment, and inspired our team to do a project focused on reducing cigarette butt litter. In 2022, we began a science- and art- based campaign aimed at preventing littered cigarette butts. This project combines art, science, and outreach in an educational campaign that ran during the implementation of trash traps along the Toronto harbourfront to divert cigarette butts from waterways and help us quantify our impact. Today the campaign continues in various locations around Toronto.
This project aims to educate the public that cigarette butt litter is plastic litter and change behaviour to reduce the amount of cigarette butt litter on our waterfront.
If you wouldn’t throw a plastic bottle on the ground, then you shouldn’t throw a cigarette butt on the ground – in order to kick plastic’s butt, we must kick the habit of littering cigarette butts.
Our Interdisciplinary Approach
Our campaign employs an interdisciplinary approach to increasing waste literacy using multiple types of visual arts, trash capture technology, and scientific research.
Volunteer-illustrated Educational Posters
Our arts-based educational posters featuring illustrations by U of T Trash Team volunteers were displayed in prominent locations on the Toronto waterfront in the summer of 2022, including transit shelters at Queen’s Quay and Lower Spadina. Three versions of the poster were created by three different U of T Trash Team volunteers, with images to depict people smoking, however, instead of holding cigarettes they are holding other single-use plastic items that we typically associate with plastic pollution. The smokers then throw these items on the ground, littering them in the same way they would a cigarette butt. The power of this poster is the absurdity of littering these large plastic items – and draws a connection between littering more widely known plastic items and cigarette butts. Through art, we aim to increase waste literacy on plastic pollution.
Kicking Plastic’s Butt Campaign Posters
Public Engagement through Video with The Water Brothers
We collaborated with The Water Brothers on an interactive video, interviewing community members using a series of questions which centre around public understanding of different types of plastic products, littering, and the connection between plastic pollution and cigarette butts. Our goal was to engage in a light-hearted, yet impactful conversation on plastic waste, and in turn, draw attention to the misconceptions that exist regarding cigarette butts. We want to share the message that if you wouldn’t throw a plastic bottle on the ground, you shouldn’t throw a cigarette butt on the ground.
Our resident Sculpture Artist Emily Chudnovsky kept littered cigarette butts collected by the U of T Trash Team to quantify the impact of our campaign. Using the filters of cigarette butts as a material, Chudnovsky created a series of baskets which explore the deceptively organic quality of cigarette butts, while also considering the overlooked role of ‘picking up’ that baskets enact. Cigarette butts were also donated by local NGO, A Greener Future, from their annual Butt Blitz cleanup event.
Showcase: Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
Drop by Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada this March to view our visual art components. The showcase features sculptural work by resident Artist Emily Chudnovsky, illustrations by U of T Trash Team volunteers Mira Ghosh, Chelsea Wang and Alice Zhu, and a video by Canadian filmmakers, The Water Brothers. The window display will be running through early April.
Scientific Research to Measure our Success
To measure the effectiveness of our visual-arts based educational campaign, we quantified cigarette butt litter before and during our campaign using quantitative transects (our volunteers conducted standing stock surveys of littered cigarette butts along the waterfront using a modified NOAA protocol) and LittaTraps in nearby storm drains. We observed a decrease in the amount of butts during our campaign, which suggests that an interdisciplinary approach to increasing waste literacy works!
Kicking Plastic’s Butt! is led by Emily Chudnovsky, a visual artist and the Art and Visual Communications Specialist for the University of Toronto Trash Team. She holds a Master of Fine Art from the Glasgow School of Art and an undergraduate combined Honours degree from the University of King’s College in Contemporary Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies. In Emily’s artistic practice she uses waste-materials to build sculpture-based public installations.
For more information, please contact Emily Chudnovsky or Chelsea Rochman.