Kicking Plastic’s Butt!

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

Project Overview

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 runs alongside the implementation of trash traps along the Toronto harbourfront to divert cigarette butts from waterways and help us quantify our impact

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. 

Visual Arts

Volunteer-illustrated Educational Posters

July 2022: Our arts-based educational posters featuring illustrations by U of T Trash Team volunteers will be displayed in prominent locations on the Toronto waterfront, 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 center around public understanding of different types of plastic products, littering, and the connection between plastic pollution and cigarette butts. Our goal is 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.

Sculpture

Summer 2022: Our resident Sculpture Artist Emily Chudnovsky will create baskets sealed with pine resin using cigarette butts collected from transects as well as from A Greener Future’s Butt Blitz. These baskets will be used to collect cigarette butts at events and cleanups.

Trash Capture Technology

LittaTraps – 1 year pilot project

Summer 2022: As part of the Toronto Inner Harbour Floatables Strategy, the City of Toronto installed 10 LittaTraps along Toronto’s waterfront in the Queens Quay area. These trash traps capture litter that enters local storm drains via runoff and divert it our waterways. Our role is to quantify and characterize the litter collected by the LittaTraps to measure our impact and inform further upstream solutions. These traps and the data collected will also be part of the International Trash Trap Network.

Cigarette Butt Receptacles

We will install several cigarette butt receptacles along the Toronto harbourfront to provide the public with more opportunities to properly toss their butts. Stay tuned to find out where they are located!

Scientific Research to Measure our Success

To measure the effectiveness of our visual arts educational campaign, we are quantifying cigarette butt litter before, during and after our campaign using quantitative transects and LittaTraps in nearby storm drains. We will also measure the effectiveness of additional cigarette butt receptacles by measuring how many butts we collect. This will allow us to quantitatively measure the success of our program to inform mitigation locally and beyond.

April 2022: Our volunteers conducted standing stock surveys of littered cigarette butts along the waterfront using a modified NOAA protocol. In just six 50 m x 5 – 10 m transects, we collected 1,882 cigarette butts. In July 2022 we will begin to quantify the amount of cigarette butts in our LittaTraps deployed in the same region.

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.