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A cigarette butt recycling box sits on a light pole at the intersection of Court Street and East Washington Street in Athens, Ohio.

Hundreds of pounds of litter recycled from Athens cigarette boxes

After becoming a smoke and tobacco-free campus, Ohio University installed several cigarette butt recycling boxes around Court Street, Baker Center and near Chubb Hall. 

The policy, based on a recommendation from the Ohio Board of Regents, went into effect Aug. 1, 2015 and includes e-cigarettes.

“A couple years prior, the businesses in the Uptown area became smoke-free environments,” Athens City Mayor Steve Patterson said. “So, that kind of compounded the problem to where butts were just flicked on the sidewalks or on the gutter.”

About 45 cigarette recycle boxes were installed in early 2015. The first set of boxes were paid for with a $5,000 grant from the Athens County Foundation. The second set was paid for with another $5,000 grant, which was given to the city by Keep America Beautiful, a cigarette butt anti-littering campaign. 

The Keep America Beautiful grant was used for the bins, but also needed to be used to create two public service announcements that are shown on the government channel. 

The city of Athens reached out to Passion Works, an art studio in Athens, to create unique designs for each box. 

“To do these, and put the Passion Works spin on these bins, to me just made them more attractive and more noticeable and therefore they would get more use,” Patterson said. 

Mallory Valentour, the program coordinator at Passion Works, worked with Passion Works at the time that the cigarette recycle boxes were being put into place.

“I personally have noticed how clean our sidewalks have been since they went up and that little dose of art makes them not this ugly unhappy metallic exterior,” Valentour said in an email. “I think the fun color attracts the people who smoke to use them.”

The city also paired up with Precision Imprints, a printing company in Athens, to design the “Put Your Butts Here” sticker that can be seen on the front of each bin. 

The cigarette butts collected from each bin are shipped to a company called TerraCycle, a New Jersey based recycling business. The cigarette butts are then cleaned and the cellulose acetate in the filter is recycled and used to make everything from plastic park benches to weather-proofing pipes and jewelry. 

In 2016, Athens shipped 67 pounds of cigarette butts to TerraCycle the first year of installing the bins, then went on to ship 72 pounds in 2017 and 192 pounds so far in 2018. 

The bins became so successful in reducing the amount of cigarette butts on the ground that businesses on and near Court Street began asking to have boxes mounted near their buildings. Other cities began asking for bins to be put up as well, and Athens ended up sending two bins to Nelsonville for the Town Square and one to New Straitsville in Perry County.  

“With the university being a smoke-free campus, one of the things that we were mindful of is the mixed messaging that can happen when you have cigarette butt bins right next to campus,” Patterson said. 

Patterson believes the cigarette butt bins met everyone’s expectation. Although, he does wish people used them more frequently so that people didn’t have to see the cigarette butts littered around Court Street.


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