20 Jul, 2021

Pineapple on pizza? Ballots encourage smokers to bin their butts and protect our planet

More than 19,000 cigarette butts are collected from Sunshine Coast beaches and streets every year. An estimated 7 billion butts are littered in Australia annually.

 

A start-up founded by three Sunshine Coast locals is trying to change this with fun, voting-style cigarette disposal units that encourage smokers to bin their butts correctly. 

Cigarette filters contain plastic, so butts disposed of incorrectly can leach toxic chemicals. Marine life commonly mistake butts for food. Carelessly discarded cigarette butts don’t just look awful - they contribute to biodiversity loss, damage the environment, start fires and strain the economy with clean-up costs. 

Blue Dragon Environmental Designs hopes to turn the tide on the world’s most prevalent litter item by incentivising the act of proper waste disposal. An initiative of marine scientist and Reef Check Australia general manager Jodi Salmond, climate change specialist Shayan Barmand, and expert craftsman Darby Salmond, the start-up aims to drive resource recovery and encourage litter avoidance to protect our natural environment. 

Vote with your butts

The voting bins work on a gamification system, encouraging participants to use their butts to vote on relevant and topical questions, customisable by the owner.

“The voting system intends to make smokers aware of the impact of discarding their butts through an engaging and interactive experience that positively reinforces the behaviour of doing the right thing,” Jodi said.

Accompanying signage promotes awareness while a comprehensive data collection program feeds information about the program’s impact to bin owners and the community.

Questions often used include: 

  • Pineapple on pizza? Yes, obviously or No way, mate. (The votes are still coming in but pineapple on pizza is definitely a thing.)
  • Did you know cigarette butts are the highest littered item in the world? Yes or No?
  • Who will win the State of Origin? Blues or Maroons?
  • What do you prefer? Boardies or Speedos?
  • Did you know that by 2050 it is expected there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish? Yes or No?

While the system was pioneered in the UK, its effectiveness has been proven through Australian field tests which found that the bins reduced littering behaviour. During a 2019 pilot at Alexandra Headland led by community organisation Ten Little Pieces, 12,000 cigarette butts were collected both in and around the bin. That’s a 40% decrease in cigarette butt debris in just three months!

Butts turned into raw materials

The ‘Give a Toss’ voting bins are 100% Australian made, and Blue Dragon is the first to recover waste by using recycled raw material. Blue Dragon is working with recycling partners on a process to convert captured cigarette butts into new bins, closing the waste loop and creating a truly sustainable product.

“A successful prototype trialled in Mackay by one of our partners, Cleanwater Group, contained 80% recycled plastic. Current designs have close to 100% recycled material, and future designs plan to include up to 15% recycled cigarette butts in the bin construction,” Jodi said.

“Like any start-up, our success has come with a lot of trial and error! We constantly research, develop and improve on our products to ensure maximum effectiveness and to see how we can value add to related litter reduction programs.”

Blue Dragon will soon begin manufacturing the bins on the Sunshine Coast. Discussions are underway to install them across the region, with ten locations at Mooloolaba, Alexandra Headlands and Maroochydore identified as possible sites. 

Connection and protection

Jodi wears many hats. She’s also a citizen science trainer, personal development coach and part-time acrobat. Jodi works in conservation and environmental protection because she appreciates the value of connecting people with nature.

“Encouraging people to have hands-on, genuine, and unique experiences in nature enable them to connect with the world around them. When we have these experiences and connections, we want to do more to protect our local environments. Teaming this with self-reflection and awareness of the world around us allows us to care deeply for ourselves, each other, and the planet,” Jodi says.

For Plastic Free July, Jodi is installing a filter on her home washing machine to prevent microplastics from entering our waterways. The project is a collaboration with sustainability champions who were part of Exxpedition, an all-female sailing team on a world adventure raising awareness of and exploring solutions to plastic pollution. The team is currently testing filters to determine the most effective option. Watch this space for an update!

For more information about Blue Dragon or the Give A Toss cigarette butt voting bin, reach out to Jodi via email.

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A local government partnership initiative