Laura Bliss is CityLab’s west coast bureau chief, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
Friends who smoke: Want to be avoid being a litterbug? Consider a pocket ashtray.
An estimated 5.6 trillion cigarettes become litter each year—or, by another calculation, some 1.69 billion pounds of butts. A toxic threat to oceans, butts are also a blight in urban settings, incurring huge costs to cities: In 2010, San Francisco estimated it spends $7.4 million annually on cleaning them up.
Smoking bans, indoor and outdoor, may actually be exacerbating the problem, as they've led to fewer designated smoking areas equipped with proper receptacles. But regardless of where they're deposited—sidewalk, beach, or even green open pastures—butts are hardly biodegrade due to the chemical content of their cellulose acetate filters.
So when there's no proper receptacle around, what's a smoker who honestly doesn't want to contribute to this problem to do?
Pocket ashtrays. They were totally hip in the '50s, and they need to make a comeback. Below are a few solid options, cased out by Bronwen Evans, director of Keep America Beautiful's Cigarette Litter Prevention Program:
Popular in Japan, where they know a thing or two about smoking, the Kiipr is a foil-lined vinyl pouch priced at $4.49 for an adorable pack of three. These are great to hand out to friends or take to parties, though Evans cautions that "some smokers have used their pouches to stub out their cherries and have found their hand getting pretty hot with these."
This steel capsule from Zippo is priced at $12.50, and comes with a handy keychain. "We like the more durable ones," says Evans. Plus, this one's pretty sleek, though it does resemble another type of smoking paraphernalia. Here's a similar, disk-shaped shaped option that Evans says her neighbor loves.
And lastly, at $29.99, this vintage mother-of-pearl pocket ashtray available on Etsy exudes mid-century charm and 21st-century responsibility.
Evans's organization also distributes these portables—plastic boxes with a metal lining and almost airtight seal. But, "anything's better than nothing," she says. You could even use an old Altoids tin.
There's no question that tobacco companies should share the responsibility of proper butt disposal, partly by selling safer, more environmentally friendly products (one representative has called biodegradable filters the industry's "holy grail," and removing nasty chemicals from the tobacco itself should be, too). And there's plenty cities can do to discourage cigarette littering, too.
Meanwhile, friends who smoke, do the responsible thing, and get your butts off the street.