Research Initiatives

The Butt Stops Here!

We all know that cigarettes are harmful to human health. But what many people may not consider is the extensive damage caused by the used product – dubbed ‘the butt’ – the most commonly discarded piece of waste worldwide. The truth is that cigarette butt waste is not only an unsightly problem, but also one which impacts heavily on our urban spaces, on the economy and ultimately on our precious environment.

Many smokers are incognizant of the ramifications due to casually tossing their smoked butts onto the pavement. When these small but sinister pollutants are discarded on the ground in large numbers, it dramatically reduces the aesthetic appeal of our urban spaces, which has been proven to impact negatively on both tourism and business development, not to mention the economic burden due to the manpower and resources needed to clean up this waste.

But certainly the most serious issue of all is the harmful effects that discarded butts have on our natural environment. It is a global problem. It is estimated that approximately 1,7 billion pounds of butts end up as toxic waste across the planet each year. Locally, they are one of the most significant polluters in our storm-water system – a system which eventually discharges into the Knysna Estuary, where animals such as birds, fish and other aquatic life are adversely affected. Knysna’s iconic liquid landscape is not merely picturesque and one of our primary tourism drawcards, but it is also considered the most important in terms of species biodiversity in South Africa. We all need to take greater strides to protect it.

In an attempt to address this toxic waste issue on a local level, the Knysna Municipality and Biowise have teamed up with SANParks, Ocean Odyssey and the Knysna Basin Project to launch a cigarette butt bin campaign dubbed “The Butt Stops Here”. Initially ten bins will be strategically placed across town (in congested public gathering areas such as restaurants, pubs and recreation areas) for people to discard their used cigarette butts. These will however, not simply be collected and discarded in a landfill.

This is where BioWise’s Operation Waste Nothing initiative enters into the picture. “The emphasis is not only going to be collecting and making sure the butts do not enter the estuary, but on ensuring they do not enter the waste stream at all! “We need to start a new narrative, because it is no longer acceptable and sustainable to merely collect waste from our waterways and dump them into a landfill”, says Sue Swain, biomimicry practitioner and founder of Biowise. “We need to start seriously considering the fact that waste has potential value as a resource. During this initiative, Biowise will undertake to conduct research into turning butts into a resource which could eventually lead to economically viable local SMME opportunity.”

This campaign has the collective support of the Municipality and the local organisations listed above, each of which is passionate about Knysna’s environment. “The Knysna Municipality decided to support this initiative for a number of reasons,” explained Natalie Salmons of the Solid Waste Management Department. “Cigarette butts are a major concern for us as a municipality as each one of them poses a toxic hazard to the environment. We want to avoid butts from entering the estuary by providing the public with receptacles to safely dispose of their cigarettes.” This sentiment was echoed in a statement issued by Joclyn Fearon from Knysna Municipality’s Environmental Management Department. “Discarded cigarette butts are ubiquitous and an environmental blight around our beautiful town. Because they are so small people don’t think it’s a problem, but cumulatively it’s a big problem! Collecting this non-biodegradable material with the Butt Bin and conducting researching on how to turn butts into a resource is incredibly innovative. We hope that it will also be inspiring, and encourage people to throw their cigarette butts into one of these bins or to sponsor more bins around our town.”

Evelyn Pepler, Director and CEO of Ocean Odyssey, has been a key driving force behind getting this initiative off the ground. “We are incredibly proud of our beautiful and species-rich estuarine and marine environments and our commitment to sustainable tourism and ecological management has been recognised by being awarded Blue Flag Status”, says Evelyn. “Sadly, amongst this natural beauty we find the most common and toxic litter created by man – the cigarette butt, which is actually classified as toxic waste. The toxins found in cigarette butts are incredibly dangerous to our wildlife and sea life as well as hazardous to our water supply and food chain. We need to ensure that the integrity of Knysna’s natural environment is maintained”.

Projects: Knysna Kicks Butt Campaign
Our Butt bin campaign launched November 2017.

Not only aiming to rid our streets of cigarette butts Butt bin(and help prevent them from ending up in our estuary, but we’re also researching what could be done withthe butts. We don’t want to just clean up our streets for them just to be dumped in a landfill where they will pollute. So we’re doing research with Effective Micro-Organisms that can hopefully break down the harmful components and then the remaining benign absorbent material could be put to good use. So far 40 bins have been made and are being put up around Knysna and Sedgefield

Supported by the National Lotteries Commission

Butt bin campaign partners – BioWise, Knysna Municipality (Waste and Environmental Depts) and Ocean Odyssey