It all began with six streets in downtown Gainesville. In two days, Keep Alachua County Beautiful staff and volunteers collected almost 700 cigarette butts.
The organization started the cigarette litter prevention program in 2006.
Still, cigarette litter remains a problem.
Every year, volunteers scan the same streets and collect cigarette butts. Usually, they weigh the trash they collect, but because cigarette butts are so light, there’s no point.
“Their weight has little importance on their effect,” says Gina Hawkins, the executive director of Keep Alachua County Beautiful.
Hawkins said there was a 64 percent decrease in cigarette litter six years ago. That was one year after she entered her position.
Despite the improvement, Hawkins said the decreases had diminished over the years, and something more had to be done.
In order to combat the issue, the group created a new method within the program.
Maia Crook, its grant coordinator, is one of the few people who helped start the new method within the cigarette litter prevention program. It began in January when Keep Alachua County Beautiful started partnering with local businesses to help reduce litter by limiting cigarette butts.
According to Crook, the new goal of the program is to target businesses that smokers often frequent, like bars or restaurants.
Here’s how they do it: Every week, the group will send out volunteers to pick up buckets they provided to local businesses. They empty them and bring them back to headquarters.
When all of the buckets are emptied, the group sends the cigarette butts to a company called Terracycle. From there, the litter gets melted into plastic to make new products.
Ash and tobacco are separated and composted.
Crook said the program is applying for a grant because it wants to expand to other businesses in Gainesville.
“Sometimes businesses want to participate but they are too far away to send someone to pick up their cigarette litter,” Crook said.
The grant will also be used to purchase more portable/pocket ashtrays, according to Crook. She said this is a quicker way to encourage smokers to dispose of their cigarette waste properly.
Currently, funds are used to buy disposal receptacles that Keep Alachua County Beautiful places in front of businesses with heavy traffic.
Hawkins said they range in price because of where they go. They can cost as little as $35 and as much as $175.
Some are large and have to be screwed into the ground, while others are small and attach to a wall.
“We’re trying to encourage people to do more,” Hawkins said.
And they are.
DeLynn Salafrio, owner of Agricultural Permitting Services LLC, 60, received a degree in geology from the University of Florida but said she’s been passionate about conservation work and marine life for as long as she can remember.
She’s owned the company for 25 years.
A few years ago, Salafrio said she and a friend worked together to make cards to distribute within the community. On the front is a picture of a turtle that Salafrio painted herself. The back features a brief excerpt about Salafrio and her reasoning behind creating the card. It also lists seven facts about cigarette litter.
Salafrio said she found out about Keep Alachua County Beautiful’s program and wanted to help.
She partnered with the group and now helps by passing out cards and pocket ashtrays in Gainesville and elsewhere.
“It’s been exciting and fun because this is my dream,” Salafrio said. “To stop cigarette litter and educate people one person at a time.”
She’s even gone as far as creating her own Facebook group called the Mermaid Effect in February.
Salafrio said the group organizes cleanups in places like Hunter Springs and Crystal River. For Valentine’s Day, they passed out candy with cards.
According to Salafrio, if someone feels special, they’ll listen. When trying to convince someone to stop littering or speak out if they see it, it’s better to be nice about it than to berate them.
Just recently, Salafrio said she visited Chassahowitzka in Citrus County to pass out her cards. People told her of a local man who throws about two packs of cigarette butts off his porch every day.
They made unpleasant comments about him, and when Salafrio confronted the man she was moved.
Since then, Salafrio plans to make a personalized clay pot for him so he can throw away his cigarette butts properly.
She also plans to create fun and eye-catching smoking receptacles to encourage people to dispose of cigarette waste in the right place.
“The receptacles we have now, they’re ugly and you can’t see them,” Salafrio said. “Or there aren’t any at all and that’s the problem.”
The following businesses are participating in Keep Alachua County Beautiful’s program:
- Dragonfly Sushi
- Gainesville House of Beer
- Gators Dockside
- High Dive
- Loosey’s, Downtown
- Main Street Bar & Billiards
- Original American Kitchen
- Steamers Downtown
- Havana’s Wine & Cigar Lounge
- Boca Fiesta/Palomino