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A little incentive for discarding cigarette butts

| May 19, 2014

Could a snazzy performance clean up the cigarette butt problem?

Four and a half trillion cigarette butts are tossed onto the ground each year. With an estimated one billion smokers throughout the world, that’s 750 discarded butts per person. Yikes.

What’s worse: the cigarette butts that land on streets and sidewalks don’t stay there. They eventually make their way to waterways, creating clogs and dispensing harmful chemicals and waste into the water. This is devastating for fish, and it’s not so great for humans, either.

cigarette butts

Fumo lights up and plays music. From ioglo.

While other littering campaigns have been relatively successful, cigarette butts seem to be held in a different category in our psyche. It’s not really littering…is it? (Of course it is, but it’s  difficult to convince people.)

Adele Peters of Fast Company’s Co.Exist recently reported on an innovative — if a bit kooky — attempt to address the cigarette butt problem. A Dutch company has developed a contraption called Fumo. It’s a trash receptacle, but it’s unlike any trash receptacle you’ve ever seen.

Fumo starts by sensing when someone comes near and catching the attention of that passerby with blinking lights. If you toss in a cigarette butt, Fumo will put on a full-blown show in a display of appreciation. Lights flash “like a slot machine” and it plays a song.

Think you’d stay away from Fumo for fear of growing tired of hearing the same song over and over? The designers thought of that, so they ensured that Fumo switches up its song to entice repeat “customers.”

So far, the response has been extraordinarily positive. Reportedly, people like Fumo so much that they’ll search for discarded cigarette butts to “feed” Fumo just to watch it put on a show.

Peters reports that, “the music can be customized for any location.” That means something a little more understated at a hospital or outside an office building, or something raucous for an outdoor music festival.

Fumo is still in a testing phase. Fumo clearly costs more than your average non-celebratory trashcan, so there’s a financial investment involved with creating and installing Fumos. So who pays for it? And what’s the financial trade-off of installing Fumos versus cleaning discarded cigarette butts off the streets? We still need answers to these types of questions, but an innovative, compelling design is half the battle.

Fumo might be the zaniest device to address the problem of cigarette butts, but it isn’t the only one. In London, “Smartbins” have been attached to light poles throughout the city. For Smartbins, the mission is prevalence instead of flashiness. Smartbins aren’t designed to entertain, but they’re everywhere, which means that people won’t have to walk very far to discard a butt. Of course, even if a municipality could afford to place Fumos on every light pole, wouldn’t the music clash? These are the hard-hitting questions, people.

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Category: Pollution

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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