Iowa City Trying to Smoke Out Cigarette Butt Problem

By Forrest Saunders, Reporter

IOWA CITY, Iowa - The Iowa City Downtown District says they have a problem with cigarette butts. They say the University of Iowa's campus smoking ban has pushed smokers to specific places downtown and those areas are getting choked with butts.

Darnell Young is one of the few smokers who put cigarette butts where they belong.

"I put them in the garbage can, or wherever they have a place where you can put your cigarette butts at. I don't usually throw them on the ground," said Young.

But a lot of others in Iowa City do. You can find cigarette butts everywhere. They don't just look bad, some say they're toxic, with hazardous chemicals still inside filters.

"They get washed into the waterways, they get put into the soil, dogs can pick them up, birds pick them up. They're very toxic to our environment," said Iowa City Downtown District's Operations Director Betsy Potter.

Downtown District looked into the issue and found the university's campus smoking ban is funneling smokers into a few key places and that's where butts are ending up.

"If you have a whole bunch of cigarette smokers and there is no place to put their butts they automatically go to the ground," said Potter.

The solution might as simple as more ash receptacles. Through a $1,000 grant, ICDD purchased three of them in May, and then partnered with local businesses to place them in trouble spots. One is in front of BoJames, another in front of Yotopia Frozen Yogurt, and the third the Summit.

There, staff used to sweep up butts each night. However, within a few months of deploying the "butt boxes" management said things were slowly getting better.

"I love the idea," said. "It makes my staff's job a little bit easier at the end of the night. They're not cleaning up everything. It kind of keeps everything a little bit cleaner," said General Manager Brad Temple.

ICDD will be using the rest of their grant money to start an anti-cigarette litter ad campaign in August. They'll be applying for a $5,000 grant next year to purchase more receptacles.
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