2017-03-02 / Opinion


Butting Heads

Now that plastic bags are on the way out, it appears that cigarette butts are on the way in. The business end of a good smoke has recently become the newest lightning rod of civic concern. At the regular Newport City Council meeting on Feb 22, five council members – Lynn Ceglie, John Florez, Susan Taylor, Jeanne-Marie Napolitano and Kathryn Leonard – introduced a resolution which, if passed, will direct the city administration “to develop an ordinance that requires all merchants to clean up cigarette butts and other debris in front of their businesses daily.”

The proposed ordinance was continued by Ceglie to the March 22nd meeting to allow the council time to form a committee to look at the issue.

It’s a good idea. If the resolution passes, local merchants will be deemed responsible for keeping their section of the sidewalk clear of cigarette butts (and other debris). It only seems fair. It is their spot; where they conduct their business. An ordinance already exists that requires restaurants with sidewalk tables to clean up every day, and as Ceglie told Newport This Week last week, it could be a collaborative effort – an awareness that we as a city need to step up our efforts to clean up. We’re all in this together,” she said.

But it also seems unfair. Someone’s got to do it, and while it seems perfectly logical for the task to fall to the local business owners, it also seems ridiculous – and outrageous – to oblige them to clean up after someone else’s gross lack of manners. But if not them, who else?

In an unscientific tally conducted earlier this week along a swath of Broadway near Newport This Week’s office, approximately 70 butts (and one stub of a cigarillo) were counted. None had been tossed on the sidewalk, but instead lay in the mulched well for one of the newly planted trees. Will it be our responsibility to go out on a daily basis and pick them out of the mulch?

Outside receptacles and polite signs are nice, but invisible. Perhaps we need to think a bit more innovatively. Maybe the council could look into a company in New Jersey named TerraCycle that recycles cigarette butts. Its website is a repository of scary cigarette facts (global sales are climbing; 4.5 trillion of the six trillion cigarettes smoked every year end up in the environment). But there is good news, too. TerraCycle has a program called the Cigarette Waste Brigade. It has gone global, but to date in this country its more than 7,000 cigarette recycling bins has collected more than 38 million butts for recycling.

Two years ago, smoking was banned at both the Newport and Middletown public beaches. Taking that sentiment into town has not yet been – and perhaps should be – taken more seriously. Until then polite suggestions, depending on common courtesy and showing appreciation for the daily cleanup of our fellow business owners will have to do.

And of course, people could also just stop smoking.

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