Cleanup campaign targets dirty, stinky butts

San Francisco city officials, merchants and residents are combating a problem in The City that is literally a pain in the butt — people who toss the remains of their spent cigarettes on the sidewalks and roadways.

Cigarette butts are the number one most littered item in The City, according to city officials.

Supervisors Katy Tang and Sandra Lee Fewer announced a six-month pilot program on Friday at Ocean Beach to install 40 cigarette butt ashcans throughout commercial corridors in the Sunset and Richmond districts. The launch of the ashcans will coincide with an educational campaign about cigarettes butts as well as providing free pocket ashtrays for smokers who may not bear near an ashcan.

Twenty ashcans are installed in areas of high cigarette butt litter in each district.

In the Sunset District, the ashcans are on Irving Street between 19th and 25th avenues and on Noriega Street between 19th and 25 avenues and from 28th to 33rd avenues. The ashcans will also be installed along the Ocean Beach Promenade from Noriega to Rivera Streets.

Tang said:

“We’re truly trying to address the issue of cigarette butts that are left on our streets that also really impact negatively our environment.”

The ashcans first appeared in the commercial corridor of the Richmond District along Balboa Street between 35th to 40th avenues after San Francisco resident Pawel Dlugosz asked the San Francisco chapter of the Surfrider Foundation — a volunteer environmental organization — to help with the cigarette butt litter issue.

Dlugosz said once the ashcans installed, people immediately started using them. He said education will play a role in telling people to use the ashcans and not to litter:

“We still need to nudge people.”

During campaign for District 1 supervisor, Fewer said she heard from constituents about litter, but mostly heard about the cigarette butts littered on the streets:

“In the Richmond District, we are one Richmond. We take care of each other and we also take care of our environment.”

The ashcans will now expand in the Richmond District as part of the pilot program. The ashcans are located from Geary to Arguello boulevards to Seventh Avenue as well as from 18th to 22nd avenues. Ocean Beach will have ashcans in the parking lot from John F. Kennedy Drive to Stairwell 18.

Shelly Ericksen, who is the lead of the Surfrider Foundation’s “Hold on to Your Butt ” campaign in The City, said most people do not think cigarette litter is a big problem because of the perception that some people do not smoke anymore:

“To that we say look around you. Once you start seeing the butts you can’t unsee them.”

Ericksen said cigarette butts are one of the most dangerous type of litter:

“They are toxic and they are plastic and so they’re worse than almost any other kind of litter you can see around.”

The Surfrider Foundation was able to buy the ashcans from another chapter in Huntington Beach through a grant the foundation received.

Larry Stringer, deputy chief of operations for the Public Works Department, said the department is committed to dumping the cigarette butts out of the ashcans through its ambassador corridor program.

Organizers with the Surfrider Foundation will coordinate cigarette butt cleanups and collect data such as butt counts before the pilot, during the mid-point of the pilot, and at the end of the pilot to see if the ashcans have any effect in reducing cigarette butt litter on city streets.

If the pilot is successful, the ashcans could be expanded throughout The City with  support from Public Works.

Following the announcement of new cigarette butt ashcans on Friday, both supervisors and volunteers picked up cigarette butts on the beach.