The city of Oklahoma City is taking a new approach to tackling unsightly and potentially toxic waste from smokers by installing new cigarette recycling bins.
The program, funded by a $5,000 grant, will initially begin with 23 bins placed on light poles in downtown OKC. The first phase is expected to expand to 40 bins with the potential for growth around the city, according to city sustainability manager T.O. Bowman.
The bins, which are placed roughly five feet high on the poles, operate like any other smoking receptacle. A smoker places an extinguished cigarette butt in an opening of the box and they're collected from a door on the bottom. Collection is being handled by a contractor through the non-profit group Downtown OKC. The program is also being promoted by the group OKC Beautiful.
Bowman said the butts are then shipped to a company in New Jersey to be recycled.
“The filters are plastic material that will be made into pallets and benches," Bowman said. "The paper and the left over tobacco will be composted."
Those pallets of high-grade plastic can be recycled to be used in everything from commercial building to building playgrounds.
The boxes, which have been used in other major cities in the U.S., are described as a triple win for the city. Bowman said they're placed high enough to keep dangerously hot butts and poisonous cigarette smoke away from children and they help prevent toxic butts from being washed into local water sources. Most of all, he said, it cleans up the downtown area by helping to keep cigarette waste off the streets.
There were concerns about whether the bins work against efforts to curb smoking all together in Oklahoma City. The state of Oklahoma has one of the highest smoking rates in the country and a recent report from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services showed youth smoking doubled in the last four years.
However, Bowman said the new bins work alongside efforts to reduce smoking. He said they'd like to see an end to smoking but it's a reality of city life.
"Ultimately we want people to work toward quitting smoking but those that still do, we want their waste to be disposed of properly."