Refund for cigarette butts is a ‘First World issue’

Picking up cigarette butts may prove to be easier than picking strawberries.

A very disgusting news report the other morning was lauding the success of a cigarette butt return program conducted on a trial basis in downtown Vancouver. A sum of $500 was put up and distributed to people returning cigarette butts they had picked up off the downtown streets, much like a bottle recycling program.

In a few hours, the money had been handed out and organizers estimate over 60,000 cigarette butts were picked up off the street. Cigarette filters contain cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that isn’t biodegradable and can take up to 10 years to decompose. The toxins inside are detrimental to marine life and other animals, who sometimes mistake the butts for food. It is estimated over one million butts are deposited daily in downtown Vancouver and many eventually get washed out to sea.

No one seems to think smokers will argue with an additional 10 cents a pack that would be levied to pay for this proposed program.

I have never been a smoker. Granted I have my share of vices, but pictures of diseased lungs on packages that say the contents will kill me has always been a deterrent.

When I first joined the fire department, I was one of the only members that didn’t smoke. In those days people smoked in cars, restaurants, planes and in the home. I was always around it and I can still smell those ashtrays when cleaning up after a party the next morning.

I used to watch firefighters come out of smoke-filled buildings, take off their protective air packs, sit on the tailboard of the truck and light up a smoke. By the time I retired, we had no smokers on the department and society had begun its purge.

Lighting up in public was frowned upon. That’s why I was surprised to hear the numbers of butts that were picked up in a short period of time. I naively thought we were past that.

But then someone pointed out to me that the issue is a ‘First World problem.’ I hadn’t heard that term before, but it was explained to me that only in countries like ours would someone pay people to pick up cigarette butts while in other countries, $500 would go a long way.

First World problems are things like, ‘had to park too far from the door;’ ‘the hockey game isn’t in HD;’ ‘my wi-fi doesn’t work in the back yard.’ Real world problems are things like hunger, cholera and slavery.

I can only imagine what a person in a refugee camp in Afghanistan would say if someone told them we are paying people to pick up cigarette butts in one of the most affluent livable cities in the world, or that we complain because the water that comes out of the tap in our kitchen tastes like chlorine.

It’s been suggested that our lives in Canada are so amazing that we have to make up things to complain about. The other morning in a restaurant, a customer complained that the butter was too hard and he tore his toast trying to spread it. The waitress dumped the toast in the garbage and brought him some more, already buttered.

So if your high school grads are looking for a summer job, they might be able to make good money picking up butts in downtown Vancouver. It’s probably still easier than picking strawberries. At least that’s what McGregor says.

Langley Times

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