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“The Planet is not an Ashtray” – It’s Time to Stop Throwing Cigarette Butts on the Ground

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever witnessed someone flick their burnt out cigarette butt onto the ground while they’re standing outside the pub, or walking down the sidewalk. Or, if you’ve ever driven over a still-lit cigarette on the road after the driver in front of you chucked it out the window of their moving car. 

In a public setting, throwing a soda can or an empty coffee cup onto the ground is a hard no, often met with swift social backlash by surrounding witnesses. So why, then, is it considered socially acceptable to throw cigarette butts – literal chemical trash on fire – onto the ground?
While the act of discarding a cigarette butt onto the ground may seem insignificant in the moment, statistics show the staggering and destructive impact this decision has on the environment when made by millions of people every day. 

According to a National Geographic article released in August 2019, cigarettes are the top plastic polluters around the world. Globally, approximately 6.5 trillion cigarettes are purchased each year, and of those, “an estimated two-thirds of the trillions of filters used each year are tossed into the environment.” 

Cigarettes are not biodegradable. The breakdown that results from weathering and time spent in the elements leads to further environmental degradation, as thousands of microscopic plastic fibers and chemicals are released. The chemicals found in cigarette ash and filters, which include arsenic, lead and benzene, among others, are poisonous to the environment and its inhabitants.
In 2019, a study led by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) was published in the journal of Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety highlighting how cigarette butts significantly reduce plant growth. “We believe it is the chemical composition of the filter that is causing damage to the plants,” says co-author Dr. Bas Boots, “Most are made from cellulose acetate fibers, and added chemicals which make the plastic more flexible … may also be leaching out and adversely affecting the early stages of plant development.”  

In addition to inhibiting early plant growth, cigarette litter consistently ends up in waterways that lead to surrounding rivers, lakes, and the ocean. This contaminates the water with dangerous chemicals and plastics that poison marine life and other animals, who often mistake cigarette butts for food.
Not to mention, in regions experiencing hotter, dryer climates, cigarette butts can lead to wildfires when discarded before being properly extinguished. In June 2019, the Vancouver Island Fire Department responded to 7 fires in 7 days, all of which were caused by improperly discarded cigarette butts. 

The social norm that permits cigarette butts as an acceptable form of litter is far outdated. Cigarette litter should be held to the same standard as all other forms of chemical and plastic waste that negatively impact the environment, meaning the onus is on the user to ensure proper, safe disposal. 

Brain Garden is a family run business based in Vernon, British Columbia, on an international mission to eliminate cigarette litter and its detrimental environmental effects. 

Founded by ‘Head Gardener” Jack Elliman in 2012, Brain Garden manufactures eco-friendly, airtight Pocket Ashtrays for safe, on-the-go disposal of cigarette butts. When users drop their lit cigarettes into the Pocket Ashtray and snap it shut, the airtight seal extinguishes the butt and traps the smoke, successfully tackling 2 of the main reasons individuals litter in the first place – convenience and lingering smell.
The inspiration for the Pocket Ashtray originated in the transformational festival industry, where individuals are encouraged, if not required, to leave no trace. Though not as commonly as on a city sidewalk, even there, Elliman noticed, cigarette butts were ending up on the ground. It was there Elliman identified the need for a convenient, eco-conscious solution to keep cigarette butts from ending up in the environment.

From there, the environmentally friendly invention has expanded into the global market as a convenient, educational product that leads to less cigarette waste littering our towns, contaminating our waterways, harming our wildlife, and causing wildfires.
“It really comes down to education,” says Elliman, inventor of the Pocket Ashtray, “people forget that cigarette waste is toxic waste, and now with COVID, it’s a biohazard as well.” Since the launch of Brain Garden 8 years ago, more than 100,000 Pocket Ashtrays have been distributed to cities, fire departments, music festivals, cleanup groups and more worldwide. 

The story doesn’t end there, however. The Pocket Ashtray goes one step beyond simply keeping cigarette litter off the ground. Once the Pocket Ashtray becomes full, the contents can be mailed to TerraCycle using free shipping labels provided by Brain Garden, compliments of TerraCycle. From there, TerraCycle composts the remaining paper and tobacco and recycles the cellulose acetate. 

“We are about to hit 1000 total pounds of recycled cigarette litter with TerraCycle,” says Elliman. This one-ton milestone is a result of global participation in various Brain Garden cigarette litter campaigns, including “butt barrels” and “butt buckets” which function alongside the Pocket Ashtrays.
The funds generated from the recycling process with TerraCycle are then put towards the Brain Garden Wildfire Prevention and Education Campaign. This campaign focuses on reducing wildfire risk by providing free Pocket Ashtrays to the smokers, promoting safe and responsible cigarette disposal, and educating the public about the dangers of improperly discarded cigarette butts. 

It’s 2021. Time to respect the environment, be a good human and use an ashtray.

For more information on the Pocket Ashtray and how to join Jack Elliman and Brain Garden on their ongoing mission to protect the environment from the largest global plastic pollutant, visit https://braingarden.ca

For more stories, visit Todayville Calgary.

Alberta

U.S. senators call for trade crackdown on Canada over dairy quotas, digital policies

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WASHINGTON — A pair of senior U.S. senators is urging the Biden administration to get tough with Canada for “flouting” obligations to its North American trade partners. 

Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Sen. Mike Crapo lay out their concerns in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. 

The letter says American dairy producers still aren’t getting the access to the Canadian market they’re entitled to under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. 

It also describes Canada’s planned digital services tax as discriminatory and raises similar concerns about new legislation to regulate online streaming and news. 

All three, the senators say, would give preferential treatment to Canadian content and deny U.S. tech companies fair access to the market north of the border. 

The letter comes after meetings this week in San Diego between U.S., Canadian and Mexican trade emissaries, as well as the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City earlier this month. 

The USMCA, referred to in Canada as CUSMA, has been at the centre of a number of bilateral and trilateral disputes since it went into effect in the summer of 2020. 

“Three years later, it is disappointing that Canada and Mexico have failed to come into full compliance with the agreement — and, in some cases, have flouted their obligations,” the senators write. 

“USTR must take decisive action to ensure full compliance with the agreement and with dispute settlement panel findings. It is critical to ensure that every chapter of USMCA is fully and timely enforced.”

Canada and Mexico have their own issues with how the U.S. is interpreting the deal, which was signed in 2018 after protracted trilateral efforts to replace NAFTA. 

As the Mexico City summit wrapped up, a dispute panel ruled against the U.S. over how it interprets the rules that determine the origin of core automotive components. 

It remains unclear whether the U.S. plans to comply with that decision.   

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2023. 

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

TotalEnergies EP Canada ups stake in Fort Hills oilsands project

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Calgary – TotalEnergies EP Canada Ltd. says it is increasing its ownership in the Fort Hills oilsands project by acquiring part of Teck Resources Ltd.’s stake in the mine.

Teck announced last year that it would sell its 21.3 per cent stake in Fort Hills to Suncor Energy Inc., the third partner in the project, for about $1 billion.

However, TotalEnergies EP Canada says it has exercised its pre-emption right to acquire an additional 6.65 per cent in the project from Teck for $312 million.

The deal brings the company’s stake in Fort Hills to 31.23 per cent. Suncor will own the rest.

French company TotalEnergies announced in September 2022 its plan to exit the Canadian oilsands by spinning off TotalEnergies EP Canada in 2023.

It says the acquisition of an additional interest in Fort Hills helps build TotalEnergies EP Canada for the future.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2023.

Companies in this story: (TSX:TECK.B, TSX:SU)

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