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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

Edmonton mother found guilty of manslaughter in death of five-year-old girl

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EDMONTON — A judge has found an Edmonton woman guilty of manslaughter in the death of her five-year-old daughter.

Court heard that the girl died of blunt-force trauma and prosecutors alleged her mother beat her with a belt and a spatula.

The woman, who is in her 30s, had been charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life, assault with a weapon and second-degree murder.

Justice Avril Inglis says there was not enough evidence to convict the woman beyond a reasonable doubt on those charges.

But Inglis convicted the woman of manslaughter because evidence showed that the girl’s severe brain injuries were caused by an assault and the only person in the home capable of inflicting them was her mother.

The woman is expected to be sentenced in the fall. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2021.

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Alberta

TC Energy reports $1.1-billion net loss after $2.2-billion writedown on Keystone XL

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CALGARY — TC Energy Corp. is reporting a first-quarter net loss of $1.1 billion after taking a $2.2-billion after-tax asset impairment charge on its cancelled Keystone XL export oil pipeline.

It says the impairment charge doesn’t yet include the government of Alberta’s investment and guarantees for the project, which are expected to eventually reduce the company’s net exposure to about $1 billion. 

Keystone XL was suspended after newly elected U.S. President Joe Biden fulfilled a campaign promise to cancel its presidential permit in January.

Since then, shippers including Cenovus Energy Inc., Suncor Energy Inc. and Imperial Oil Ltd. have reported non-cash writedowns on earnings related to their commitments to it.

In its quarterly report, TC Energy said comparable earnings without the charge were $1.108 billion or $1.16 per share, down from $1.109 billion or $1.18 per share in the year-earlier period.

It says revenue was $3.38 billion, down from $3.42 billion in the first quarter of 2020.

“While we were very disappointed by the revocation of the presidential permit for Keystone XL and the resulting after-tax impairment charge, we are well positioned to deliver sustainable, high-quality growth in the years ahead,” said CEO Francois Poirier in a news release.

 “We are advancing a $20-billion secured capital program and working on a substantive portfolio of other similarly high-quality opportunities under development.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:TRP)

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may, 2021

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