Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Keep your butts to yourself
- Our week as a Nielsen family
- Stop throwing money out the windows
- Point/Counterpoint gets a makeover
- All too quick to judge
From the RoundTable blog
Roanoke Councilwoman Gwen Mason isn't some anti-smoking zealot bent on making life miserable for smokers. She understands intimately the pleasure that tobacco brings smokers. In fact, she just quit forever.
What she can't tolerate are sloppy smokers who flick butts on city sidewalks and streets. Or worse, dump their ashtrays while stalled at a traffic light.
That fires up the green-loving Mason.
When she began her crusade against little things that accumulate into heaping big eyesores, Mason was waiting for her morning caffeine fix in a coffehouse drive-through. She espied the woman behind her tossing a cigarette out the window.
Mason pulled to the window, paid for the woman's coffee and asked the server to tell the next customer that Councilwoman Gwen Mason just bought her drink and would appreciate it if she deposited her butts in an ashtray.
That's the last time Mason says she was nice about it.
Since Mason began her crusade a few months ago to clean the city one nasty used filter at a time, it has been slow to ignite a passion of compliance by Roanokers. Critics wonder why Mason would latch onto something so small and seemingly inconsequential. Why pick litter as a pet project and specifically why single out cigarette butts as a particular scourge?
To Mason, the answer is fairly simple. They look trashy and harm the environment. Trash begets trashiness. Someone who thinks little of tossing a butt probably doesn't give much thought to dropping gum wrappers on the sidewalk or flinging a coffee cup out the window.
Besides, butts are no small matter. The city collects hundreds of thousands of them each year. And those are just the ones swept up before they blow into storm drains and are washed into the Roanoke River.
So what should smokers do when they finish sucking in their fix? How should they dispose of the remains when newer cars no longer come equipped with ashtrays and when sidewalk ashtrays are scarce?
Mason has a thousand answers to that -- one for each of the portable, individual ashtrays the city ordered. They are free to any smoker willing to pop by city hall to ask for one. The miniature ashtrays allow smokers to tote their butts away without the odor that would accompany them if they simply pocket the butt.
And if smokers want to tuck a picture of Mason inside and snuff their butts on her mug? She'll take it. Just make sure to dispose of the contents in an environmentally responsible manner. Same goes for other litter and pet droppings. Impolite dog walkers take heed, Mason isn't all about cigarette butts. She's serious about all aspects of the city's, "Looking Cleaner, Thinking Greener."
When she announced the campaign in September, Mason said, "We must pay attention to the fact that our lifestyles are directly connected to the cleanliness and the environmental health of our city. Whether we toss out a scrap of paper, stamp out a cigarette butt on the ground, throw down a gum wrapper or allow our pet to leave evidence of its presence, we have an enormous impact on the physical condition of Roanoke."
There's more to the Clean and Green campaign than anti-litter. With a small effort from each of us, the cumulative impact could grow large. Meanwhile, the councilwoman stands ready to remind us if we slip up. This is one time Big Sister's butting in might not be such a bad thing.
To find out more, go to roanokeva.gov and click on the Clean and Green campaign.
Traud is a member of The Roanoke Times editorial board.