Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Keeping Calgary free of cigarette waste: #buttfreeYYC

Smoker or non-smoker, you’ve likely witnessed someone flicking a cigarette butt –­­ disposing of cigarette waste improperly (yes, that is a littering offense), or you have walked by butts that are the casualties of smokers in city streets.

While in recent years Calgary has been reported as one of the cleanest cities in the world, publications such as National Geographic have decreed cigarette butt waste as the world’s number one litter problem, and the proof is visible in municipalities like ours.

Not only is this an infraction of City bylaws, it’s an injustice to fellow citizens; not to mention hazardous to our environment, sidewalks, streets, pathways, wildlife and pets. In some areas, the accumulation of cigarette waste is a priority concern, and while we have many systems in place to manage waste effectively, the solution begins with citizen responsibility when it comes to littering.

We are a proud city and we want to maintain the standard of cleanliness and safety we work toward collectively, so we are looking to Calgarians to help us maintain a #buttfreeYYC.

The law & littering

Improper disposal of cigarette butts is non-compliant with littering associated bylaws, including the Street Bylaw (section 17) and the Parks and Pathways Bylaw (section 27).

From the Calgary Community Standards perspective; leaving litter, garbage or other waste material on private or public property is a violation, as these bylaws help keep communities and public areas clean and safe.

In summary, the bylaws state:
  • Waste must not be disposed of on any public property, aside from in an appropriate receptacle. 
  • The improper disposal of burning material, including lit cigarettes, will result in an increased fine. 
  • If a vehicle is involved in a littering offence, the registered owner of that vehicle may be charged. 
  • Fines for violations of these regulations range between $500 and $1000. 

Throw it away: proper disposal

Cigarette butt waste at home

The proper measures to discard of cigarette butt waste are:
  1. Cigarette butts should go in the black cart as garbage (they are not compostable). Ensure the cigarette is extinguished before throwing away.
  2. Cigarette ashes need to be double bagged, tied closed and thrown away in the black cart as garbage.
  3. Never flush cigarette butts or cigarette ashes down your toilet, sink or drain as they are harmful to the environment and may cause damage to the pipes in your home.
  4. Cardboard cigarette packaging goes in the blue bin for recycling.

Recycling cigarette butts

Yes, cigarette butts are recyclable! There are eco-friendly recycling companies that specialize in difficult-to-recycle waste streams and offer solutions to these problems. Calgary is one of six Canadian cities with businesses and communities working to recycle cigarette butt waste, including many Business Improvement Areas (BIA) lead incentives.

In 2016, the International Avenue BRZ purchased six cigarette recycling units that they installed in key areas where a need was identified. Their team removed an average of 2,700 cigarette butts from the units monthly. The Calgary Downtown Association also utilizes a recycling program and collected 53,000 units of cigarette waste to recycle last year alone.

Receptacles can be ordered through the recycling companies directly for your community or business location. For citizens looking to recycle independently; cigarette butts, ashes, and the foil and plastic found on cigarette packaging can be collected and mailed using a free shipping label through the same recycling programs.

The end products of these programs include a variety of industrial products and objects (such as park benches or plastic pellets). Remaining tobacco is also recycled as compost.

Cigarette waste receptacles

The city centre is populated with BIA managed cigarette butt receptacles for citizens to utilize in the downtown area. In addition to these receptacles, many communities and businesses self-manage receptacles for proper waste disposal or recycling purposes.


The leading cause of outdoor fires within Calgary is the improper disposal of smoking materials. As well, residential fires that start outdoors are among the most dangerous as they are often not detected by indoor home smoke alarms until the fire is well underway. As a safety protocol, the Calgary Fire Department encourages citizens to ensure that smokers in your home douse cigarette butts and ashes with water before placing them into a non-combustible container.

As an added safety precaution, it is also imperative that smokers do not ash out or dispose of cigarette butts in planters, mulch or flower beds. The components of soil include organic material and can easily smolder for hours before igniting.

It starts with you. Please think twice before you flick and dispose of your cigarette butt waste properly to help us maintain a #buttfreeYYC. Our goal is to see butts in bins and receptacles, not on streets, in tree grates or rivers.

Filing a complaint. If you witness a bylaw infraction and would like to report it, please call 311 (from within Calgary) or 403-268-CITY (2489) (from outside Calgary).

Join the conversation. We encourage citizens to suggest areas that would benefit from added cigarette waste receptacles by joining the discussion on social media with #buttfreeYYC.

Consider recycling. If you’re a local business owner or a community representative, consider initiating a cigarette waste recycling program.


  1. I saw you on Global News this morning and was pleased to hear that you are doing something about cigarette butts. I pick up garbage in our neighbourhood every week or so and we live near the Crowchild LRT station. I pick up so many cigarette butts that I think that it would be very helpful to have, at each crosswalk into the community, a butt box for smokers to put their butts in. It may help as there are so many butts, mostly stomped out, but some are just thrown with the potential to start a fire with the dried grass, especially this summer. It takes close to two hours each week and I think the butt box may help to cut that time in at least half. It seems that smokers light up as they get off of the train and by the time they have crossed into the community, they are finished their smoke, so, if the butt boxes could be put on the community side of the crosswalks, rather than the parking lot side, I'm sure that they would be much more effective. Thank you in advance.

  2. The City should go further. We are a tourist destination and the corridors that have large concentrations of tourists..ie Stephen Ave and 17th Ave SW are disgusting.. Along with the cigarette butts are gobs of spit, sputum, vomit and blood... What kind of civic pride is this?? I now don't bring any visitors to those locations because it is embarrassing!!! Can't we do better? Even pressure washing in the summer would do wonders...