No butts about it

Jenny Eltham surveys smokers' knowledge of the law.

By Shane Scanlan

CBD residents are sick of their streets and lanes being treated as a giant ashtray and they want smokers and businesses educated or prosecuted.

Resident groups EastEnders and Residents 3000 have both weighed into the issue and are clear about what needs to be done.

EastEnders president Jenny Eltham wants the City of Melbourne to, firstly, conduct an education campaign to inform smokers that dropping a butt can cost them up to $622.

“Fines for littering cigarette butts are considerable – at $317 for an extinguished butt, increasing to $622 for dropping a lit cigarette,” Ms Eltham said.

She said businesses also needed to be educated that they could be fined for littering by their staff or customers – even beyond their property boundaries.

“Businesses are also required to maintain the cleanliness of the area around their premises. City of Melbourne’s Environment Local Law allows for penalties of up to $500 to apply to businesses who fail to comply with these requirements,” she said.

Once an education campaign has concluded, Ms Eltham recommends an enforcement blitz to clean up the city.

CBD News understands the City of Melbourne issued 275 infringements for butt littering in September.

However, Ms Eltham believes the council could do more, and points to the City of Brisbane which last year reportedly raised $1.5 million from butt-littering fines.

“Governments at all levels ignore the issue of cigarette litter and take little positive and direct action, despite having actionable laws and bylaws in place,” she said.

“Enforcement is minimal. An increase in manpower for the local laws team is an obvious second phase to an education campaign. The opportunity exists for the City of Melbourne to offer leadership and to make a significant contribution to the amenity of the CBD.”

When CBD News accompanied Ms Eltham for a walk in Little Lonsdale St, between Swanston and Elizabeth streets, she asked smokers if they were aware of their legal obligations. 

Ms Eltham said: “None of the smokers approached were aware, that by dropping their butts, they were littering. They certainly did not know they could possibly incur a significant fine.”

“It can’t be that hard to fix this problem.” she said, “You heard what these smokers said: ‘There used to be a bin for butts, but it has been taken away’.”

“Portable ashtrays and business-branded, personal ashtrays, distributed to staff and customers, would go a long way to fixing the problem.”

“Since staff and customers can’t smoke inside, they bring the problem into the streets and lanes and walk away without any consequence or questions asked.”

She suggested a staged process from City of Melbourne to improve the situation:

An advertising campaign;

Mandatory laws for all businesses to supply staff and customers with portable ashtrays;

A program to encourage all businesses to be proactive to ensure footpaths stay clean;

Increased local laws enforcement; and

Identification of “hot spots” and cleanliness audits.

Each morning, Ms Eltham herself dons rubber gloves, collects and disposes of between 150 and 200 cigarette butts from one small lane.

“Be assured, it was significantly more than double that when I started!” she said.

She has noticed many smokers who use her lane, now dispose of their cigarette litter responsibly. 

She said laneway businesses and their staff had played a significant role in improving local amenity.

Residents 3000 vice-president Sue Saunders agrees.

Ms Saunders said: “We residents believe that businesses who allow their staff and patrons to smoke outside without providing appropriate cigarette litter disposal nor see it as their responsibility to clean up cigarette litter generated on the pavement, need to be targeted under the City of Melbourne’s Environment Local Law.”

“It is certainly commendable that City of Melbourne has increased the number of butt bins but just putting the bins in place, does not mean the bins are used and the number of cigarette butts on and around footpaths and buildings reflects this. Unfortunately, it seems that this effort is not enough.”

“Maybe the City of Melbourne needs to revitalise its education program for smokers to encourage responsible disposal of butts.  We have had such campaigns before and they were quite successful,” Ms Saunders said.

The City of Melbourne responded by pointing out that it supplied more than 500 public-use cigarette butt bins and was committed to retrieving cigarette butt litter found discarded around the municipality by regularly sweeping streets.

The council also said more than 30 vehicles cleaned the municipality’s streets continuously throughout the day and night, averaging over 400 km of streets every week.

“Around 1.3 million cigarette butts are collected each month from the butt bins,” a spokesperson said.

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