Cigarette butt litter education and enforcement

No butts about it – cigarette litter needs to stop.

Project information

  • Name: Cigarette butt litter education and enforcement project
  • Type: face-to-face engagement, signage and enforcement
  • Lead: South Gippsland Shire Council
  • Partners: County Fire Authority, South Gippsland Water
  • Location: townships across South Gippsland
  • Themes: cigarette butts; illegal dumping; walk and talk sessions; signage; local laws enforcement; fire risk

We’re well aware of fire danger here in Victoria, but we might be surprised to know how many fires are caused by discarded cigarette butts. According to the Country Fire Authority (CFA), over a one-year period in Victoria, cigarette butts caused on average four fires every three days.

This fire risk is exacerbated by illegal dumping, which gives arsonists an ignition point and blocks emergency vehicle access.

“We wanted to make people more aware of the issues of cigarette butt litter,” said Eric Neville, Environmental Projects Officer for South Gippsland Shire Council. “Not only are they a fire risk, they also pollute our waterways. And then we have this link with illegal dumping which costs us a lot of money to clean up.”

Working with the CFA and South Gippsland Water, the council ran a multifaceted campaign to reduce cigarette butt litter and illegal dumping.

What we did

“We worked with the CFA and South Gippsland Water to create artwork to spread the message on the dangers of cigarette butt littering and illegal dumping,” said Eric. “Getting their perspective early on in the project was really useful and enabled us to create much more focused project messages.

“We then added vinyl stickers or bin wraps to public bins and put aluminium signs up in litter hotspots. We made posters for smoke vendors and gave them branded ashtrays to hand out to anyone who asked about the posters.”

“We had scheduled two walk and talk sessions in each township for the busy Christmas period. Staff would don either a MrNoButts or a CFA Koala suit and talk to the public about these issues. Unfortunately, we ended up missing the Christmas holiday window when the funding announcement was delayed.

“We hired a temporary local laws enforcement officer to investigate illegal dumping and publicise possible fines. They issued numerous infringements including two court summons and even appeared on ABC radio for an interview on illegal dumping. So, that was great publicity.”

Audits show good results

“The messaging on and around bins did seem to reduce litter. Our audits showed a 28 per cent reduction in visible litter across all sites. At a couple of sites, we had a 100 per cent reduction in visible litter. Only one site had very little change, but this may be because the local community wanted to keep existing bin signs so we couldn’t install our branded bin wraps. 

“Hiring casual staff for local law enforcement was a great idea,” said Eric. “It meant we had focused enforcement activities during the busy summer months, which was previously not possible. For past projects, we’ve used existing full-time local laws staff, but their day-to-day duties tend to take priority over our projects.”

“In hindsight, the other thing we might change is hiring a casual employee to install bin stickers and signs. This was part of my job and it was tricky to fit it around my usual responsibilities.”

Disappointing numbers for walk and talk sessions

“At least 95 people saw the posters at smoke vendors but only 20 people did the walk and talk sessions,” said Eric. 

“Since we weren’t ready to do the talks in the Christmas holidays, we delayed until Easter, hoping that fire season would be over and CFA volunteers would be free to help out as planned. But the weather turned bad and the towns were empty! This was really disappointing as it really limited our interaction with the public. In the end, we abandoned the talks in favour of poster displays at smoke vendors in Leongatha and Korumburra.

“In future, I would recommend a project approach that isn’t tied to a particular season but can run at any time and still get similar results.

“I still like the walk and talk model, even though we didn’t have much success. They really need to be done on weekends though, so you need staff available. Perhaps hiring casual staff would be the best option. This would have also reduced our reliance on CFA volunteers who already work alongside firefighting.

“Piggy-backing on existing community events could also work, although might cost to hire a stall.”

Expired quotes caused delays

“The delay to our funding also meant our quotes were no longer valid and, in some cases, prices had increased. We then had to find new vendors to stay on budget. Once this was resolved, we had serious delays from the supplier end.

“Next time, we would ask vendors to honour the quote for 12 months or add a 15 per cent cushion to quotes in the request for funding.”

The future

“The stickers and signs on public bins will stay for the foreseeable future,” said Eric. “We’ve got lots of leftovers, so we can keep using this messaging for a while. Supermarkets and other smoke vendors can keep the posters for as long as they want – they seemed to support the project so hopefully posters will stay up for a while.

“Local law enforcement of cigarette litter and illegal dumping will fall on regular full-time staff again. Thanks to this project, they are now aware of several litter hotspots so that will help focus future activities.

“Overall, we had lots of interconnected delays that were outside our control. We certainly learnt a lot about potential pitfalls in partnership projects. Hopefully, these will serve as lessons learned for us and others wanting to run similar projects.”

Further information

Contact Eric Neville, Environmental Projects Officer, South Gippsland Shire Council on (03) 5662 9360 or ericn@southgippsland.vic.gov.au