Highly polluting, cigarette butts generate adverse effects in green spaces if not properly managed. To optimize the presence (or non-presence!) of tobacco in public parks and gardens, the problem has to be faced at the design phase or when refurbishing!
Smoking in a public park is a problem that has to be faced
Since 2010, cigarettes are persona non grata in urban green spaces all over the world: Toronto, Vancouver, New York and Hong Kong – a few examples joined in 2018 by French cities like Strasbourg and Paris (1).
Other countries like Sweden are also thinking about the best way to manage tobacco wastes in their public parks and gardens. The general public expects public authorities to find solutions and an in-depth study is now needed on how to manage residues in parks and gardens. This implies taking this factor into account when designing green spaces – and whether or not to ban smoking there completely!
Tobacco and green space design: points of vigilance to be anticipated
From an ecological point of view, one butt contains 2,500 different chemicals and can pollute 500 liters of water (2). This impacts all the ponds and water storage basins in green spaces and also the sewage and drainage networks. Rain water run-off leaches through the soil and picks up the pollution it contains before contaminating sewage treatment plants. The harmful products in cigarettes also soak into the ground and acidify the soil, weakening plants and necessitating more vigorous maintenance.
From an economic point of view, it is estimated that in France nearly 40% of cigarette butts are thrown onto the ground (2). Management of this waste is a significant cost for public authorities, responsible for refuse collection in green spaces for which they are responsible.
From a public health point of view, green spaces are very popular with families and often butts thrown onto the ground unfortunately end up in the mouths of young children.
Lastly, from a wellbeing point of view, green spaces are places for sports and physical and mental relaxation: environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), with its characteristic odor, is not appreciated by all park users!
For all these reasons, and independently of any decision to permit or ban smoking in public parks or gardens, managers must now consider smoking and smokers when designing or refurbishing green spaces.
4 ideas for managing tobacco residues with green space planning
Ashtray vote, Herne Hill pic.twitter.com/W4YkGglRDb— Michael Wagg (@michaelwagg) 28 juillet 2016
- The first step is to put highly visible ashtrays at all green space entrances and enough inside the park if smoking is authorized there. Park maintenance will be much simpler!
- The next step is to encourage users to throw their butts away in the ashtrays. One way that exists is “gaming ashtrays” which, for example, propose a subject on which users vote with their butts.
- Public authorities can make their position clear, which contributes to the positive image of their green space. In public parks where smoking is prohibited some countries award green space labels like France’s “smoke free zone” label. If smoking is permitted, ecologically-friendly initiatives like EcoMegot define the policy of the community and make smokers more aware of the problems.
- Lastly, use new generation street furniture! As electronic cigarettes are becoming a real alternative to tobacco smoking, why not deploy battery chargers in green spaces like those already available all over the place for smartphones and laptops?
Public authorities need to anticipate tobacco management in their public parks and gardens and adopt a clear position on the subject. Maintenance can be facilitated, thus reducing costs, the environmental impact is positive and users readily understand that the regulation of smoking in green spaces benefits everyone!
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