Cigarette Litter – The behaviours and disposals you want.

If we lived in a perfect world, we wouldn’t see cigarette litter, and smokers would be doing the right thing wherever they finish their cigarette. Unfortunately, the real world we have not just smokers, but many people littering at the point they have consumed or finished with the product.

I’ve finished my energy drink but don’t have the strength to carry it to the next bin, go figure?

Sometimes it’s too hard to do the right think with all your litter.

Improving disposal behaviours is all about opportunity and normalisation of the behaviour. Let’s talk about what that might look like for a smoker. The journey to improved behaviours starts at the purchase point, not just with cigarette butts, but with many types of litter. When you look at where people purchase cigarettes, they can also buy lighters, matches, filters, papers and any other imaginable accessory for the savvy smoker.

What’s missing?

Something to throw the butts in when they’ve finished. Like a personal butt bin or similar. I’m not saying that smokers would purchase them, it’s more about putting the opportunities in front of them. Let us imagine that just 1% of smokers took up that option and started using them, that’s an improvement that didn’t cost the community anything. Perhaps that style of a product should be coming from the Tobacco Industry? It’s a simple step towards product stewardship without anyone having to reinvent the wheel.


Once you have smokers using devices to capture and contains cigarette butts until they get somewhere that they can dispose of them thoughtfully. The next step would be local councils and others getting involved in supporting this behaviour further and embedding it into a normal response for smokers.

A few years back legislation was introduced into many Australian states that require dog owners to carry bags for collecting their dogs waste should it occur in a public place. That single piece of legislation dramatically reduced offensive dog waste, the dog owners just got used to their new behaviour. Picking up poo in public had just been normalised.

If people carry bags to pick up dog waste, how hard can pocket ashtrays be?

Let’s now take a progressive state government that is serious about cigarette litter and the impacts it has on the environment and the cost of cleaning up that all citizens share. Some style of legislation would be created that requires smokers to be carrying a device for capturing and containing used cigarette butts until they found an appropriate ashtray or similar to empty the cigarette litter into safely.

We’ve now taken further steps to normalise the behaviour and place the responsibility for cigarette litter back fair and squarely on the smokers. Now the vast majorities of smokers would not have any issues with something like this; it would only get under the skin of smokers who regularly do the wrong thing.


Often when we look back at collected data and problems of yesteryear, we can get stuck with our thinking processes and miss out on planning for the future. I like to identify the outcome I’d like to achieve (let’s say in five years) and the behaviours that will deliver it, then go about working backwards where every effort or action I undertake has people’s behaviours adjusting towards the desired set of behaviours.

“If you give more people the opportunity to do the right thing, they just might.”

Here are a few elements that a well-managed cities cigarette litter strategy might contain;

  • Businesses that sell tobacco products would also sell pocket butt bins and devices for holding cigarette litter.
  • Same business would make available the appropriate legislation for the area. Smoke-free zones, safe smoking distances and other legislated behaviours.
  • The local authority would make available to smokers pocket/personal ashtrays to encourage the best possible cigarette litter behaviours, along with access to legislation for smokers. The local authority would directly support these behaviours with structures, staffing and education as part of a larger litter and cleaning strategy. Specifically providing or encouraging;
  • Use of personal butt bin when away from fixed cigarette butt bin locations.
  • Attaching cigarette butt bins to litter bins and reducing/eliminating the use of stand-alone cigarette butt bins.
  • Establishing smoking locations that where possible have supporting structures like shade, seating and other elements enjoyed by the community. (Make it encouraging to use)
  • Provision of cigarette butt bins that have open tops, unobstructed and easy to use.
  • Butt bins that support the emptying of pocket ashtrays into them with ease.
  • Encourage smokers to empty pocket ashtray into dedicated cigarette butt bins not street litter bins to eliminate the risk of bin fires.
  • Clear signs and messaging explaining where to, and where not to smoke.
  • With regular cleaning of litter and servicing of butt bins.
  • Regular emptying and washing of litter bins to manage odour
  • The local authority would provide clear signs in the no/non-smoking areas.
  • Street litter bins would be fitted with cigarette butt bins in areas that it is permitted to smoke, with wording such as “smokers please” inviting or encouraging smokers to that spot.
  • Street litter bins near the entrances and exits of major public transport sights would have cigarette butt bins for smokers to butt out. Signs would explain the non-smoking law.
  • Compliance activities would be used to support infrastructure, and an enforcement program policing the prohibited smoking distances would occur at bins covered by legislation along with littering enforcement.  (Smokers need to see the authority)
  • Cleaning and litter patrols to ensure that traditional smoking areas are kept in a relatively tidy condition. Create the level of quality that you would like the smokers to help maintain.
  • Establish an environment of peer to peer conversation between smokers, one where they are comfortable supporting each other’s positive behaviours and raising concerns with anti-social behaviours.
  • Regular emptying of street litter bins and the periodic washing of the litter bins to ensure odours are managed.
  • A process where the local authority and smokers can engage with each other and work towards agreed outcomes.

That would read like a mountain of work to most people, but if you break it into small manageable efforts, you will be surprised at how simple it is. Remember that you are creating the behaviour you want in five years, not one for tomorrow. If you never apply any long game thinking to what you are doing, you’ll forever be playing catch-up.

Gravitational Disposal – all angled surfaces on butt bins must lead towards to container. Otherwise you are just creating litter.


Smoking and cigarette litter will be one of the hardest litter issues you ever have to deal with, if you have a question or what some further detailed information on how it might best fit your town or city, please email me,