It is not every day that you receive an invitation to write a monthly column on a subject matter dear to your heart. And so, it is with gratitude, that I submit my first piece concerning an environmental issue which the Town of Middleburg has recently addressed, namely that of the blight of used cigarette butts.

As the Town Council representative on the town’s Go Green Committee, I work with a devoted group of stakeholders who care deeply about the state of our ecosystem, sustainability, and smart energy production and consumption.

During one of our biannual town cleanups, we were shocked and saddened, and then motivated by the volume of used cigarette butts which had been discarded in the streets – that is to say motivated to find a way to permanently eliminate, or at least reduce significantly, this affliction to our pretty streetscape.

Go Green Committee member, Lynne Kaye, who is also CEO of the Unison Advisory Group, took up the mantle and looked into how we could safely dispose of the butts we had amassed, and continue to do so going forward. During her investigations, Lynne discovered many things about cigarette butts of which most of us are ignorant. For example, they contain 165 toxic chemicals; each filter is made up of 10,000 plastic filaments; when it rains, butts flow into the town’s drains and on into creeks and rivers, and ultimately into the Chesapeake Bay, while en route infesting our groundwater with these hellish toxins. One can only imagine where those chemicals end up.

She learned of a company called TerraCycle, which specializes in various types of recycling. They operate a program whereby anyone, be it a municipality like ours or simply a private steward of our surroundings, can collect and ship, for free, any number of cigarette butts to their facility. Once there, Terracycle strips down the butts with the plastic components being recycled into plastic for use in industrial products, while the tobacco remnants are composted through a special composting technique.

First, however, we needed to find a way to reliably collect the used cigarette butts, and deter smokers from disposing of them in the street in the first place. The solution was a used cigarette butt receptacle which could be attached to the town’s trash cans, and be as attractive and discreet as possible, yet obvious enough that smokers would use them. The committee reviewed several different types and styles, ultimately bringing its preferred version to the Town Council for approval, following which 17 were purchased.

Our town maintenance manager, Tim Cole, then set about painting all 17 to match the trash cans and devised a way to securely attach them.

Tim has observed a startling reduction in the number of cigarette butts which find their way onto the streets, particularly at known hot spots where folks tend to sit down and enjoy Middleburg’s daily comings and goings. He now regularly empties the receptacles into secure containers which are then shipped via UPS to be TerraCycle for recycling.

In a world where bad news dominates, it’s delightful to report on a truly positive program and a healthy outcome. But, there is more to do, much more, so please watch this space!