City hopes butt-shaped ashtrays will clean up streets

John Sharp

Gary Garrett has the unfortunate duty of cleaning all the butts off the Main Street sidewalks in front of the downtown taverns.

So when Garrett, a smoker himself, saw the Peoria "Litter Czar" Steve Pierz arrive on Main Street toting large green cigarette butt receptacles and handheld containers to extinguish cigarette butts, he was relieved.

"If it’s not bubble gum, it’s cigarette butts," Garrett said, as he puffed on a smoke while looking down the butt-strewn sidewalk that runs in front of several Main Street bars, including Adam’s Apple. "It stinks to see this place such a mess."

City officials hope the littering Downtown ends soon. On Wednesday, Pierz, Steve Fairbanks, a neighborhood development specialist with the Department of Planning & Growth Management, and Peoria Police Officer Beth Hermacinski distributed the outdoor and personal ashtrays to 16 downtown taverns and restaurants.

The trio spent the afternoon handing out ashtrays, information about the city’s litter ordinance and the state’s smoking ban. In addition, they gave each business owner a box of small, posterior-shaped "personal ashtrays" that can be easily clipped onto someone’s belt.

Wednesday’s effort comes as Peoria and other cities throughout the state look for ways to resolve a litter problem that has grown since Jan. 1, when the state’s smoking ban went into effect. That law prohibits indoor smoking at public places like a tavern and smoking outdoors less than 15 feet from a public door or window.

"We want to work with people to affect changes," Pierz said. "Most smokers don’t think of cigarette butts as litter. It can take seven years for a cigarette butt to decompose."

Fairbanks said the city set aside $15,000 in the 2008 budget for the mayor’s litter campaign, of which $2,150 was spent on 1,000 of the personal "The Butts Stop Here" ashtrays.

There have been a few critical comments about the unique shape of the green containers, which give off the appearance of Kermit the Frog’s bare backside. But Fairbanks said, "I’m not handing these out in church. It’s sort of a laugh-and-help-us-out-here thing."

The larger receptacles, placed outside the taverns, cost taxpayers an additional $700.

Hoop’s Pizza & Pub was the first Downtown business to accept a receptacle. It was set up in front of the business next to a sand-filled bucket where patrons have been extinguishing their cigarettes butts in recent weeks.

"I think it’s great the city is working with us instead of just writing tickets," owner Kerry Cook said.

That doesn’t mean tickets won’t be written in the near future, Hermacinski said. At $150 a pop, that litter ticket can be expensive for smokers in the future who normally toss their butt on the ground.

"If the city has gone through the trouble to pay for the containers and the bar owners are voluntarily joining this program and every effort has been made to try and combat the litter and (a smoker) violates the law, you deserve a ticket," Hermacinski said.

Still, the goal city officials hope is achieved is less littering.

In the coming weeks, Fairbanks said, the city will vacuum up the cigarette butts on Main Street, weigh the collection and compare it with the weight of the butts collected from this past weekend.

"We will go back in a few weeks to see if there are fewer butts," he said.

John Sharp can be reached at (309) 686-3282 or