Litter Fines Are So Last Year: A Disco-Like Pole Could End Cigarette Trash

Put a cancer-stick butt in the Fumo, and it’ll light up and play music.
May 2, 2014·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

It seems like common sense that cigarette butts go in the trash, not on the ground. But if you take a peek at the average city sidewalk or the sand at your local beach, it’s clear that somebody’s doing some serious littering. Threatening signs that advertise fines of up to $1,000 for chucking the refuse clearly aren’t changing the public’s behavior. A Dutch-Turkish design agency, ioglo, is taking a counterintuitive approach to solving the cigarette butt problem.

It has created Fumo, an interactive smoke pole that rewards smokers instead of punishing them. As you can see in the above video, smokers who put their cigarette butts in Fumo get an audiovisual treat in return. The pole plays up to 10 seconds of music and creates a disco-worthy light show for responsible smokers.

One of ioglo’s designers, Raymond Reints, told Wired UK that his team decided to create the interactive installation after noticing that although people will stop to pick up a soda can or other trash, no one bothers to nab cigarette butts. “And so we began to wonder: Why is there a growing sense of awareness when it comes to garbage, while cigarette litter is still so unaddressed?” Reints said.

When people chuck cigarette butts, they figure that because tobacco is a plant, the butts will just degrade naturally. However, given that smokers burn up all the tobacco when they light up, what’s left behind is the man-made and definitely not biodegradable filter that comprises the butt.

All those cigarette butts that are tossed on the ground are washed into storm drains, where they float their way down rivers and into lakes and oceans. Last September the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy reported that at its 2012 International Coastal Cleanup volunteers picked up 2,117,931 cigarette butts, more than any other form of beach trash. The poisonous butts that aren’t nestled in the sand end up in the bellies of fish, turtles, and other marine life.

The designers are talking to a hospital in Holland about developing a Fumo that will be installed outside the medical facility’s entrance. Reints told Wired UK that it’s possible to change the design of the pole depending on where it will be installed. If the idea spreads, maybe smokers in your town will get their dance on instead of littering.