The Pacific Northwest’s wildfire season is here once again, and with it comes a friendly public service announcement. It’s well known that many wildfires are caused by people. One of the most common reasons? Disposing of cigarettes that have not been adequately extinguished. And even if the cigarette is properly put out, littering butts leeches many toxic chemicals into the ground, harming the entire ecosystem in the process.
Furthermore, cigarette butts are made from a non-biodegradable plastic called “cellulose acetate” that can take a very long time to break down. That’s where BrainGarden and their many initiatives — including pocket ashtrays — come in.
The littering of cigarette butts is not a new problem – and it has been a difficult one to tackle. So much so that many initiatives have taken place globally to minimize the litter. Lets go over some history. In 2013, the City of Vancouver did a “butt buying experiment” where individuals could return cigarette butts for a refund of 1 cent per butt (akin to the bottle recycling program BC already has in place). The pilot was thought to have benefits beyond reducing litter, but ultimately ended.
Thankfully, it wasn’t the last initiative for reducing butt litter to crop up. For the last decade, Jack and Sarah Elliman – the founders of BrainGarden – have been picking up cigarette butts and distributing pocket ashtrays. These are just a couple of the initiatives that the couple has been running through their company.
“Cigarette butts are very much that socially-accepted form of litter. People don’t understand that it’s toxic waste that starts fires, poisons animals, pollutes our water, stunts germination of seeds,” – Jack, co-founder of the Brain Garden (Global News Interview, April 2023)
The Tobacco Waste L.E.W.P. (Litter Education & Wildfire Prevention) program helps BrainGarden generate money for their “Bucks for Butts” campaign. Participating in the L.E.W.P program is as “easy as 1,2,3”.
First, empty your pocket ashtray into a sealed bucket/air tight container. Also, collect loose tobacco pouches, outer cellophane wrap, and inner pack foil. When you have 4 lbs, contact BrainGarden for a free shipping label – either by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (1-250-938-4202). Double-bag the cigarette waste and then box it. Finally, tape the box shut and pop that shipping label on. At this point you can either call UPS to arrange a pickup or drop it off at a UPS store for delivery. Upon receipt, TerraCycle will take care of the rest.
Due to rising risks of holding an August festival in peak wildfire season, Shambhala ultimately decided to move their annual festival two weeks back in 2020. The organizers did not make this decision lightly. Rather, it followed a couple of years of close calls with wildfires. In 2017, a wildfire evacuation order was issued which forced all Sunday acts to be cancelled. The following year saw the McArthur Creek fire cause the festival grounds to be flooded with smoke. Luckily, no evacuation order was issued – but Shambhala knew they had to change the dates for the safety of the “farmily.”
If you have plans to travel in BC this summer, keep up to date on all wildfire activity at the BC Wildfire Services’ Wildfires Map. Fires on the interactive map are color-graded from gray to red (in terms of seriousness), with a special red fire icon for “wildfires of note”.
Catch the wonderful people of BrainGarden at one of the many BC festivals taking place this summer. Of course, don’t forget to empty your pocket ashtray into the proper receptacles – and make sure the butts are extinguished beforehand. Don’t have a pocket ashtray? Each year, BrainGarden designs special pocket ashtrays for Bass Coast, Shambhala and other festivals. Find them at the general store at both festivals.
What do you think about BrainGarden’s many initiatives? Let us know in on our socials and in the comments below. Hope to see you on the dance floor!
Important things happen in Pacific Northwest nightlife, and DMNW will send you alerts!