Member Stories

San Francisco Neighbors Head Online to Rally Support for Cigarette Clean-Up

Written by Anne Dreshfield

Over the past few weeks, neighbors in the Richmond district of San Francisco have headed online to rally support for an incredible effort: to clean up thousands of discarded cigarette butts from one of the main thoroughfares of their neighborhood.

Inspired by the Hold Onto Your Butt Campaign created by the Surfrider Foundation, an organization dedicated to the protection of ocean, waves, and beaches in San Francisco, neighbors planned a community-wide cigarette butt pick-up along Balboa Street between 32nd and 38th Avenues.

Pawel Dlugosz, a neighbor and one of the organizers of the effort, spread the word to the community through a variety of channels. He posted to his Nextdoor neighborhood as well as the surrounding neighborhoods, encouraging neighbors to sign up to clean and protect their streets.

On a sunny Saturday, the group of enthusiastic volunteers headed out into the neighborhood, armed with salad tongs and 8-gallon trash bags. Together, they picked up more than 6,000 cigarette butts and filled 8-10 of the large trash bags with other rubbish along the way.

Some of the cigarette butts collected by the volunteers. Photo credit: Pawel Dlugosz.

Some of the cigarette butts collected by the volunteers. Photo credit: Pawel Dlugosz

The reaction from the community was nearly instantaneous: one neighbor happened to drive by the clean-up and pulled over to give the group of volunteers a $100 gift certificate to her local bakery as a token of her gratitude. Other neighbors chimed in online, sharing their appreciation for the clean-up.

Pawel notes that the group’s efforts didn’t stop there. A few weeks later, the volunteers met once again – this time, to install ashcans along Balboa, with each location based on the amount of litter collected during the clean-up. The receptacles allow smokers to dispose of their cigarette butts safely and keep Balboa litter-free, and were provided by the Surfrider Foundation and paid for by the Richmond District Neighborhood Center (RDNC). Each receptacle has instructions to recycle cigarette butts in three languages: English, Chinese, and Vietnamese.


Pawel with one of the cigarette butt receptacles installed on Balboa Street. Photo credit: Shelly Martinez

“The installation was a success,” says Pawel. “I must say, of all the things I’ve done to clean up our neighborhood, this feels the most rewarding. I’m still in utter disbelief how well the cigarette-centric cleanup was received. This is just a wonderful example of how a community can rally behind a joint cause with speed, effectiveness, and kindness – lots and lots of human kindness.”

The cigarette butt receptacles will be maintained, funded, and emptied by RDNC, and the butts sent to TerraCycle in New Jersey for proper recycling.

Originally reported by the Richmond District Blog and Hoodline. Cover photo courtesy of Shelly Martinez.

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