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Burned Out on Cigarette Butts, Covington Looks to Clean Up

Northern Kentucky University students involved in a service-learning project recently picked up discarded cigarette butts in Covington's Mainstrasse Village.

On one single block, the students picked up more than 900 butts.

"They were literally everywhere - in the street, on the sidewalk, in planters, in the mulched areas around trees, in doorways, wedged in cracks ..." said Samantha Deters, one of the environmental science students.

Now the City of Covington wants to clean up its cigarette-riddled streets.

The tiny pieces of debris are made of a plastic that can take up to ten years to decompose and they are often washed into storm drains and then the rivers.

A new campaign in Covington seeks to do something about that.

The city has joined with college students, Keep Covington Beautiful, local businesses, and neighborhood advocates to create a strategy to reduce cigarette litter in Covington. The initiative is funded by tobacco company PhilipMorris USA and Keep America Beautiful.

Among its parts:

  • Covington will install 23 free cigarette "stands" or "urns" to lamp posts and sign posts along city streets, starting with nine along Main Street.
  • Bars will distribute "pocket ashtrays."
  • A publicity campaign will employ buttons, stickers, and posters in visible areas like windows of businesses. The artwork drawn by Xavier University student Hannah Deters features slogans like "Trash the Cig, NOT the City" and "LOVE The COV, No 'ifs' 'ands' or 'butts.' "

On Tuesday night, Keep Covington Beautiful and the City's Solid Waste & Recycling Division will bring the Covington city commission up to date on the effort.

"We think with these steps we can have a big impact on how Covington is perceived," said Amy Lyons, a Keep Covington Beautiful board member who is working on the effort.

"In the worst areas, you can't take a step without feeling overwhelmed by all the cigarette butts, and that just creates a negative image," Lyons said. "The cleaner Covington is, the better it will be not just for the environment but also for businesses and even residents."

Solid Waste & Recycling Coordinator Sheila Fields said a number of MainStrasse bars have fully embraced the campaign. Most of the cigarette litter stands will be "adopted" by nearby businesses, which involves maintaining and emptying them.

The stands' locations will be listed on a map on Keep America Beautiful's website, and Covington's team will do "before" and "after" surveys to measure the effectiveness of the stands.

Fields said the City has been thrilled by the involvement of the businesses, who recognize the problem and want to address it.

"This has been a huge team effort - but it's also one that deserves a lot of attention," she said.

-Staff report