Vote with your butt” could be considered a pretty snappy slogan, especially during the current election campaign.
Lest you get any funny ideas, the “butt” in question is a cigarette filter, and the slogan belongs to an environmental group that’s trying to encourage smokers to dispose of their spent cigarettes in a container instead of casually flicking them on the ground.
The group, the Blue Turtle Green Bird Society, has placed two “polling” stations along the sidewalk on Shore Drive between the Casino and Williams Pier, and plans to add another two between the Casino and the Recreation Center once the current construction work is finished.
The existing stations allow “voters” to choose between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton and between St. Petersburg’s pelican logo and Gulfport’s gecko logo.
The first kiosk was put up in May, collecting hundreds of cigarette butts that could otherwise have made their way into Boca Ciega Bay.
“We just passed the 1,000-butt mark in Gulfport on September 1,” said David Westmark, co-founder of the society with his wife Stephanie Cain, both government scientists whose “hobby” is helping to care for the environment. He’s a fisheries biologist and she tracks right whales. They founded the non-profit last December and have some 40 members.
Westmark says cigarette filters are nasty environmental contaminants, especially when they hit the water. They’re chock full of toxic chemicals like arsenic and heavy metals that otherwise would have made it into smokers’ lungs, and they shred into tiny fragments (microplastics) that are ingested by marine animals such as barnacles, oysters and clams that confuse them with food.
Research also finds that most smokers won’t walk more than 30 steps to dispose of a cigarette butt in a responsible manner, he says. By giving them the option of using the butt to express an opinion on something of interest, the group is hoping to get smokers to walk up to 100 steps to throw a butt away.
Westmark said the group ran the concept of the kiosks by a number of municipal and county governments in the area, but that Gulfport was the only city that agreed to try it.
Mayor Sam Henderson, who heard the presentation the group gave city council, said he liked the idea.
“If it gives people another reason to not throw cigarette butts on the ground, I’m all for it,” he said.
The idea of the voting bins initially came from an environmental group in England called Hubbub, Westmark said.
The society, whose three main goals are habitat improvement, research and education, and art, is looking to partner with artists who can help decorate the butt stations and with members of the business community who can help finance their construction.
“The sky is almost the limit in terms of a creative approach to this idea,” Westmark said.
The group also has a permit to do sea turtle and shore bird rescues (its dedicated phone number for this purpose is 727-310-1820) and promotes the use of “watergoats,” floating devices placed across waterways such as streams to collect debris before it reaches a larger body of water. It hopes to install one in a waterway leading to Clam Bayou.
“A watergoat in Clam Bayou would help reduce some of the trash load along the beach as well,” Westmark said.
For more information visit blueturtlesociety.org.