Boston Curbs Litter With Nifty Poll-Taking Cigarette Butt Receptacles

None of the litter-busting polling sites launched as part of Boston's Neat Streets campaign involve the 2016 presidential election ... yet. . (Photo: City of Boston)

Boston, a city where sunscreen flows freely and where park benches function as much more than just seats, has employed a clever new method of keeping mindlessly flicked cigarette waste off of its streets in the form of litter-busting public polling sites.

Referred to as “interactive public space installations" which admittedly has a better ring to it than "public ashtrays," five rectangular red butt-collection boxes were installed around Beantown in high traffic locations. Dubbed Neat Streets, the campaign was inspired by Vote With Your Butt, a similar litter-reduction initiative launched last year in London.

Designed and fabricated by Cambridge-based manufacturer and maker-space danger!awesome, the 3-D printed butt receptacles have two transparent chambers, each posing a different response to a specific query. Smokers are encouraged to discard their tobacco waste directly into the chamber that corresponds with the answer they most agree with.

One Neat Streets receptacle implores smokers about their preferred potential superpower — invisibility or flight? Whichever answer the user feels strongest about is where the remains of their American Spirit should go. As more and more waste is deposited through the slots, the more popular answer is revealed in the form of a heap o' butts. Not the prettiest thing to look at but that's beside the point.

Another butt box begs the question: “Which quality do you value most in a friend?” Cigarette-smoking residents and tourists can respond by dropping their butts in either the “loyalty” or “humor” slots. A third receptacle asks the public if they consider “warm hats” or “thick boots” to be the more essential piece of winter gear.

The city even opened up the campaign to the public when it was launched last month, inviting Bostonians to pitch questions using the #neatstreets or #neatsteetsbos hashtags on Twitter. I’m guessing that Boston officials are sticking to queries that are engaging but also family-friendly and apolitical in nature. Although it won’t happen, it would be fascinating — and most certainly a first — to conduct an informal 2016 election poll using cigarette waste as a medium. Goodbye straw poll, hello butt poll.

It would be also nice to see the addition of more heated, Boston-specific questions. How about having to choose between Mike's Pastry and Modern Pastry with a receptacle that asks: "Who does better cannoli?" Maybe a health-related one, too.

As my home during my late teens and early 20s, I can say from personal experience that Boston often took the form of one ginormous Parliament Light. At the time, seemingly everyone — or seemingly everyone enrolled at my arts-centered college where there was a large population of high-strung drama majors and foreign students with a more casual relationship with tobacco use — in the city smoked. Myself included.

But that was a long-ish time ago, I've since quit and Boston, under the leadership of Mayor Marty Walsh, has seriously cracked down on the act of lighting up including instituting a ban on smoking in public parks and raising the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Of course, such measures won’t stop Bostonians from smoking altogether. And this is where Neat Streets comes in ... if you’re going to inflict damage on your health by smoking, at least dispose of that butt in a responsible manner.

Like this flashy prototype cigarette butt receptacle from Europe that lights up like a Vegas slot machine when an errant butt is inserted into it, some might argue that Neat Streets boxes are overly kind and that they unnecessarily reward smokers by allowing them to participate in a game — in this instance, an interactive poll — by choosing not to litter.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, but I don’t see the point in villainizing smokers. It’s the habit that’s bad, not the person. I think anything, even if there is an incentive involved, is better than sullying the cityscape — and the greater environment — with a nasty, soggy, stinky cigarette butt.

Via [CityLab], [Boston Globe]