Cigarette butt 'Ballot Bins' make reducing litter fun

- Keeping butts off the street is the focus of a new program in Bradenton.

To combat the problem of cigarette butts littering the Riverwalk, the nonprofit organization Keep Manatee Beautiful installed seven butt "Ballot Bins" throughout the park on Friday.

Each ballot bin displays a question and two answers. Smokers vote by putting their cigarette butts in one of the two slots.

"The question changes maybe every two weeks or once a month. Questions can be funny, like 'Will you marry me? Yes? No?' or 'Scariest creature: Loch Ness monster, Big Foot,'" said Ingrid McClellan, Executive Director of Keep Manatee Beautiful.

The boxes were funded by a grant from Keep America Beautiful. Five U.S. cities were awarded boxes, including Brooklyn, New York; Manchester, Tennessee; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Guntersville, Alabama.

Bradenton is the first city in Florida to offer the Ballot Bin. It's a welcome addition to the Riverwalk, according to residents like Shaun Richards. She said she is sick of seeing cigarette butts carelessly tossed aside.

"They throw them right on the ground. It's nice out here. It's a nice area to sit. Look at this. It's just nasty," said

Richards as she pointed to a pile of wet cigarette butts littered behind a park bench. Each month, volunteers will collect and count the butts placed in the ballots, along with the butts scattered throughout the same area, to see if the game is encouraging smokers to properly dispose of their butts.

"Education is repetition, repetition, repetition," said McClellan.

For some smokers, like Frank Stamper, getting motivated to throw away his butts doesn't take much.

"I smoke cigarettes, but I abide by the law. I throw them in the garbage can," said Stamper. "I mean, let's just pick the cigarette butts up, put them in the [trash] and abide by the law."

McClellan said it's important to encourage all smokers to think about the damage a simple action can cause. She said a form of plastic is used to make the filters in cigarettes. They can take seven years to degrade. During that time, seabirds often make nests with the butts and feed them to baby birds, thinking the butts are food.

For those who participate in the Ballot Bin, each month, the winning answer for each question will be posted on the Facebook page for Keep Manatee Beautiful.

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