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‘Butt-barriers’ block real ecological progress

The other day, I was eating a pop-tart. It was grosser than Nebraska, but I managed to choke it down and throw its wrapper away in a trash can outside Park Region. That was the moment I noticed the little plaques covering the cigarette disposal on top of the trashcan. I have no idea how long they’ve been there, but on nearly every trash can on campus, there are four little barriers with pretty pictures of plants preventing smokers from throwing away their butts on school grounds, as per the tobacco-free policy. And while having a tobacco-free campus is a good thing, these tiny, unnoticeable walls , which I shall henceforth refer to as “butt-barriers,” are a terrible idea, and are a symptom of a much larger problem at Concordia.

Before we get into it, I said that these butt-barriers are on every trashcan, which is a lie. I noticed that some trash cans around East Complex lacked the butt-barriers, which is actually cute in an “Aww, that dog is wearing a diaper,” kind of way.

So why are butt-barriers such a bad idea? Don’t they reinforce the tobacco-free policy and help prevent smoking on campus? Probably not. Before butt-barriers appeared, most smokers living on campus would just walk two feet off campus, smoke, then walk back, throwing away their butt on the way. The tobacco-ban had done plenty to discourage smoking on campus and the butt-barriers add no extra incentive. What they do is prevent people from properly disposing of their clandestine butts.

It’s true that I have seen far fewer cigarette butts on the ground this year due to the ban, but since the butt-barriers were installed (or at least since I first noticed them) I’ve seen many more. You can call that confirmation bias, because it is, but it’s the best I have to go on and it makes sense. If people are going to bring their butts back onto campus, but can’t properly dispose of them, there is nowhere to put them except on the ground. I suppose smokers could technically throw their butts in the trash, but  that would be as illogical as the butt-barriers themselves.

And I’m not the only who thinks that butt-barriers are a bad idea. I asked SEA (Student Environmental Alliance) co-president Erica Bjelland what she thought about butt-barriers, to which she replied, “Hmm… Yeah. Ya know, I kind of agree with you. I’m not sure they’re really relevant or necessary.” She’s absolutely correct; they aren’t necessary. How much extra time or money does it take to maintain those cigarette disposals? I can think of a ton of energy and labor-saving practices we could implement to offset the cost of maintaining functional cigarette disposals.

But I suppose all of these arguments about why butt-barriers are unnecessary miss the fundamental reason behind their existence: they’re good publicity for Concordia. Imagine if the barriers just had the Concordia “C” on them; the message would be, “We are serious about this ban, and we will enforce it even if there are some side-effects”. But instead, they have little wind-turbines on them and the first time I saw them, I thought they were part of an SEA or Eco-Reps initiative. These butt-barriers, with their pretty flowers and words like “recycle” are essentially tiny billboards that are trying to sell Concordia as some sort of sustainability utopia. The message that’s being sent is actually, “Smoking is against the rules and we won’t allow rule-breakers to ruin the environment”.

But the barriers increase littering. And this issue is representative of so much of Concordia’s “emphasis” on sustainability. But that really deserves its own time in the sun, so I’m going to make this a two-part article, so come back next week when I talk about dead grass, wasted water, and environmentalism exploitation. Same butt-barrier time, same butt-barrier channel.

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