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TerraCycle—Union Square BID

TerraCycle and the Union Square BID: A Litter Reduction Success Story

San Francisco’s Union Square Business Improvement District and Block by Block piloted the installation of 10 TerraCycle cigarette butt receptacles in August 2016. Since then, they have observed a dramatic reduction in cigarette butt litter where receptacles are installed. Shelly Ericksen of the Surfrider Foundation interviewed them about the program in March 2017. Responses and results are summarized below.

Project duration: 7 months

Number of receptacles installed: 10

How long does each take to fill? Approximately 1 week

How often are receptacles emptied? 2x per week, at the beginning and end of the week

How many butts does a receptacle hold? 500-700

Amount of cigarette waste recycled to date: 25 lbs of dry butts

How was waste stored? Plastic garbage bags in a large box

Why did they adopt the program? Union Square BID was struggling to abate cigarette litter. A Block by Block staff member brought the TerraCycle receptacles to their attention as a proven, effective means to reduce cigarette litter, having had success with the program in other cities across the U.S.

Have they seen any evidence that the receptacles promote smoking? No increase in smoker activity around the receptacles has been observed. They were installed in known hotspots, identified by concentrations of cigarette butts (in Union Square, these areas included nightclubs, youth hostels, and near trash cans). 

Have they observed a decrease in cigarette litter where receptacles are installed? The decrease in cigarette litter has been “night and day” since receptacles were installed. Ashcans keep existing smokers from littering, and discourage others from smoking there because they don’t see the butts scattering the ground. If smokers have a convenient place to dispose of their butts, they overwhelmingly use it.

How does the BID pay for the receptacles and their maintenance? They allocate a portion of their cleaning budget for the purchase of receptacles, and contract with Block by Block to maintain them. 

How have the receptacles impacted labor time and costs? Cigarette butt receptacles have significantly decreased labor time and costs. The whole process of emptying the receptacles and storing butts for recycling takes approximately 15 minutes, versus having to manually sweep and collect the butts off the ground. They still manually pick up any butts observed on the ground, and have seen a dramatic decrease in number they have to pick up.

Questions or comments? Email Shelly at