Cigarette eater meter in San Rafael collects 50,000 cigarette butts

By Megan Hansen
Marin Independent Journal
Posted: 08/28/2013 02:14:58 PM PDT
story from the Marin IJ


EaterMeter1Three months after its installation, a public art piece called a “cigarette eater meter” has collected 50,000 cigarette butts and in turn raised money for a local nonprofit.

The 7-foot-tall meter was placed in the San Rafael city plaza on Fourth Street on May 30 as part of an effort by the San Rafael Clean Coalition to get litter off city streets. The coalition, a group of organizations and volunteers focused on keeping the city tidy, wants people to retrain themselves not to throw cigarette leftovers on the ground.

Carla Koop, coordinator for the city’s volunteer program, said the community has been supportive of the collection effort.

“We just hit the halfway point, so we’re really excited about the progress,” Koop said.

Every cigarette butt deposited equals a one cent donation for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which helps and feeds homeless residents.

Local business Bellam Self Storage and Boxes is contributing $1,000 to the effort and an anonymous donor has offered to match the donation once the count reaches 100,000 cigarette butts, according to the St. Vincent de Paul Society.


Koop said clients of the dining facility and members of the Downtown Streets Team, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit that has set up shop in San Rafael to put homeless people to work and help them find jobs and housing, have been gathering discarded cigarette butts to place in the eater meter — even alerting the city when the meter’s shoot got clogged with ashy remnants.

“We had the artists make some changes and we haven’t had any problems since,” Koop said.

The discarded butts will be sent to TerraCycle, a New Jersey-based company that collects difficult-to-recycle products and repurposes them. Koop said other cities such as Santa Monica and organizations like Surfrider have expressed an interest in borrowing the eater meter to launch their own collection programs.

“It’s a problem that transcends San Rafael city boundaries,” Koop said.

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