PORTLAND, Maine — Less than five months ago, Portland restaurateur Mike Roylos announced he would post more than 70 of his innovative cylindrical “SideWalk Buttler” cigarette receptacles around the downtown.
On Wednesday — Earth Day — he called reporters back to Monument Square to say the Buttlers did it. Since his rollout of the cannisters in December, they’ve collected more than 300,000 cigarette butts that would have otherwise been discarded on city sidewalks and likely ultimately rinsed into waterways during heavy rains or snow melts.
That’s the equivalent of nearly 15,200 packs of cigarettes.
For effect, Roylos on Wednesday dumped out a trash can full of cigarette butts — about 68,000 — gathered by Buttlers in just the last few weeks.
Roylos, who owns the Monument Square Spartan Grill, has been on a high-profile crusade against littered butts.
Tired of sweeping up cigarettes on the sidewalk outside his restaurant in 2013, he offered a bounty of five cents for every butt someone picked up for him. But in just two days, the bounty was collected on more than 26,000 cigarettes and Roylos had blown through the $320 he’d raised for the charitable effort.
“We couldn’t keep that up,” he recalled Wednesday. “We would’ve run out of money.”
Now, Roylos is reiterating his hope that more business sponsors adopt Buttlers for a greater distribution in the city.
“If we could put them every 30 feet on the light posts, it would be terrific,” he said.
Once a Buttler has been filled with cigarettes, an internal cylinder can be removed from the device and emptied into a box — housed in another Roylos invention, a reconfigured file cabinet on wheels.
Once the box is full, it is shipped free of charge to the New Jersey-based TerraCycle, which will use the tobacco to make compost and turn the plastic filters in the butts to pellets for use producing items such as park benches, shipping pallets and railroad ties.
The Buttlers are fastened to the sides of light posts and other downtown infrastructure and will be largely maintained by participants in the city’s workfare program, in which General Assistance recipients take on city work as part of their aid agreement.
The Buttlers cost about $59 apiece for Roylos to assemble, he has said. Troy Moon, environmental programs manager for the city of Portland, said in December the city spent about $200 as its contribution to the effort to pay for the initial 70 receptacles, and the rest of the money came from sponsoring businesses, nonprofits and Portland Downtown District members.
The Buttler project came on the heels of several previous efforts to combat Portland’s cigarette litter problem. In 2012, the City Council changed its ordinance to clarify that cigarette butts do qualify as litter, and, as such, people caught flicking smokes onto public property can be fined as much as $100.
In 2013, the council added 36 city parks and open spaces to a five-year-old list of public properties — such as playgrounds and beaches — where smoking is banned.