Spokane Journal of Business

Butting out at Spokane County

Eco-Team starts pilot project with $5,000 grant funding

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A Spokane County committee called the Eco-Team has launched a local pilot project of the national Cigarette Litter Prevention Program, says Cassandra Harvey, water resource specialist with the county’s Solid Waste division within the Environmental Services department.

The program, which is funded through a $5,000 grant from Stamford, Conn.-based nonprofit Keep America Beautiful, initially involves cleaning up cigarette butts on the Spokane County Courthouse campus, says Harvey.

Eco-team members are conducting a series of cigarette litter cleanups, the first of which took place last month. More than 2,500 cigarette butts were collected in about an hour’s time.

Harvey says Eco-Team chose to test out the program at the courthouse campus because more than 1,000 people work there, and the campus includes the courthouse, jail, and juvenile detention center.

“We have a big mix of people who are pedestrians on that campus, and it was small enough to implement a pilot program,” she says

The Cigarette Litter Prevention Program, which has operated for 16 years across the U.S., recommends team members promote local policy changes to define cigarette butts concisely as litter, Harvey says. In addition to being an eyesore, cigarette butts affect the county’s stormwater program.

“Cigarette butts are the most commonly found items that block storm drains,” claims Harvey. The debris also contain heavy metals and other toxins that cause issues at wastewater facilities.

The grant also provided 600 ashtrays designed to fit in car cupholders. Eco-Team will attend events to bring awareness to its projects. One such occasion is a biannual car care event at Spokane Community College next fall. Eco-Team will install ashtrays onsite at that event, she says.

“Because of Eco-Team, we’re able to push our message at these events as well,” says Harvey.

The Spokane County Eco-Team formed in fall 2016 and operates out of the county’s public works building at 1026 W. Broadway, on the courthouse campus, says Harvey. 

The committee consists of eight members from different sectors in the county’s Environmental Services and Public Works departments, as well as the city of Spokane’s Solid Waste Services. Members work together to raise awareness and find solutions to overlapping environmental problems. Members convene about once per month or sometimes more often, depending on what projects are in progress.

Since its inception, Eco-Team has worked on other projects as well, such as the Load Warrior campaign that was launched last June. The campaign stresses the importance of covering and securing loads before driving to the county’s transfer stations. The operation since has been taken over by the county’s solid waste division, says Harvey.

Although Eco-Team doesn’t keep official records on the progress made in Spokane County, Harvey says she’s seen a definite benefit of the programs. For example, when team members scanned the courthouse campus for cigarette butts, county employees talked with them, wondering what the Eco-Team was doing.

“It was a public outreach event as well as a cigarette scan,” she says.

As for the Load Warrior campaign, Harvey says it “has now spread statewide, with 10 counties using our website and logo information … so we’ve seen a really big impact.”

Established in 1953, Keep America Beautiful “provides expertise, programs, and resources” to help end littering, improve recycling, and beautify the country, the nonprofit’s website says. The organization’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program has been implemented in more than 1,500 communities in the U.S. and has cut cigarette butt litter by nearly 50 percent over the past 10 years in those communities, the website claims.

Samantha Peone
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Reporter Samantha Peone joined the Journal in 2015 as research coordinator before later transitioning into a reporter role. She covers real estate and construction.

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