Butting out the butts on the streets: Lebanese duo solves urban pollution issue
Cigarette butts are the most common form of litter around the globe, according to a report in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. When not disposed of properly, these toxic stubs can be transported through drainage systems into rivers and onto beaches, poisoning native wildlife. Since Lebanon’s smoking ban was introduced last September smokers socializing in bars and restaurants are obliged to smoke outside. Those seated at outdoor tables may continue to stub out their cigarettes in ashtrays, but the crowds who take to the pavements and even the streets to chat and enjoy a smoke often throw their butts on the ground, vastly increasing the amount of tobacco-related litter, particular in areas dense in nightlife.
Urbin, a newly patented cigarette bin designed by three Lebanese electrical engineering graduates, aims to change all that.
“I went to London to study for a year,” explains one of the partners Akram Harb, “and it struck me how rare it is to see people throwing their cigarette butts on the floor, because there you have law enforcement. A friend of mine got fined 50 pounds [$75] for throwing a cigarette butt on the floor. It shocked me, because in Lebanon it doesn’t matter, it’s not a big deal.
“When I came back to Lebanon it was in September and the [anti-smoking] law was just beginning to be enforced. I said to myself ‘Why don’t we have something to encourage people ethically – if not legally – to throw their cigarettes not on the floor but in something specialized?’”
Harb and two classmates, Eddy Mansour and Joe Khalifeh, graduated in 2011 and began working on a prototype for their cigarette bin, which they plan to distribute to restaurants and bars free of charge.
“We started thinking about it,” Harb explains, “and because we’re not an NGO, nor a municipality, we wanted something that would give us back our money, so we came up with the idea of inserting a space for advertisements.”
The three engineers designed nine models and built seven prototypes before arriving at their final design, a streamlined steel oblong with four round holes at the top, through which cigarette ends can be deposited, and a Plexiglas window on the front, into which posters can be inserted to advertise anything from products to events to services.
Behind the four holes is a small metal shelf so users can stub the cigarette out before dropping it into the bin’s interior, where it slides into a small metal box, designed to limit airflow so that any butts not properly extinguished go out on their own.
Restaurant or bar owners can unlock the stylish outer box and empty the bin as often as needed. The sloping top and the body of the bin, which narrows almost imperceptibly towards the bottom, are designed to ensure that rainwater runs off the bin’s outside, rather than entering through the holes.
The bins, which are made locally, are painted dark grey to blend in with the urban environment, Harb explains. The designers chose an unobtrusive shade that matches the paint used on traffic lights and bollards, so as not to conflict with the decor of the establishments who wish to use them. The Urbin logo, in a bright lime green, creates a funky contrast that the team claim was inspired by the colors of famous French architect, artist and writer Le Corbusier.
Each bin costs $90 to produce, so the self-financed team have begun by producing a total of 100, which they will begin distributing to bars and restaurants next week. The first Urbin was installed outside Treesome in Gemmayzeh last week and owners of bars or restaurants who would like to claim a free bin can request one through the product’s website.
“The first step is to get pubs to have them,” says Harb, “to get people familiar with this concept, because when people first see it they don’t understand what it is.
“We’re going to target hot spots,” Harb continues, “especially Hamra and Gemmayzeh, and definitely the pubs that are respecting the law. So whenever you see a bin you’ll know first of all that these people abide by the law, and secondly they are environmentally friendly.”
To find out more about Urbin visit www.urbin-beirut.com.