Campaign launched to keep smokes out of harbor

'Ash urns' for cigarettes part of push for swimmable harbor

  • Fifty "ash urns" have been installed around the Inner Harbor to collect cigarette butts.
Fifty "ash urns" have been installed around the… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
May 27, 2010|By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

The Inner Harbor has some new attractions aimed at smokers. A group pushing to clean up the harbor has put 50 "ash urns" along the waterfront to fight the problem of cigarette butts fouling the city's watery heart.

The urns are part of a fledgling campaign by the Waterfront Partnership to make Baltimore's harbor fishable and swimmable in the next decade. Among the group's first targets are the rafts of spent cigarettes littering the water, which it says are more than just a visual blight.

"Cigarette butts are toxic to fish," said Laurie Schwartz, executive director of the partnership, a nonprofit group of waterfront businesses, tourist attractions and others.

Cigarette butts are the most ubiquitous bits of debris found in the northwest branch of the Patapsco River, officials say. In one eight-month period, more than 1 million butts were collected from the Jones Falls, one of two streams that empty into the harbor. That's more than all the plastic bags and bottles, foam cups and plates and aluminum cans combined collected over the same period.

All too often, Schwartz said, smokers at the waterfront flick their cigarette butts into the water or drop them in the gutter, perhaps without realizing that the first rainfall will wash them into the harbor. The urns are meant to encourage smokers to dispose of their butts without littering or fouling the water, she said.

The 41-inch tall metal ashtrays have been stationed along the waterfront promenade from Harbor East to Harborplace and the Maryland Science Center, said Schwartz. They were donated by H&S Properties, General Growth Properties, Baltimore Development Corp. and the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront.

The partnership's staff of "hospitality ambassadors" will be responsible for emptying the urns, and some will take turns donning a cigarette costume so they can draw attention to the ashtrays and explain the fixtures' role in helping clean up the harbor.

Schwartz acknowledged that the urns alone won't put a big dent in the flow of cigarette bents getting into the harbor. But she said "it's one step" in a broader campaign the partnership is mounting to get people to change their habits by educating them about how litter winds up in the water. The partnership's "healthy harbor initiative" also includes plans to install small floating wetlands in the Inner Harbor to provide some wildlife habitat and refuge for fish.

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