By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer
Published: 03 March 2012 11:15 PM
Students in the University of North Texas Pre-Dental Society passed an unusual Saturday, by many people’s standards: sweeping up cigarette butts at the corner of Fry and Hickory streets.
The students were volunteering for the Great American Cleanup, a nationwide effort to pick up trash around cities, sponsored locally by Keep Denton Beautiful. They were assigned the task of cleaning up cigarette butts littered around the Fry-Hickory intersection, where there are few ashtray receptacles.
Keep Denton Beautiful plans to put ashtrays in the area, but is gathering information right now to gauge how effective the receptacles will be once in place, said Aimee Bissett, program manager for the organization.
In 2007, the organization decided to collect and count the cigarette butts that accumulated in the area over five weeks. Volunteers found nearly 5,000, and Keep Denton Beautiful decided to expand its efforts in reducing the cigarette litter.
“It’s the most littered item in America,” Bissett said. “It’s not really perceived as litter the way other things are.”
People who normally wouldn’t throw trash such as fast-food wrappers on the ground don’t think twice about throwing their cigarette butts there, she said.
To combat the litter, Keep Denton Beautiful volunteers have been handing out pocket ashtrays on Fry Street and at events around Denton. The pocket ashtrays are like little coin purses, Bissett said, which can be slid open and sealed back up.
“People love them,” she said.
Last year, Keep Denton Beautiful was given a $10,000 grant to put ashtrays, solar-powered trash compactors, and recycling bins around Fry and Hickory streets.
The group has acquired 14 solar-powered trash compactors, which will be placed along Hickory Street from Fry Street to the A-train station, Bissett said. Before that can happen, she said, Keep Denton Beautiful and the city have to work out the logistics, such as how to pay for the trash cans to be emptied.
On Saturday, the 14 UNT Pre-Dental Society members separated cigarette butts from the other trash, so they could be counted later by Keep Denton Beautiful volunteers. The organization plans to put the new ashtrays in during UNT’s spring break later this month.
Stephanie Healy, president of the Pre-Dental Society, wasn’t surprised by the number of cigarette butts, because the closest ashtray is on the UNT campus. And even with the receptacles in place, students throw their cigarettes on the ground, she said. What did surprise her was the lack of recycling bins in the area.
“There’s a lot more trash bins than recycling,” Healy said.
The UNT students were one of many groups and individuals cleaning up Denton’s streets. An estimated 1,500 volunteers collected more than 750 bags of trash, although the exact amount won’t be known until later this week, Bissett said.
Zach Richardson, a UNT graduate student, was also picking up trash along Hickory Street. He lives in the area and wanted to help clean it up.
“This is something I’m interested in,” said Richardson, who is a member of the Sierra Club, an environmental organization.
He said while he was picking up trash he found plenty of beer bottles.
Once the cleanup was complete, volunteers gathered at Quakertown Park to enjoy music and food from local restaurants and vendors, including Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and Zombie’s Food Truck.