Tired of people littering streets with cigarette butts, a Swedish town hands over the solution to the crows.
A start-up in the town of Södertälje, near Stockholm, has designed a machine that will give crows some food for each cigarette butt they bring back and deposit in the device. The company, Corvid Cleaning, thinks its device could help the city save money when it comes to cleaning up unsightly waste.
In fact, founder Christian Günther-Hanssen told the Guardian that he expects the crows to cut the city’s bum removal budget by 75%.
The Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation claims that the city of Södertälje spends around $2.7 million a year on street cleaning and that more than a billion cigarette butts are thrown onto the streets of Sweden each year.
Günther-Hanssen told Swedish online news site The Local that he only uses wild birds for his business and that all participating crows “taking part on a voluntary basis”.
He said that because crows are so intelligent, they can be trained quite quickly using a step-by- step method. They are easier to teach and there is also a higher chance of them learning from each other. “At the same time, there’s a lower risk of them mistakenly eating any rubbish,” he said.
Sweden is not the first country to attempt the ‘crows program’ as sanitation workers.
In 2018, six crows were trained to pick up cigarette butts at a theme park in France. Rather than bringing in the crows as permanent employees, it was part of a larger educational campaign to get humans to throw their cigarette butts in the trash.
However, theme park president Nicolas de Villiers told The New York Times that they have to be careful about how much they make the crows work. “They don’t play the game if they work too much,” he said, explaining that birds are smart and need mental stimulation and puzzle solving to thrive.
A 2017 Dutch campaign, called ‘Crowbar’, also tried to train crows to pick up cigarette butts for a food reward, but officials decided to end the project in 2018 when they concluded they couldn’t get a clear picture of what the effects would be on crows and the environment.
Cigarette butts are among the most common forms of man-made pollution in the world.
Nearly two-thirds of the 5.6 trillion cigarettes made each year are discarded irresponsibly, according to advocates at the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project. Many of these cigarette butts end up in waterways around the world.
The long-term success of Corvid Cleaning’s ambitious pilot project will depend on funding, Tomas Thernström, waste strategist at Södertälje Municipality, told the Guardian.
“It would be interesting to see if it could work in other environments as well. Also from the perspective that we can teach crows to pick up cigarette butts, but we can’t teach people not to throw them on the ground. It’s an interesting thought,” he ended.
This article first appeared in GlobalNews.