The Biz

Downtown Asheville residents Jeff and Karen Lazzaro want to make one thing perfectly clear: They couldn’t care less whether you smoke or not.

However, they do have a real problem with folks who dispose of their cigarette butts carelessly—especially those who should know better. The reasons are simple, they say. Cigarette butts are one of the world’s leading sources of litter, polluting rivers and streams, endangering wildlife and sparking wildfires. According to Keep American Beautiful Inc., smokers indiscriminately toss about 4.5 trillion cigarette butts yearly. In sufficient quantities, they’re even toxic to humans as the carcinogens and other harmful substances trapped in them leach into soil and surface waters. Worse yet, since butts are actually made of plastic (cellulose acetate), they may take several years to biodegrade, according to research at Virginia’s Longwood University.

What’s more, the Lazzaros say, Asheville is awash in butts—particularly along city streets, sidewalks and in planters and other open containers. The result is an aesthetic nightmare that makes the city, not to mention its residents and leaders, look bad, they maintain.

“It’s just horrific,” says Jeff about the toxic trash, which he and his wife began noticing immediately after moving downtown six months ago.

But rather than simply grouse about it, the Lazzaros have decided to take action.

Initially, the Lazzaros’ new business venture—the provocatively named ButtBusters—is targeting local business owners, especially those downtown. ButtBusters sells cigarette receptacles in assorted colors for $80 apiece—about $30 less than the cost of buying them online and paying for shipping, the Lazzaros say. The couple also notes that they’ve yet to find a local store that sells them, making their service a convenience for busy businesspeople. Standing about 3 feet high, the receptacles—made of a high-density polyethylene with a flame-retardant additive—won’t rust, dent, crack or peel. Inside is a galvanized-steel collection bucket.

To keep the receptacles in place, the Lazzaros say they’ll provide gravel or tie-downs at no extra charge. And for those who don’t want the bother and mess of maintaining the containers, ButtBusters will empty, clean and deodorize them for a modest charge ($20 a month for the first receptacle, plus $10 for each additional one serviced at the same address). There’s no contract, and the service can be discontinued at any time.

As Jeff sees it, for about $320, a merchant or other property owner could buy a receptacle and ensure a year’s worth of cleaner, more appealing premises without lifting a finger.

Making money is not the couple’s primary issue (though it would certainly be nice, they say), since Jeff works full time as the meat-department manager for the Costco wholesale warehouse in Spartanburg, S.C. The real impetus is to make Asheville—and, eventually, the rest of Western North Carolina—a cleaner, healthier place to live, work and play, they contend.

The Lazzaros are now marketing directly to merchants and downtown property owners, and they hope to persuade the city to buy receptacles for its streets and parks.

The couple also aims to educate the public about the real problems caused by cigarette-butt litter in hopes of changing people’s habits. But even folks who want to dispose of their butts properly, they note, may have a hard time doing so conveniently. There are a few receptacles around town, compliments of groups like Quality Forward, and a smattering of the city’s sidewalk trash bins have small add-on containers for butts. Due to lack of maintenance, however, they tend to become clogged or so dirty that people shy away from using them.

Butts out: Jeff and Karen Lazzaro have started a new company, ButtBusters, to replace unsightly scenes of cigarette refuse with receptacles like the one above.

Plus, says Karen, “I still think some smokers are innocent in the sense that they don’t realize what’s in that butt. There are chemicals in there”—including nasty things like arsenic and lead.

True, the Lazzaros discard the trashed butts in bags that eventually make their way to the landfill. But they say they’ve found no better means of disposal, and it still beats having masses of butts clogging streets, storm-water drains and waterways, Karen points out.

“It just seems that nobody wants to take care of the problem,” says Jeff, explaining ButtBusters’ origins. “Our biggest thing is, we’re trying to reach business owners. You really can’t find receptacles out there. I’d bet over 95 percent of the businesses out there don’t have them. … We thought we had to do something; we had to figure something out. It’s kind of like a personal mission.” And as more establishments go smoke-free, it only means still more smokers on city streets, he notes.

“We’d love it if the city could commit to a certain amount of [receptacles] around town in key places,” adds Karen. She’s submitted a proposal to the city and to Mayor Terry Bellamy and is waiting to hear back, she reports.

To help raise public awareness, says Karen, buyers can elect to put the ButtBusters logo on the receptacles; the couple also hopes to persuade merchants to place the logo in their storefront windows. Besides a graphic rendering of a crossed-out butt, the logo features the tag line: “Don’t flick it! Stick it! … Be part of the solution, not the pollution.”

The Lazzaros have even composed a lengthy poem detailing the dangers and problems posed by butt litter (to view the poem, check out the online version of this story at www.mountainx.com).

“This earth is what’s keeping us all alive, and people just don’t realize” the problems caused by cigarette butts, says Karen.

“It’s about the pollution—that’s all,” stresses Jeff. “It’s not like it’s my job to do ButtBusters. But it is my passion, because I really do think we can make a difference. And if we can start with this town and make a difference, we can start in Hendersonville, Black Mountain—and then you could start, in all these small towns, this new philosophy.”

For more information, contact ButtBusters at 545-9419 (e-mail: buttbusters@charter.net).

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