Though the health risks of smoking cigarettes are well-known by the common populace, millions of people still consume them in haste. Worst of all, they flick the exhausted butts out of their car windows and along the side of the street, never giving them any thought again.
This is a true conundrum, as cigarette butts are the most commonly discarded piece of waste worldwide. Reportedly, 1.69 billion pounds of butts wind up as toxic trash each year around the globe. That is mind-boggling! Even more, the cigarette remains take more than 10 years to break down due to the presence of plastics like cellulose acetate. Fortunately, there may be a solution to this ongoing crisis, and it involves crows.
The Dutch startup Crowded Cities, founded by Ruben van der Vleuten and Bob Spikman, is on a mission to clean up cigarette butt litter from the streets. To accomplish this feat, the men designed a machine that rewards crows with food when they deposit cigarette butts into a large funnel. Van der Vleuten and Spikman are aware that crows are one of the smartest animals in the world, which is why they’re relying on the savvy guys to keep streets clean of the litter.
The first part of the plan involves the CrowBar — a machine based on a design created by an American inventor. When a cigarette butt is deported into the funnel, the machine releases a peanut or pellet of food for the crow. The second part of the plan involves training the crows to play along. Fortunately, Crowded Cities developed a four-step process to accomplish this.
First, the machine offers a piece of food next to a cigarette butt on a tiny platform. This trains the bird to expect food from the CrowBar. Next, the machine dispenses food only after the crow arrives at the machine. As Inhabitat points out, this teaches the crow how to operate the device. The third step involves the machine presenting only a cigarette butt with no food. When the crow gets confused, he/she will begin pecking and looking around. Once the butt is inadvertently dropped into the funnel, food will be released. The fourth (and fina) step entails removing the cigarette butt entirely but leaving a couple scattered butts on the ground near the machine. The designers believe that at this point, the crows will begin bringing the cigarette butts to the CrowBar in exchange for food. At this stage, the training is complete.
As some have pointed out, there is one major downside to the invention: the crows are exposed to a number of toxic chemicals via the cigarettes. Crowded Cities has considered this consequence, and will only roll out the CrowBars to cites worldwide if the birds aren’t adversely affected in trial runs. Of course, the prototype and plan still have to be tested, but the founders are confident it will work. If so, expect to see pleasantly plump crows and cleaner cities in the near future.