Pocket ashtrays are part of the City of Vancouver’s latest attempt to reduce what it calls the number one littered item in the city: cigarette butts.

The portable, pocket-sized envelopes are being made available for free throughout the spring and summer, at local events and year-round at municipal facilities including city hall, and community centres. The city says they are intended to be emptied and reused.

The idea isn’t new to Vancouver, but the design has changed. Last year, the city tweeted about its “street team” handing out pocket ashtrays. The design at the time was a hard plastic box, whereas the current style is a softer envelope with a button closure, and also features a foil-lined interior for lit cigarettes. The city’s general manager of Engineering Services Jerry Dobrovolny said they think the new model will be “more comfortable in people’s pockets”.

“We think this is a very effective design. The last one worked, but we think there’s room for improvement with this one,” Dobrovolny said.

City staff have confirmed 6,000 of the ashtrays have been purchased to start, at 75 cents each, for a cost of $4,500. Last year’s hard plastic version was slightly more expensive, at $1.25 a piece, and the city purchased 3,500 of those in 2018 for a total cost of $4,375.

“We’ll see what the feedback is and what the popularity is, and if they’re working well and there’s demand for more and they’re being used, then we’ll continue to expand it,” Dobrovolny said.

CTV News Vancouver spoke to one smoker who received a handout of a free pocket ashtray in the days before the announcement. Ian Heffernan, who said he recently came to Vancouver from Ireland, thinks it’s a “great idea."

“I find walking around the city, there’s not that many ashtrays you come across,” Heffernan said. “I don’t want to throw it on the ground.”

The city will be collecting feedback and analyzing litter audits to determine whether the pilot project has had the desired impact.

A cigarette recycling program was also launched in the city in 2013, and has expanded to include receptacles installed on the sides of most on-street recycling bins. The city said over 1.2 million butts have been recycled so far.

Cigarette butts contain toxic chemicals and microplastics in the filters which take a long time to degrade. There’s also concern about the fire risk they pose. Vancouver Fire Rescue Services said virtually all outdoor fires in the city are sparked by smoking material being tossed out.

Despite the fact littering cigarettes can result in a fine, and smoking is banned on beaches, a study from the University of British Columbia in 2018 found butts and filters make up nearly half of all the litter recovered from coastlines along the southern Strait of Georgia, including around Vancouver and Victoria.