Cigarette butts are among the most common types of plastic waste. There are an estimated 4.5 trillion cigarette butts in the world. Cleaning up this waste can seem like a daunting task. Even animals, specifically crows, help with it. The Swedish company Corvid Cleaning uses crows to clean cigarette butts.

How does cleaning work?

Crows collect cigarette butts and then hand them over to a special machine. For each cigarette butt inserted, the crow receives food. The company’s founder, Christian Günther-Hanssen, claims that the birds take part in the cleaning voluntarily and are still wild. This scheme is currently only a pilot project evaluating the effectiveness of this plan. Sweden has spent about 20 million Swedish crowns (about 2.2 million dollars) to sweep the streets from waste. If crows were fully involved in cleaning, the cost of cleaning the streets could be reduced by up to 75% or more.

“The estimation for the cost of picking up cigarette butts today is around 80 öre or more per cigarette butt, some say two kronor,” Günther-Hanssen explained. “If the crows pick up cigarette butts, this would maybe be 20 öre per cigarette butt. The saving for the municipality depends on how many cigarette butts the crows pick up. ”

Crows are highly intelligent

Why are crows used for cleaning? Because it is one of the most intelligent animals. Crows can handle complex tasks without any problems and their thinking is equivalent to the thinking of a ten-year-old child. Crows manage to look for cigarette butts and deliver them to a specific machine. They will receive food as a reward.

“They are easier to teach and there is also a higher chance of them learning from each other,” Günther-Hanssen said. “At the same time, there’s a lower risk of them mistakenly eating any rubbish.”

Concerns have been raised that crow health could be endangered when handling toxic cigarette butts. Interestingly, animals can be taught to clean cigarette butts, but humans will not learn.

“It would be interesting to see if this 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,” said Tomas Thernström, a waste strategist at Södertälje municipality, where the drop-off machine is located. “That’s an interesting thought.”

Images credit: The Guardian / YouTube screenshot