For a close knit group of friends in their very early teens (13 to be exact), born within six weeks of each other and who have known each other since kindergarten, you’d think that they’d spend their summers playing video games, playing hide and seek/tag/capture the flag (ok, maybe that’s what I did at their age). You’d be easily forgiven if you didn’t think that they’d be strategizing on how to clean up the environment, specifically via the sea of cigarette butts that litter the streets of Mississauga.
But that’s exactly what Shaan, Varun, Yashveer and Rahik were up to as part of the First Lego League Trash Trek themed project.
We know that smoking has its own inherent dangers, but the cigarette butt can take up to 25 years to decompose, there are over 4,000 chemicals, they can enter our sewers and affect local wildlife.
Yes, there are “butt stops” but they aren’t always where smokers have their cigarettes.
Sometimes it’s easier (read: laziness) to drop the butt wherever you are, do a quick toe-tap on it and go on with your day. They get flicked out of cars, on the way into buildings, onto roads, etc.
But we’re not here to point fingers; we’re here to explore go-forward options to reduce and eventually eliminate this toxic piece of litter.
Their solution is surprisingly simple, and here it is:
To attach four (4) small, heat and odor resistant pouches that are resealable and recyclable to the back of the cigarette pack where the smoker can put their butts.
Kinda like a mini-sized Ziploc bag.
From there, the smoker takes the bag full of butts back to the retailer to receive a small refund (similar to the deposit returns you get from the Beer Store) and the retailer sends it for recycling.
But hang on, these entrepreneurial kids recognize that there are a few moving parts here to take this from idea to implementation. You can’t have an environmental stick without a proverbial carrot at the end of it.
They boys cite the need to get the manufacturers on board to equip cigarette packs with these built-in butt packs, and they need to have the smokers themselves be proactive in using this proposed solution.
During a presentation to the City Council members in late January 2016, they suggested that there be stronger enforcement on littering fines and to provide tax incentives to cigarette manufacturers to move their ‘butt pack” idea forward.
In their research phase, they boys spoke with Terra Cycle said the pack could in fact be 100% recyclable and were impressed with their initiative.
Their idea is so innovative that they came in first place at the Regional Qualifying Championship at Rick Hansen SS for the First Lego League Trash Trek competition. Not bad for a team of rookies!
They fared well at the provincial championships at the University of Waterloo and while they didn’t come in first place, their idea is aimed at taking care of our environment for generations to come.
Oh, and this is not a school project. It’s something they’ve undertaken on their own time with tremendous support from their families. There have been numerous hours of collaborative work put in, with many long meetings and through the entire process, the boys have definitely learned how to manage their synergy and maximize their efforts via a division of labour. The collaboration crossed borders as they worked with other teams in the US. Sudheer, from California, was very instrumental in guiding this team.
Here’s how they’ve split things up, according to their strengths:
Shaan Ahmed - Coordinator
Varun Ariyur - Programmer
Yashveer Chohan - Builder
Rahik Huq - Graphic designer
They’ve even created a logo which highlights their dedication towards teamwork.
In addition to family and community support, they’ve received plenty of support from Councillor Sue McFadden and are pursuing this idea with the Mississauga Department of the Environment.
Also, Mayor Bonnie Crombie, Councillor Matt Mahoney (chair of the Environment Committee) and Councillor Parrish thanked them for their work and sang their praises during the aforementioned presentation to Council members.
Presenting to the leaders of our city is no easy task but they pulled it off beautifully without using a teleprompter and only slightly referring to their notes, which further speaks to their dedication and professionalism at such a young age.
Simply being able to present their idea to City Council was a large leap forward for them and hopefully boosted awareness for their vision of a cleaner environment for everyone.
While their “butt pack” idea is in the early stages, there’s still a long road ahead to move from conceptualization to implementation. These four fantastic fellows realize that and are dedicated to keep their foot on the gas pedal.
Perpetuating change is never easy, regardless of age or the cause. Having an innovative mindset, determined work ethic and solid support definitely helps in every stage of this project.
There’s a bright future ahead for these young lads based on what they’ve already done.
They’re well spoken, smart and if the “butt pack” idea is foreshadowing for what’s ahead, who knows how high and far they’ll leap.