A 69-year-old granddad has collected 120,000 cigarette butts from the streets of a seaside resort so he can turn them into works of anti-smoking art.
Retired pharmacist Negweny El Assal uses up to 8,000 butts to create mosaic masterpieces carrying messages that warn against the nasty habit.
Assal spends his weekdays walking around the seaside resort of Blackpool, England to clear the streets of the plastic pollutant and encourage businesses to install cigarette disposal bins.
Assal says that he can typically pick up around 3,000 butts an hour. Since he started his voluntary clean-up mission three months ago, he has created around 50 works of art with anti-smoking and anti-littering messages.
Each creation takes him around a day to complete. Assal will secure each butt to his makeshift canvas by cutting them in half length-ways so it sits flat using toothpaste as glue.
“It can be very smelly working with cigarettes,” said Assal. “I always wear gloves.”
The married father-of-six and grandfather-of-four lives in Luxembourg and works in Blackpool from Monday to Friday for his company, Cigarette Waste Management Ltd. He said he chose Blackpool as the destination for his company because it’s an international tourist hotspot.
“I wanted to choose a place where I could make a real difference. Tourist destinations should be beautiful, they trade on their beauty,” said Assal.
“I also wanted to get my message out there to a lot of people. Blackpool has 11 to 13 million visitors a year and 20% of the British public visit here every year.
“When I go out I have my grabber in one hand and a basket in the other to collect all the cigarette butts. I also have a plastic bag to collect the rubbish as I go along.
“I also ask businesses if they will install a cigarette box so people can dispose of their tabs properly, and not on the floor.”
Disposable plastics are the biggest contributor to marine litter, with cigarette butts and filters being the most commonly found individual items.
“People do not realize that the filters are plastic; they think they are cotton,” says the Egyptian environmentalist. “This waste is often picked up by the seagulls here and used in their nests.
“The toxic tobacco at the end of a cigarette is filled with chemicals. It is not good for humans and it is not good for animals.
“If a person smokes past the filter they are smoking plastic. Tobacco companies tend to make filters smaller so smokers don’t smoke the plastic by accident, but that means more tobacco is discarded as waste, which is also dangerous.
“I hope to not only encourage stopping the litter but also stopping smoking.”
Assal is hoping his project could help meet stricter new European rules on the disposal of the plastic polluters. In the future, cigarette producers will have to pay for the clean-up of littered cigarette butts and for awareness-raising campaigns – and Assal’s pilot project in Blackpool could demonstrate to tobacco firms what can be done to tackle the problem.
His mission now is to open a gallery of his art to showcase his work and spread his message.
He also aims to give local businesses 1,400 wall-mounted disposal bins free of charge so smokers will be encouraged not to drop their used cigarettes on the ground.
“My target is to eliminate every cigarette butt from the streets of Blackpool and Blackpool will lead the world showing how it can be done,” says Assal.
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