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UNEP and ATHOC help to kick the butts out of the Olympics

Nairobi/Athens, 14 August 2004 – Even though all venues at the 2004 Olympic Games have been declared smoke-free, the Olympic organizers and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will start distributing today some 40,000 portable paper ashtrays to those best equipped to spread the anti-cigarette message: the journalists.

As the competition begins in earnest, many of the 10,000 representatives of the international media will certainly feel the need to escape the International Broadcast Centre or the Main Press Centre for a smoke. The Organizing Committee and UNEP wanted to make sure they too are targeted in the large public awareness campaign on the environment currently under way in Greece.

“Cigarette smoking is a major public health problem worldwide. It is also an environmental issue,” said UNEP's Communications Director Eric Falt. “We certainly don't want to be seen as promoting smoking, but since we know it is not possible to stop all journalists from lighting up, we would like to make sure they do so in a way that will be less detrimental to the environment."

Every year an estimated 4.5 trillion (4,500,000,000,000) cigarette butts are discarded. As well as being an eyesore they are a significant pollutant. The residue in a cigarette filter contains a cocktail of toxic chemicals which generally find their way into the water supply, and eventually the seas oceans, once the butt has been discarded.

Cigarette butts contain thousands of compounds that can pollute the environment and are commonly found in the stomachs of birds, sea turtles and other marine creatures. They are also a persistent problem for parents of very young children who are often tempted to put them in their mouths.

The paper ashtrays, made of a lightly laminated but biodegradable paper, form the shape of a green cone once you open them. They have a small hole at the bottom to allow smaller particles of ash to escape, and can be covered by a lid bearing the slogan "Think Clean and Green."

Conceived by Greek inventor Costas Donos, the ashtray campaign was developed by the Department of Environment of the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee (ATHOC), led by Christina Theochari and George Kazantzopoulos, as a public information tool for a target audience particularly prone to smoking.

“This little gadget is a means to collect cigarette butts and other small litter, and therefore assist the citizens to behave in an ecologically friendly manner,” they said.

While recognizing that the ashtrays themselves could contribute to the generation of waste, they wanted to raise awareness among smokers and invite them to at least properly dispose of their cigarette butts, thus contributing to the protection of the environment.

Since the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have collaborated to ensure that the Olympic Games are smoke-free.

The paper ashtrays are sponsored by Cleaning and Waste Services (CWS), who are also collaborating with UNEP and ATHOC on a leaflet campaign highlighting recycling and environmental protection throughout the Games. The leaflets will be distributed in four major Greek newspapers during the first and second weekends of the Games.

Recycling is also the subject of television and radio adverts co-signed by UNEP and ATHOC that are airing during the Games. The ads are part of a campaign sponsored by Coca Cola to promote litter-free Olympic and Paralympic Games venues and reduce the amount of waste to be taken to landfills through waste separation at source. Colour-coded bins at the venues will encourage spectators to recycle their plastic and paper waste. The campaign started on 30 July and will continue until the end of the Paralympic Games. It will appear on all major Greek TV channels, and several radio stations.

As part of its Sport and the Environment Programme, UNEP signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ATHOC on 3 June 2004 to implement a series of public awareness activities.

Joint UNEP-ATHOC activities also include public awareness campaigns promoting recycling in Patras, in collaboration with the Municipality of Patras and the Hellenic Recycling Association, and in Thessaloniki, in collaboration with the local authorities association of the broader Thessaloniki area. In the municipality of Amaroussion, where the Olympic Stadium is located, olive trees have been given to 8,000 school pupils to plant and tend, and a bus stop poster covering 90 locations has been created that promotes recycling and a clean environment alongside sport as integral to a healthy life.

In addition, a series of separate public service announcements (PSAs) with environmental awareness messages have been shown on Greek television and the new Athens Metro, and at the Athens International Airport and the Goulandri Natural History Museum. All the PSAs have been co-signed by ATHOC, UNEP and the Athens Environmental Foundation (AEF), a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Greece and the United States.

For more information, please contact Eric Falt Spokesperson/Director of UNEP’s Division of Communications and Public Information, tel: +30 697 993 3623 or +254 (0)733 682 656; or through the Hilton Hotel, Athens, tel: +30 210 728 1000; e-mail: eric.falt@unep.org.

UNEP News Release 2004/38

NOTE TO EDITORS: UNEP signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Organizing Committee for the Athens 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games (ATHOC) on 2 June 2004 to collaborate on a series of environmental awareness raising activities throughout the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games. An anti-littering campaign, co-signed by UNEP and ATHOC, is currently being broadcast on Greek television and will continue in various forms throughout the Games. Brochures will be distributed at all venues to underline the connection between sport and the environment.

ATHOC has also agreed to prepare a compilation of ‘Environmental Challenges and Achievements’ of the Athens 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This will offer a detailed account of the environmental perspective of all aspects of the Games, including specific assessments for the various venues.

UNEP and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) signed a Cooperative Agreement in 1994 in which both organizations agreed to promote environmental considerations in sport events of the Olympic Movement. As a result, UNEP is represented on the IOC Sport and Environment Commission, which meets regularly to review environmental issues as they relate to the Olympic Games and to advise the IOC Executive Board on environmental issues. UNEP also supports the organization of the biennial IOC World Conference on Sport and Environment and regional seminars on sport and environment.

UNEP has developed an active Sport and Environment Programme since 1994 to promote the links between sport and the environment. In February 2003 the UNEP Governing Council adopted a long-term strategy on sport and the environment, which seeks to further reinforce UNEP’s work in this field. The strategy also seeks to strengthen partnerships with sports organizations and federations, and specifically requests UNEP to initiate cooperation with Olympic host cities. As a result of the adoption of the strategy, UNEP has signed agreements with the Athens 2004 Olympic Organizing Committee and the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics Organizing Committee. In addition, UNEP is currently discussing a possible agreement with the Beijing 2008 Olympic Organizing Committee.

To learn more about UNEP’s work on sport and the environment, please visit http://www.unep.org/sport_env

A fact sheet on cigarette butts and the environment, which includes links to further information, is available from Clean Up Australia, the parent organization of Clean Up the World . Clean Up the World was started in 1993 with UNEP seed money and a mission to promote and facilitate positive environmental action on a global scale. It has grown to become one of the largest community-based environmental projects in the world, inspiring an estimated 40 million participants from more than 100 countries each year to clean up and conserve their local environment. UNEP is Clean Up the World’s primary partner, helping with policy, advocacy and publicity, with Clean Up the World focusing on community-based practical action.

Clean Up Australia cigarette butt fact sheets:






Further Resources

Clean Up Australia cigarette butt fact sheets
Cigarette butts and the Environment (PDF)


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