Crows are being recruited to pick up discarded cigarette butts from the streets and squares of a Swedish city as part of a cost-cutting drive.
The wild birds carry out the task as they receive a little food for every butt that they deposit in a bespoke machine designed by a startup in Södertälje, near Stockholm.
“They are wild birds taking part on a voluntary basis,” said Christian Günther-Hanssen, the founder of Corvid Cleaning, the company behind the method.
The Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation says that more than 1 billion cigarette butts are left on Sweden’s streets each year, representing 62% of all litter. Södertälje spends 20 million Swedish kronor on street cleaning.
Günther-Hanssen estimates his method could save at least 75% of costs involved with picking up cigarette butts in the city.
Södertälje is carrying out a pilot project before potentially rolling out the operation across the city, with the health of the birds being the key consideration given the type of waste involved.
New Caledonian crows, a member of the corvid family of birds, are as good at reasoning as a human seven-year-old, research has suggested, making them the smartest birds for the job.
Günther-Hanssen said: “They are easier to teach and there is also a higher chance of them learning from each other. At the same time, there’s a lower risk of them mistakenly eating any rubbish.
“The estimation for the cost of picking up cigarette butts today is around 80 öre [Swedish change] or more per cigarette butt, some say two kronor. 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.”
Tomas Thernström, a waste strategist at Södertälje municipality, said the potential of the pilot depended on financing.
“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. That’s an interesting thought,” he said