Crows Trained to Pick up Cigarette Butts

    Photo: Eric Isselée

    A Swedish company is deploying crows to pick up discarded cigarette butts from the streets and squares of a town near Stockholm as part of a cost-cutting drive, reports The Guardian.

    The wild birds receive a little food for every butt that they deposit in a customized machine.

    Christian Günther-Hanssen, the founder of Corvid Cleaning, the company behind the method, estimates that his method could save at least 75 percent of the costs associated with picking up cigarette butts in the city.

    More than 1 billion cigarette butts are left on Sweden’s streets each year, representing 62 percent of all litter, according to The Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation says that. Södertälje spends SEK 20 million ($2.19 million) on street cleaning.

    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.

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

    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.