According to the Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation, 1 billion cigarette butts are discarded on the streets of Sweden every year. That’s about 96 cigarette butts per inhabitant. This waste accounts for 62% of all litter and collecting them involves an expense of SEK 20 million (€1.92 million). How to reduce costs and still keep the streets clean? By using trained crows.

As if it were a science fiction story, Corvid Cleaning, the company behind this peculiar method, proposes to use trained crows to pick up cigarette butts. The idea is, at heart, quite Pavlovian: for every cigarette butt collected, the bird gets food. The more butts, the more food.

Corvid Cleaning, a startup from Södertälje, near Stockholm, is going to conduct a pilot test before rolling out the program throughout the city. The reason, in addition to testing the effectiveness, is to take into account the health of the birds. After all, they are collecting cigarette butts.

Christian Günther-Hanssen, founder of the company, details that this system could save up to 75% of the costs associated with cigarette butt collection. Roughly speaking, the crows would pick up the cigarette butts and take them to a sort of depot developed by the company and then receive the reward.

The crows to be used will be the New Caledonian (Corvus Moneduloides). These crows have been the subject of study on several occasions due to their “intelligence” and ability to make tools from sticks and other objects. In fact, they are capable of making hooks to capture prey and have even been seen leaving nuts on city roads so that cars could break them as they pass by and, in this way, obtain the fruit.

In addition to this apparent ability to make and pick things up, the company’s founder claims that they are “easier to teach” and that there is also a “greater likelihood that they will learn from each other”. In any case, the success of the test will depend on the performance of the birds, how many butts they are able to pick up and, of course, on funding.

If the pilot proves successful in Södertälje, the idea is that it will become a permanent solution to complement the current cleaning solutions. If so, the ravens would start operating in the spring. This is not the first time such an idea has been put into action. Back in 2018, a similar test was conducted at a French amusement park with six crows trained to pick up cigarette butts and trash.


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