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A company in Sweden is training crows to pick up and dispose of cigarette butts because humans don't

The city of Södertälje in Sweden spends 2 million dollars) on cleaning its streets alone. Corvid Cleaning hopes to change that with its pilot program.

A company in Sweden is training crows to pick up and dispose of cigarette butts because humans don't
Image Source: chris-mueller / Getty Images

Corvid Cleaning, a company based in Södertälje, Sweden, recently launched a program to recruit and train crows in the city to pick up cigarette butts and dispose of them properly. For every butt a crow is able to throw out into a bespoke machine designed by the firm, it receives a little food in return. According to the Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation, more than 1 billion cigarette butts are left on Sweden’s streets each year, representing 62 percent of all litter. The city of Södertälje spends 20 million Swedish kronor (approximately 2 million dollars) on cleaning its streets alone, The Guardian reports.


Christian Günther-Hanssen, the founder of Corvid Cleaning, stated, "They are wild birds taking part on a voluntary basis." He estimates that the program could save the city at least 75 percent of the costs involved with picking up cigarette butts in Södertälje. "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," he explained. "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."


Prior to potentially rolling out the method across the city, authorities are carrying out a trial in order to test the project's effectiveness. The health of the birds involved in the pilot will be the key consideration, particularly given the type of waste involved. Research has suggested that New Caledonian crows, a member of the corvid family of birds, are as good at logical reasoning as a human seven-year-old. This makes them some of the smartest birds for Corvid Cleaning's new project. 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."


Nonetheless, the pilot program's potential will depend entirely on financing, revealed Tomas Thernström, a waste strategist at Södertälje municipality. "It would be interesting to see if this could work in other environments as well," he shared. "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." While municipal authorities and Günther-Hanssen himself are excited about the project, some have expressed concerns.


Many believe humans should be held responsible for the little they create, rather than relying on animals in order to ensure their surroundings are kept clean. However, this is not the first time animals have been deployed to clean up after humans. In the year 2018, the Puy du Fou theme park in the west of France also taught crows to pick up cigarette butts and other small pieces of litter in return for food. The idea reportedly originated from the park’s falconry display, where falcons were trained to pick up roses and deliver them to a "princess" in a castle. Nicolas de Villiers, head of the park, said at the time that it was also about showing "that nature can teach us to take care of the environment." Still, to many, such training seems like exploitation.


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