You can learn a lot about a city from what you pick up off its sidewalks.

Yesterday, I learned about cigarette butts.

The Downtown Halifax Business Commission was putting on its annual Clean Sweep event, so I donned my green cape and makeshift mask and spent the morning picking up trash with some of my Metro Halifax colleagues.


(I don’t often tie pantyhose around my head before 6 p.m. on a weekday, but there were prizes for costumes).

There were 20 teams from several companies and foundations. Some of the more interesting trashy treasures included a shopping cart, a few uprooted street signs and a decades-old German magazine. Underwear was also surprisingly popular.

Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed that I only got cigarette butts. But even butts tell a story.

There were butts of all shapes and sizes, ages, textures and tastes. There were cigarillos and cigars. On the sidewalks in front of the banks along George Street, we found the remainders of a few joints and an empty bottle of Southern Comfort. A sign of the tough economic times, I guess.

But butts haven’t changed with the times, at least according to Paul MacKinnon. He has been head of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission for about half of their 15 clean-up events.

“The sidewalk is about the only place that you can smoke, so we’ve actually seen (the number of) cigarette butts do nothing but rise over the years,” he said.

“I think most people that smoke and just toss their cigarettes on the ground don’t think that they’re littering.”

According to MacKinnon, cleaning up downtown is about making a good impression. If Halifax doesn’t make a good impression to visitors, then it won’t bring in business from away.

And if Halifax can’t bring in that business, then I guess we may be picking up joints and cheap booze outside the banks for years to come.

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