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A Dutch Company Is Training Crows to Clean Up Cigarette Butts
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A Dutch Company Is Training Crows to Clean Up Cigarette Butts

Picture of Tom Coggins
Updated: 11 October 2017
A Dutch start-up has unveiled a brand new way to decrease the number of cigarettes butts littering city streets, which involves training crows to collect and deposit discarded filters into special containers.

According to the company in question, Crowded Cities, around six billion cigarettes are thrown onto the street in the Netherlands every year. Not only are cigarette butts literally everywhere, but they are also notoriously difficult to clean up and take around 10 years to break down if they aren’t disposed of properly. This issue effects every city in the world to varying degrees and even though many municipalities have attempted to remedy the situation through various means, this type of littering is still a huge problem.

© Crowded Cities

Instead of looking towards human intervention, the people at Crowded Cities realised that it might be easier to employ urban crows to clean up after absentminded smokers. These pervasive, black birds are among the smartest members of the animal kingdom and studies have shown that they possess advanced problem solving skills and are even able to wield basic, beak-sized tools. In fact, training crows to perform certain tasks is surprisingly easy, as the birds respond particularly well to reward systems.

© Crowded Cities

To train the crows, Crowded Cities have created a device called the CrowBar, based on a similar open-source design developed by American inventor Joshua Klein. This machine is fully automated and dispenses food onto a small table when crows place cigarette butts into a funnel shaped shoot. As this clever system only works when the birds return with discarded cigarettes, it effectively teaches them to scour for filters whenever they need an easy meal. Although Crowded Cities have already completed the CrowBar, they are still conducting research and will hopefully test out the product in an urban environment in the near future.

© Crowded Cities