Saturday, May 12, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas is a cigarette butts mecca for Ken Beckstead, a California man who recently moved to the valley, bringing with him a pointy shaped steel box thoughtfully designed for disposing of used cigarettes, though the contraption seems visually more suitable for an alien space craft. However, what Beckstead hopes to do with the discarded smoke sticks is certainly futuristic.
“I have to get Caesars Palace, MGM Grand and the Station Casinos on board and to save their cigarette butts,” the 48-year-old said. “I can take them to a waste-to-energy plant and generate electricity from them — something that would otherwise be thrown away.”
Butts Only Boxes are brightly painted, locked boxes shaped to withstand strong winds and rain. Nearly 100 boxes of various sizes, including roadside and trail-size versions, have been placed in California highway rest stops among other high traffic areas.
“Nobody has ever put an ashtray on the side of the freeway before,” an enthusiastic Beckstead said. “I’m working on a golf cart model.”
About 11 years ago, Beckstead — who started off in construction and has a background in storm water pollution prevention — decided to create an environmentally conscious ashtray.
The roadside boxes are $980 and the trail models start at $265. They are designed solely for disposing of cigarettes and have a fenced opening that prevents people from placing their hands inside.
“It seems like such an (elegant) design that it could work,” said Kevin Eubanks, assistant general manager for the Clark County Regional Flood Control District.
Beckstead met with Eubanks and other members of the Regional Flood Control District Stormwater Quality Management Committee this week to show off his Butts Only Boxes and another one of his inventions — the Gutter Critter.
Gutter Critters are fish-shaped sandbags designed for household use. They can be placed in gutters to prevent trash from entering storm drains while washing a car, RV or boat.
Eubanks was intrigued by both inventions.
There might be some interest among committee members to get some state grants to run a pilot program with the Butts Only Boxes, Eubanks said. The committee will meet again June 12 and plans to revisit the topic.
“It’s really important here in Las Vegas that we keep pollutants out of Las Vegas wash, because it drains to Lake Mead,” Eubanks said. “Lake Mead is where we play and it’s also where we draw our drinking water.”
Eubanks said that about 5 percent of the water that runs into the lake annually is unfiltered storm water and that cigarette butts “hasn’t been identified as a huge problem," though anything that can be done to reduce pollution would be worth considering, he added.
“I have a passion for preserving the environment for us and future generations and wildlife,” said Beckstead, a nonsmoker who enjoys fishing, boating and being outdoors.
Beckstead’s love for the environment is matched by his dislike of smoke.
“I’ve sacrificed everything I’ve acquired for the last 30 years to get this far,” said Beckstead, who grew up on a humble avocado ranch in Escondido, Calif.
He hopes his product takes off and will stop people from littering cigarette butts, which carry toxins and take years to breakdown.
A cigarette butt can take anywhere from 18 months to 10 years to degrade, said Christine Flowers, executive director of Keep California Beautiful, an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful.
“This is a huge environmental cost,” Flowers said. “It’s the most littered item.”
Butts are made from a plastic known as cellulose acetate, not paper as many people believe, Flowers said.
Funds from the national organization went to pay for the program that put Butts Only Boxes at high-traffic rest stops throughout California, stretching from stops near San Francisco down to San Diego and 26 miles west of the Nevada-California boarder.
According to Beckstead, his Butts Only Boxes have collected more than 90 pounds of cigarette butts, which is about 250,000 butts.
Eubanks said all the cigarette butts add up, especially with the millions of people who live in or are visiting the valley.
“I invented this product for this town,” said Beckstead, adding that he hopes to find a local manufacturer to cut and shape his boxes.
“It just sounded like a good idea,” Eubanks said. “It seems like a no-brainer.”