06/17/2013 10:28 EDT | Updated 08/17/2013 05:12 EDT

10-cent cigarette butt deposits proposed for B.C.

A group in Vancouver's West End is petitioning the province to implement a deposit on cigarette butts — a system that would return a 10-cent deposit for every butt turned in.

On Sunday, during Vancouver's Car Free Day, members of the West End Cleanup group ran a pilot project that gave up to 10 cents per butt or $20 a pound. Within half an hour, they gave away more than $200 in refunds.

"I think that cigarette butt litter is a terrible thing for our city, and I’m glad to see a recycling program getting started with it," said West End resident John Zolotared.

Zolotared collected more than 300 cigarette butts in five minutes on Denman Street on Sunday.

"I really hope this recycling program becomes an actual thing so that smokers can rethink where they put their butts."

Cigarette filters contain cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that isn’t biodegradable and can take up 10 years to decompose. The toxins inside are detrimental to marine life and other animals, who sometimes mistake the butts for food.

"They’re toxic, they're toxic as hell," Zolotared said.

"I'm a smoker myself, but I wouldn't want the stuff I'm putting in my lungs dumped into the environment."