In Södertälje near Stockholm crows are being trained to pick up cigarette butts that are littering the streets. This is a persistent waste problem and the crows are being recruited and rewarded with a small amount of food for every butt they deposit in a bespoke machine. Read more about the crows which are ‘paid’ to pick up cigarette litter in Sweden.
These intelligent birds are putting humans to shame by picking up street litter. The method is part of a pilot project by The Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation. “They are wild birds taking part on a voluntary basis,” said Christian Günther-Hanssen, the founder of Corvid Cleaning, the company behind the method.
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Some studies suggest that crows could be the smartest animals on the planet besides primates with a level of reasoning equal to a seven-year-old. “They were chosen for the job precisely because of their intelligence,” Gunther-Hanssen told Swedish news agency TT. He estimates his method could save at least 75% of costs involved with picking up cigarette butts in the city.
And it isn’t the first time crows have helped with a waste problem. In 2018, the Puy du Fou theme park in the west of France taught crows to pick up cigarette butts and other small pieces of litter in return for food.
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The wild birds are being trained through a step-by-step process. “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,” says Gunther-Hanssen.
He adds, “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. 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.” He estimates the use of crows could save Södertälje, which currently spends 20 million Swedish kroner (£1,601,518) on street cleaning, at least 75 per cent of costs.