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Crows may soon be Sweden’s newest litter pickers

A Swedish startup is training wild crows to pick up cigarette butts and other small pieces of litter. Their method will soon be ready for testing in the city of Södertälje.

Crows may soon be Sweden's newest litter pickers
Meet Södertälje municipality's potential new litter pickers: crows. Photo: Christian Günther-Hanssen/Corvid Cleaning/TT

The wild crows can be trained through a step-by-step learning process. The birds can learn to pick up litter by placing it in to a machine which dispenses food.

“They’re wild birds taking part on a voluntary basis,” said Christian Günther-Hanssen, founder of the company behind the method, Corvid Cleaning, to Swedish newswire TT.

The company chose to use crows as they are the most intelligent bird, Günther-Hanssen told TT.

“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,” he said.

Over a billion cigarette butts are left on Sweden’s streets each year, and they represent 62 percent of all litter, according to the Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation.

Now, the method is ready for large-scale testing. A potential pilot project is being investigated in Södertälje municipality, where crows will help pick up litter.

“It depends on whether we can find a place in Södertälje which will work with the food dispenser, and then if there are opportunities for financing,” Tomas Thernström, waste strategist at Södertälje municipality, told TT.

Similar schemes have been trialled in other countries in the past, such as this story from 2018 about crows helping to keep a French theme park clean and tidy.

Günther-Hanssen believes that the scheme could save the municipality at least 75% of costs involved with picking up cigarette butts, depending on how many the crows collect.

“The estimation for the cost of picking up cigarette butts today is around 80 öre or more per cigarette butt, some say 2 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”.

If the pilot project works in Södertälje municipality, the hope is that the results could end in a permanent solution which could be used in the rest of the country to complement current cleaning solutions.

If it’s possible, they would like to get going this spring, Thernström said.

“It would be interesting to see if this could work in other environments as well. Also from the perspective that we can teach crows to pick up cigarette butts but we can’t teach people not to throw them on the ground. That’s an interesting thought,” said Thernström.

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  1. I’m wondering about the ethical implications of asking nature to directly shoulder even more responsibility for our disrespect of the environment? Of course we should be asking people not to throw these on the ground. Any savings the city makes needs to be funneled into education to prevent this cycle. I also don’t want to see a whole generation of crows become reliant on trash picking for food. This is genius as a nevel method to solve the problem, but it isn’t a natural behavior or environmentaly sustainable system~ :/

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