Mike Roylos dislikes cigarette butt litter so intensely that he sold his Greek cafe in Monument Square in 2015 so he could focus his attention on growing a business aimed at cleaning up the streets.

In the past few years, the Sidewalk Buttler business has taken off well beyond its beginnings in Portland. His cigarette butt receptacles, which are fastened to street signs and light posts, are now in 26 states. And Roylos said he currently is working on fulfilling a 10,000-unit order for a cigarette company.

The “Buttler” is a cigarette butt receptacle that attaches to street signs and lamp posts. More than 200 units have been purchased by Portland area businesses. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Cigarette butts are a common form of litter that often end up in waterways, especially in coastal communities like Portland. The invention, originally designed as a plastic tube painted to look like a mustachioed butler in a bow tie and bowler hat, is credited with cleaning up Portland sidewalks. Now Roylos is seeking a more formal agreement with his hometown to take over maintenance of the original Buttler stations around Portland.

“It’s made a big difference,” said Tom Watson, whose Port Property Management has purchased about two dozen units and installed them near its downtown apartment complexes.

Watson also has noticed a difference outside his office in Longfellow Square, where a Buttler is installed. “There seems to be very few (butts) to none in front of the building,” he said.

Since launching a pilot program in 2013, Roylos has installed just over 200 Sidewalk Buttlers throughout the city. The cheeky butler design has been replaced with a more durable aluminum design. They cost about $99 each; the prototype was $39.

Mike Roylos holds a Sidewalk Buttler – a cigarette butt receptacle attached to about 200 street signs and light posts in Portland – while sitting on stacks of materials he uses to make them. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

The units have been largely sponsored by local businesses and environmental groups. The butts were originally collected by Roylos, who sent them to Terracycle in New Jersey so the plastic filters could be recycled into new plastic products.

Steve DiMillo Sr. bought about 53 units to install, mostly on Long Wharf. DiMillo said his company, which operates DiMillo’s On the Water restaurant, empties and services the units because they’re on private property.

“It kills me to see smokers flick their cigarette into the street,” DiMillo said. “We thought it was a cost-effective way for us to help the situation. There’s less cigarette butts on the property now.”

But now, a disagreement with the city could lead to the removal of some of the Buttlers installed on public property.

Roylos said he had an agreement with city officials that they would take over the emptying and servicing of the units on public property by using workfare participants who receive General Assistance from the city. But for the past two years he has been getting complaints about the units not being emptied and being in poor condition, with locks seized and collection tubes missing.

“The city has just reneged completely on their agreement,” Roylos said. “Portland is the only city we work with that has a problem.”

CITY GETS COMPLAINTS, TENSIONS RISE

City Manager Jon Jennings is looking to rein in the program, saying that except for the pilot program, there has never been a formal agreement with Roylos for the ongoing installation and maintenance of additional Buttlers. He has been receiving complaints from downtown businesses about the proliferation of the units. The city repeatedly has asked Roylos to stop installing the units on public property, he said.

“There was no follow-up” after the pilot program was launched, Jennings said. “And this gentleman has continued to go out and sell the Buttlers to businesses – and making money – and expecting the city to do the maintenance.”

Portland Downtown, a nonprofit business-district improvement group representing downtown business and property owners, purchased more than a dozen units during the pilot stage. Executive Director Casey Gilbert said the proliferation of units has led to a “lopsided” arrangement between Roylos, who is making money, and the city, which is expected to maintain the units.

“There are a myriad of issues that come into play, which include environmental concerns around cigarette waste, public health, and the negative externalities associated with the municipal government absorbing the expense of this program,” she said in an email. “While Portland Downtown does not have the final say, the outcome will absolutely affect our downtown public works team, our downtown property owners, and those who live, work and visit downtown.”

In March, Jennings sent a letter to Roylos proposing that the city take over units in the public way at no cost. The two sides planned to meet next month to discuss the details, but Jennings canceled the meeting after Roylos sent an email to councilors and the press with the subject line “Dismantling Sidewalk Buttler Program.”

Jennings said in an interview that the city will take over the units on public property beginning in May. He sent Roylos a list of about 60 units that need to be replaced because the locks don’t work or the units are missing key components. If that is not done by the end of May, Jennings said they will be removed.

“If we’re doing to do the maintenance, we’re going to oversee the program and limit the number of Buttlers in the public way,” he said.

Jennings said the city also plans to remove the units from public parks, where smoking is prohibited.

“There is a public benefit to this,” Jennings said, referring to cleaner city streets. “We appreciate everything Mr. Roylos has done for the city. But of course this got out of hand. We should have had better monitoring of this, and that’s what we’re doing now.”

BUSINESS GROWS OUTSIDE OF MAINE

The issues in Portland come as Roylos is expanding his presence nationally. He said his Buttlers are in 25 other states, including Oregon, South Carolina and Florida. Each community has its own system for emptying and maintaining the units, some of which have QR scan codes so groups can monitor usage, he said.

After being named Score Maine’s Best Green Small Business last year, Roylos said he was recruited by the Altria Group, the parent company of Philip Morris, to build 10,000 units for a national campaign. Those units are being produced in a new workspace in Scarborough.

Roylos is also one of 13 semifinalists for at $100,000 prize from Green Light Maine.

“Cities love what we’re doing because it gives them an opportunity to combat cigarette litter,” he said. “We give smokers the opportunity to not litter.”

Roylos said he plans to offer 60 additional units to his home city of Portland. But the donation would come with conditions – primarily that they only be used to replace the old plastic units or to increase the number of units on public ways.

“The end result will be a cleaner city, sidewalks and water,” he said. “Who is to find fault with that?”

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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