The world is full of trash. Look around your local park and you’ll spot gum wrappers, plastic bottles, and crinkled up cans tossed carelessly aside. Cigarette butts they’re practically everywhere and essentially eternal. There are more than 4.5 trillion cigarette butts thrown on the ground around the world each year98 percent of these butts are made from plastics like cellulose acetate that take more than 10 years to break down. The cleanup of cigarette butts is difficult as they are dispersed across urban areas and can be moved into difficult to reach areas by wind and rain.

A Dutch startup has a unique yet cogent idea to this very problem. The startup is working on training crows to recognize and pick up cigarette butts that have been littered in the city streets and the parks.


Yes, you heard it right this startup called the Crowded Cities based out of Netherlands is using crows to get rid of cigarette butts. Essentially an autonomous training device, the Crowbar awards crows with food after they have delivered a cigarette butt into the receptacle.

Crows, on the other hand, are super-smart creatures, regularly pitted as being one of the most intelligent animals on the planet. In fact, some of their abilities rival that of 7-year-old children. Their sharp cognitive abilities make them incredibly talented problem solvers and relatively easy to train – ideal for this kind of mission.


The startup has finished working on the device and is ready to embark on its pilot project.

How does the device work?

The crow drops a cigarette butt into the device, the device, in turn, scans it. After it is confirmed that it is indeed a cigarette butt, the device gives the crow a food reward to reinforce the behavior.

This is done with the hope that the crow will fly away and inform other crows of this mechanism. As a result of which, many more crows will be involved in the system.

Here is the mechanism that the team has mentioned on their website 

  1. The crows bring a cigarette filter to the Crowbar, where they drop it into the bottom funnel to get it checked.

2) After the camera has recognized the cigarette filter as a filter, it returns a bit of food to the table in front of the crow.

3) The crow goes out telling the others, or keeps this secret to himself – we are not sure

The inspiration for Crowded Cities came when its founders, interaction designer Ruben van der Vleuten, and experiment designer Bob Spikman came across a man named Joshua Klein, who is teaching crows to collect coins.

The guys at Crowded Cities haven’t run any trials with the Crowbar yet but they’re pretty sure they know how it will work.

We think this initiative deserves an applause. This noteworthy idea might definitely help tackle pollution.

Share your opinion