Beco park – the first smoke-free park in Brussels?

In the heart of Brussels, a new 600m long park is being developed – Beco park. Many children and adults will find joy in playing, doing sports and exercising, walking and resting there. Since it will be a brand new park, it is also the perfect opportunity to explore new horizons and make it a smoke-free park. The park’s rainwater drainage system is directly connected to the canal, thus, we want to avoid it becoming a highway for cigarette butts to end up in the aquatic environment. 

Out of the 18 billion cigarettes sold each day, 12 billion are thrown into the environment after consumption – that’s two-thirds of the total! Smokers persist in littering their cigarette butts on the ground. One could say that this is the last form of tolerated littering. Worldwide, cigarette butts are the most commonly discarded item in the environment, and many people are still unaware that cigarette filters are made of plastic. A single cigarette butt can pollute up to 500 liters of water, so you can imagine the impact 12 billion makes. Studies have shown that the substances released from these cigarette butts, such as nicotine, arsenic, and heavy metals, are particularly harmful to aquatic life.

The direct connection of the water drain to the canal is a good thing because rainwater does not belong in the sewers. If all rainwater were managed and redirected by means other than sewers, it would not overflow into the waterways of the city, thus avoiding the biggest pollution factor. The ideal would be to help smokers quit smoking, no more health problems and pollution of the environment. But in the mean time on our way there we must try to prevent the pollution that results from it. A nice option is to make sure no one smokes in the park. In this way, we prevent the cigarette butts from ending up in the canal, carried away by the water or the wind. Once in the canal, it is indeed impossible to recover them and they end up in the sea where they continue to pollute the environment for 10 years, unless aquatic animals mistake them for food and swallow them. We pollute the oceans that we use as a source of food – so we eat our own waste and toxic substances.

Let’s face it, the idea of a smoke-free park isn’t that extreme. Some will no doubt find that this is a drastic solution, but they already exist elsewhere – in Paris, since 2019, in Strasbourg or even in Mechelen. In New Zealand, they have gone as far as imposing a life-ban on the sale of cigarettes to young people who are now 14 years-old and younger. In Australia, electronic cigarettes are no longer allowed except with a doctor’s prescription and without the various flavours and colours.

The damage to health – not only of the smokers themselves but also of other people – is well established. Thanks to the targeted prohibition in certain places, children will have less contact with this bad example and will start smoking later on. In the Beco Park, many children will come to play in the sandpit, on the swings or on the lawn. Isn’t it normal to make sure no one smokes around them? Doesn’t everyone prefer to avoid having their child find a cigarette butt in the sand to suck on?

In 2020, Pieter and Cécile from Canal It Up tried to launch the debate around tobacco-free parks by installing anonymous no-smoking signs on all the entrance gates of the Parc de Bruxelles. People wondered who put up those signs, the press talked about the occurrence and so the debate begun. The City of Brussels invited them to come and explain their actions and their idea to the aldermen concerned. They were pleasantly surprised by their cautiously positive attitude. Unfortunately, nothing concrete has been put in place since then and, three years later, Brussels still does not have a single tobacco-free park. What a missed opportunity, especially since the city must incur significant expenses each year for the collection of cigarette butts in its parks.

Smoking kills, costs a fortune in healthcare bills, and in addition, plastic filters with their harmful substances contribute to the disastrous environmental pollution we face today. Throwing cigarette butts on the ground must become unacceptable and children must be protected from the harmful consequences of cigarettes. Tobacco-free parks are a first step in the right direction.