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Student entrepreneurs juggle education and environmentally conscious business

Cigarette Butts by Marta Kierkus

Only 11 months after developing a project for an Ottawa entrepreneurship competition, a team of U of O students led by Kathleen Kemp are watching their business take over the city’s streets.

Kemp is in her fourth year of a degree in commerce specializing in management at the Telfer School of Management. She developed the project alongside her classmate Ajmal Sataar and recent Telfer grad Adam Tomaszewski.

CigBins aims to limit the harmful environmental impacts of discarded cigarette butts. The toxins left in discarded cigarette butts pollute by leaking into soil and waterways. The butts are not biodegradable because they contain cellulose acetate.

It’s estimated that 15 per cent of the Ottawa population are smokers, and those smokers generate roughly 2.6 million cigarette butts daily.

The company installs bins for people to throw out their cigarette butts, and the bins are emptied by staff hired through the organization Causeway Work Centre, an organization that provides opportunities for those living with mental illness.

After creating the project for the HUB Ottawa three-day competition Launch Some Good, which encourages students to work on a business idea to solve a social or environmental issue, Kemp’s team collaborated with the Vanier Business Improvement Area and City Hall to bring their invention to the streets.

The trio also received a grant from the Just Change organization and another from the U of O’s Wes Nicol Entrepreneurship Competition.

The launch of CigBins saw the attendance of Mayor Jim Watson and some members of city council.

“Jim Watson believes that CigBins is going to be a national success story, which is really exciting to hear,” says Kemp.

She says running the business while in university is a challenge.

“As a student, it’s already challenging juggling your job with school as well as a personal life,” Kemp says. “Being able to maintain decent marks while operating a fully functioning business has definitely been the biggest challenge.” But she reminds students that with enough drive and passion, it is doable. “You learn to time-manage and prioritize quite quickly,” she says. “This business is pretty much my life, and I wouldn’t do it unless I was truly passionate about it.”

CigBins have been set up on McArthur Avenue, Beechwood Avenue, and Montreal Road. Kemp says the plan is to expand further throughout Ottawa, then eventually into the rest of Ontario and then across Canada.