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Since last June, Svendsen has picked up 58,427 cigarette butts. In the previous 12 months, he picked up almost 60,000.

Rochelle Olson , Star Tribune

Maplewood man who picks up smokers' refuse gets St. Paul award

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON
  • Star Tribune
  • April 24, 2012 - 10:45 PM

Every morning, Roger Svendsen can be found in the gutters, on the sidewalks and under park benches at Lake Phalen.

Snow or shine, he walks the lake near his Maplewood home picking up cigarette butts, counting as he goes.

Since starting a new collection year on June 15, Svendsen has picked up 58,427 butts. He's ahead of his pace for the previous 12 months, when he collected 59,844.

"It's my tobacco addiction, picking them up," Svendsen said.

Svendsen, 68, will be one of 10 individuals and groups honored by Mayor Chris Coleman Wednesday with a 2012 Sustainable St. Paul Award.

Svendsen won in the "clean-up and beautification" category. The semi-retired state Department of Health addiction specialist used to collect garbage but turned to butts after learning they flush into lakes and harm wildlife.

The aching in his knees after he ran a 2001 marathon led Svendsen to slow to a walk, which led to picking up trash around his beloved lake, and now butt collecting.

Since 1979, he's lived in a Maplewood house from which he can see Lake Phalen. He's hoping that publicity from winning the award will get some smokers to stop dumping butts into the streets, sidewalks and lawns.

"I just don't want them to get in the water," Svendsen said.

He wears gloves and carries a plastic bag while collecting, then donates the butts to anti-smoking campaigns.

"Somebody said once I got more DNA than the FBI does," he said, referring to genetic material from smokers' lips left on the butts.

After a man pulled out of a parking spot early Tuesday morning, Svendsen strode over to where he had been parked. "I think he was smoking," he said, then bent over to grab a butt. "It's a fresh one."

Svendsen tried smoking himself one week in college, but quit after his father told him: "If you're going to smoke, you can pay for your own college."

He still works part time and on Tuesday he flew to the Red Lake Indian Reservation for chemical dependency training. Wednesday he is scheduled to go to Rochester to talk to lawyers about gambling.

"I'm trying to retire," Svendsen said. "Then I'll be full-time butt man."

Other winners who will be honored Wednesday: former Park and Recreation director Bob Piram for his leadership in water quality as manager and president of the Capitol Region Watershed District; Youth Outdoors/Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa that engages poor urban youth in conservation; District Energy St. Paul for integrating a large-scale solar thermal array near downtown; Baldinger Bakery for building a new headquarters to the highest environmental standards; Val Cunningham, a bird advocate; Patricia James for bringing a rain garden to St. Anthony Park, replacing a sloped alley that had heavy runoff; Home Energy Squads, a program from Xcel Energy that makes homes more energy efficient; East Side Neighborhood Development Co. for providing energy assistance to businesses along Payne Avenue and Arcade Street; Jim Giebel, the city's energy coordinator.

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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