PORTLAND, Maine — Thanks to a new initiative spearheaded by a city businessman, cigarette butts discarded in downtown Portland will have future lives as park benches, railroad ties and shipping pallets.

Portland businessman Mike Roylos has put a lot of effort into getting cigarette butts off the city sidewalks, and on Thursday, he saw his efforts pick up another momentum boost.

The city and downtown business sponsors announced they would expand upon Roylos’ pilot Buttler program, for which he initially put up seven of the cylindrical cigarette receptacles around the city about a year ago.

Just before Thursday’s announcement, the city and its partners agreed to grow that number to between 65-70 citywide. And Roylos said he hopes the project can be expanded nationwide after other municipalities see its success in Portland.

“We can’t take credit for this one,” said Cheryl Leeman, who recently ended a 30-year run on the Portland City Council and, as a councilor, corresponded with Roylos about his idea. “Mike deserves the credit — he put his money where his mouth is and made this happen.”

Roylos, who made and distributed the first seven Buttlers himself as what he called a “proof of concept,” said each of the receptacles gathered enough cigarettes over the last year to fill a five-gallon bucket.

Amplified across the larger rollout, that could mean as many as 47 cubic feet of cigarettes will be removed from the city sidewalks over the course of the next year.

“They are not ashtrays,” said Sarah Lakeman of the Natural Resources Council of Maine during a Thursday afternoon news conference in Monument Square. “They are attractive cigarette butt bins. They’ve been placed in the city in locations where the most cigarette butts have been found, to give smokers the opportunity to do the right thing with their butts.”

The Buttler project comes on the heels of several previous efforts to combat Portland’s cigarette litter problem. In 2012, the City Council changed its ordinance to clarify that cigarette butts do qualify as litter, and as such, people caught flicking smokes onto public property can be fined for as much as $100.

In 2013, the council added 36 city parks and open spaces to a 5-year-old list of public properties — such as playgrounds and beaches — where smoking is banned. That same year, Roylos, owner of the Monument Square eatery Spartan Grill, drew media coverage for announcing a bounty on cigarette butts, offering to pay a nickel for every littered butt people turned in to him.

During a news conference near his business on Thursday afternoon, Roylos said that after receiving 26,000 cigarette butts, the bounty became too expensive.

“We had to figure out a better way to do this,” he said.

So he turned his attention to developing the Buttlers, which were similar to receptacles used successfully in cigarette-cleanup campaigns in cities such as Toronto.

Once a Buttler has been filled with cigarettes, an internal cylinder can be removed from the device and emptied into a box — housed in another Roylos invention, a reconfigured file cabinet on wheels.

Once the box is full, it is shipped free of charge to the New Jersey-based TerraCycle, which will use the tobacco to make compost and turn the plastics in the butts to pellets for use producing items such as park benches, shipping pallets and railroad ties, according to Lakeman.

The Buttlers are fastened to the sides of light posts and other downtown infrastructure and will be largely maintained by participants in the city’s workfare program, in which General Assistance recipients take on city work as part of their aid agreement.

The Buttlers cost about $59 apiece for Roylos to assemble, he said. Troy Moon, environmental programs manager for the city of Portland, said the city spent about $200 as its contribution to the effort to buy between 65-70 of the receptacles, and the rest of the money came from sponsoring businesses, nonprofits and Portland Downtown District members.

While previous Buttlers sported different aesthetic designs — one involved decorating the cylinders like moustachioed butlers — the blue-green look with white text was developed by The Brand Company.

Cigarettes represent as much as 38 percent of all roadside litter, said Moon.

“People who wouldn’t even think about dropping a coffee cup or a candy wrapper on the ground will, for some reason, just go ahead and flick a cigarette butt,” Moon said.

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.