An enormous quantity of cigarettes is sold each year—6.5 trillion. Around 18 billion every day.
After smoking, a cigarette's paper wrapping burns and comes apart, but the filters, popularly known as stubs or butts, are left behind littered on the streets. According to reported estimates, only a third manages to reach the dustbin.
These cigarette filters are made up of cellulose acetate, a substance similar to plastic, and can take years to decompose. When they do, the waste degrades into microplastics carrying toxic materials. When tossed irresponsibly, such waste often ends up polluting biodiversity.
In India, the concern is amplified due to the absence of awareness of its adverse environmental impacts and the lack of a proper mechanism to treat such toxic waste.
Code Effort Private Ltd, a start-up based in Uttar Pradesh's Noida, has come up with an innovative method to upcycle all that is left after a cigarette has been smoked, to create products ranging from cushions to soft toys. Through its sustainable efforts, the organisation is also providing employment to a number of people.
Naman Gupta, the founder, took note of the potential pollution due to the mounting cigarette butts lying on the road while he was in college. He also witnessed his friends dumping them carelessly instead of the bins. The butts would then end up in landfills without being segregated or treated.
"Cigarette butts were invented in 1960- 1970 as a promotional feature by the cigarette manufacturers which was later made mandatory due to various reasons. The filter (cellulose acetate) is a type of plastic that has multiple uses. In India, no specific guidelines or regulations are available for appropriate cigarette waste management and recycling. Also, there was no cigarette waste management and recycling organization before our inception in 2018. Code Effort Pvt Limited, established in the year 2018, has built a reputation of being a leading cigarette waste management and recycling industry in India providing end-to-end solution in the field of cigarette waste recycling and manufacturing various by-products such as handicrafts, home décor, mosquito repellents, soft toys, etc," Naman told The Logical Indian.
The team started distributing a cigarette waste collection bin called VBin to the street vendors and paan shops. They also offered an amount in exchange for cigarette waste.
Additionally, to ensure a continuous supply of raw material, they obtain the rejected products from tobacco manufacturers.
Speaking about the process to treat the waste, he said, "The procured cigarette butts are separated into three categories i.e. cellulose acetate, paper covering and leftover tobacco manually with necessary precautionary measures like gloves, masks and thread cutters in place for the workers.
The cellulose acetate is shredded by an industrial shredder, treated using a biodegradable chemical composition for 24- 36 hours, carded by carding machine to enhance fibre softness after a thorough quality check and manufactured into various premium by-products sold under the brand name of VMAKE (Vision Make) like handicrafts, cushions, mattresses and soft toys."
"The wastewater that is generated after treatment of cellulose acetate is further recycled using certified chemicals for usage in further batches. The paper covering and the leftover tobacco are shredded into pulp by an industrial shredder, formulated into A5 sheets and hand-cut into 25x30 mm mosquito repellents sold under the brand name of NMOSQ (No Mosquito) for domestic use," the social entrepreneur added.
"All the by-products from the organisation are prepared and packed by a team of more than semi-skilled women to foster women empowerment and work- from- home opportunities."
A staggering 250 million cigarette butts have been recycled so far by Naman's team.
On his journey ahead, Naman said, "We take all the struggles that come our way as opportunities in order to learn and grow. Our cause of cigarette waste management and recycling is a diamond in the rough. All the struggles like lack of awareness, irregular waste management/ collection system, financial turmoil, unavailability of resources and guidance, etc. play an integral role in our journey, achievements, experience and success so far."