Cigarette trash is the worst kind of rubbish. You find it everywhere – lining sidewalks, clogging gutters and messing up homes and offices. But we seem to know little about what do with it, either binning it into ashtrays or junking it into dustbins.
Still fewer people actually know that cigarette waste – especially the cigarette filter or butt – is a huge environmental hazard. Cigarette butts are the most littered item around the world, and it is estimated that 4.5 trillion cigarette filters become waste every year. Made up of a polymer called cellulose acetate, it can take anywhere from 18 months to 10 years to fully decompose. A study, in fact, revealed that a single smoked butt put in a litre of water is sufficient to kill both marine and freshwater fish in that water.
Now, a Noida-based company has found a way to recycle these unwelcome discards, in an environment-friendly manner, even paying people to hand over their smoked cigarettes. The endeavour called Code is the brainchild of Naman Gupta and Vishal Kant – friends who first got the idea at a party where there were too many cigarette stubs strewn all over the place, making them wonder what could be done about it.
Soon, the duo was doing chemistry experiments at home, trying to figure out the ‘right formula’ for a chemical that would treat cigarette waste. “We had our share of mishaps figuring it out. There were a few mini explosions, and episodes of pressure cookers that burst,” Gupta says. The duo, however, hit jackpot in July this year.
Now, they regularly collect cigarette waste from their customers and recycle every component of what they receive, from the paper to the ash. The filter is first treated with the chemical made by them, and the treated polymer is sent to Bureau of Indian Standards, before being shipped off to make things like cushions, stuffed toys and bean bags. The paper and leftover tobacco are converted into compost. The ash collected, will be used to make fly ash bricks, once Gupta says, they have enough of it (They have only 300 gm currently and therefore unable to do much with it).
In the last two months, the company has got around 35 kg of cigarette waste, receiving 15 kilograms in the last 20 days alone.
The process of collecting the waste too is simple. Once a request for selling waste is known, the company provides the users a steel bin to collect cigarette trash, in exchange for a deposit of 99 rupees for a 3 month period. Their customers include both homes and offices, as well as panwadis. The company pays Rs ₹800 rupees for every kilogram of waste, and ₹80 for every 100 grams. At the end of the 3 month period, the company also refunds the ₹99 amount collected from the users.
Having already set up a facility in Noida, the two friends are now planning to expand their reach. “We are already collecting waste from Noida and Gurgaon area, and the response has been tremendous. Initially, people were sceptical about the whole idea, wondering why we were asking them for cigarette stubs of all things. But now they see what we are trying to do. That they are receiving payments on time has also helped establish trust,” Gupta says.
The endeavour by no means endorses people to smoke or take up smoking. “In India, we keep talking about cleaning the environment or curbing air pollution, but we haven’t even initiated a conversation around cigarette waste. We just want to address this issue through our company, and do something good for the environment in return,” Gupta adds.