A Noida-based company is recycling cigarette waste right from the paper and filter to ash and tobacco. Started by two friends in their twenties, the company is fighting a huge environmental hazard. This is how!
You smoke a cigarette, ensure that the butt is fully extinguished, and proceed to throw it in the dustbin (the responsible ones amongst us) or on the streets (everyone else). Ever thought about what happens after that? Does the butt decompose? Does anyone recycle it? Or does it end up polluting water bodies and clogging drains? Not many who smoke realise that a cigarette butt is made of cellulose acetate, a plastic filter that is not biodegradable and can be around harming the environment for years once discarded.
Cut to Vishal Kanet and Naman Gupta, residents of Noida, who, when attending a party at a friend’s place, were shocked to see the number of cigarette butts left behind.
There were butts in every corner of the house, which would all be discarded along with the rest of the garbage the next day. Friends for four years, Vishal and Naman were already thinking of starting a company together, and this was their Eureka moment. They decided to start recycling cigarette waste.
“We saw the real problem with cigarette waste for the first time about a year ago – none of us were thinking about how to dispose the butts wisely,” says 22-year-old Naman. The duo started researching about the problem and found that no organisation was recycling cigarette waste in India. “Many people here don’t even know that a cigarette filter is made of plastic and not cotton. And when carelessly disposed of, it can remain in that form for years,” he adds.
In July this year, they launched Code – a company that offers a one-stop recycling solution for cigarette waste. They regularly collect waste from their customers and recycle every component of the remaining cigarette. And the best part is that customers can earn some money in return for just collecting and handing over cigarette waste to them!
Code pays Rs 700 for every kilogram of cigarette waste, and Rs 80 for every 100 grams. Customers include people who smoke as well as those who sell cigarettes.
In the last three months, the company has collected over 10 kg of cigarette waste, including ash, tobacco, paper, and the filter.
Breaking down their recycling plan, Naman explains that Code is a zero-waste company. So every inch of the waste that comes in has to be recycled. The paper covering the butt and some amount of tobacco that is often left behind with it are organic waste components that are composted to produce manure.
“We also get small amounts of ash in the waste. While we have been able to collect just 200 gm of ash till now, we plan to convert it into fly ash bricks once we have the required quantity. As for the filter, we plan to use it for making the stuffing for toys and cushions, other than packaging and building material. In the long run, we also plan to research and use the filter for manufacturing air purifiers,” says Naman, adding that the treated filter is 99.9% safe for use. “We treat the filters with our chemicals and get the end product checked in labs approved by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) before it can be used as a stuffing material.”
Code offers a complete solution for every user with a structured service package. Customers receive collection units called VBins, in which they can collect cigarette waste, and a Code garbage collector comes in every 15 days to pick it up.
Customers have the option to select packages worth Rs 199 for a year or Rs 99 for three months, in which they receive the bin and guaranteed pickup service every 15 days. The bin is simply a stainless steel cylindrical vessel used to make the collection easier.
With an office in Noida, Code currently serves over 70 people, 50 of whom are vendors. They place the bins outside their shops and encourage buyers to dispose of cigarette butts in them. A few corporate companies have also employed their services. Once they have collected enough waste, Naman and Vishal will start selling these by-products like manure and fly ash, which will help them take the idea forward.
Vishal (25) is an engineer by profession and has also worked as a professional photographer for about two years. Naman is a graduate from Delhi University. They are equally enthusiastic about environment conservation.
For starting up, the duo used their own savings and also received funds from their families.
According to reports, cigarette butts are the most littered item globally, with more than 100 billion cigarette butts being dumped in India every year. Just the city of Bengaluru suffers from a burden of around 31 lakh littered cigarette butts every day.
“Cigarette waste is a huge environmental hazard today. Most of the cigarette filters are carcinogenic and can contaminate drinking water too if disposed of in our water bodies. There is also the fear of birds, fish and animals eating cigarette butts that can be disastrous,” says Dr. Vishal Rao, oncologist and head and neck surgeon at the Bengaluru-based HealthCare Global (HCG) Cancer Center.
With potential hazards like these, it is a welcome relief that someone is working towards a solution. “It is just the start. Code is just about four months old. But conserving the environment is the most important thing at the end of the day. And we are doing our best for that,” concludes Naman.