Smoking bad for your health? Not always. An ingenious Indian start up is turning discarded cigarette butts into mosquito repellent, organic compost, and even cuddly toys. Products that are kind to you and the earth.
We’ve seen upcycled bricks from plastic waste tackling Nairobi’s rubbish and housing problem. Plus, “trashion” from landfill waste. But how about squishies from smokes? Inspiration struck 26-year-old Naman Gupta when he was at a party. Shocked by the huge pile of cigarettes waste he saw, he wondered how many were dumped worldwide and what they did to the environment. The result was Code, a company which installs bins in cities to collect butts. These are then recycled and turned into cushions, key rings, and much more.
In fact, cigarette butts are the most abundant form of plastic waste in the world. About 4.5 trillion individual butts pollute the environment globally. Made of cellulose acetate, a man-made plastic material, butts contain hundreds of toxic chemicals. Plastic can take up to 10 years to completely degrade. Plus, it leaves microplastics in the soil and ocean. A study found that just one butt in half a litre of water kills all the fish. The chemicals linger for much longer. They include arsenic (also used in rat poisoning), lead (a poison that can affect the brain development of children), and nicotine.
Gupta, from Uttar Pradesh in India, was frustrated by the misconception that butts were made out of cotton, and not plastic. “There were no laws or companies who were recycling or managing this kind of waste, it was a completely new concept in India,” he explains. So the University of Dehli graduate came up with a way to clean and process cigarette butts into useful products.
So how does Code work?
Waste receptacles placed outside of street vendors and paan shops receive up to 6,000kgs of cigarettes every month. The vendors receive a fee per kilo of butts they collect. Code factory workers then split the butts into three components – the filter, paper, and leftover tobacco. The filter is shredded, treated, then made into stuffing for cushions, soft toys, and keyrings. Compost and mosquito repellant is made from paper and tobacco. The wastewater produced in the process is also re-used.
Currently operating in 250 districts across India, Code has made over one million dollars since 2016 and recycled 300,000,000 cigarette butts—the equivalent of 100,000kg. “In the coming five to ten years we hope we are able to manage cigarette waste from all over India,” says Gupta. “I am passionate, it’s not just about the money, we are doing it to service society and tackle the problem society has and provide the solution.” Code, which stands for Conserving Our Depleting Environment, is currently working on using cigarette filters to create air purifiers that tackle pollution.