Get paid for cigarette butts by the kilo and save environment

By Times Headline Writer

Smoking a cigarette not only damages lungs but also chokes the environment, killing thousands of animals and birds and clogging water bodies. Two Delhi-based men have, however, found a way to recycle cigarette waste.

Twenty two-year-old Naman Gupta and 25-year-old Vishal Kanet have come up with an initiative where every part of a cigarette butt can be recycled and reused. And the best part is that you get paid for the butts you sell by the kilo.

The young innovators plan to make something productive from every part for what a smoker considers useless. Manure, fly ash bricks, air filters and stuffed souvenirs are just a few things that the two plan to convert your cigarette waste into.

The initiative named, Code, was started in July, when Gupta and Kanet were sitting at their friend’s house. The quantity of stubbed cigarettes in pots, bottles, and containers sparked the idea of making something useful of it.

“It was a typical bachelors’ house where we would party. Because so many people came there to hang around, cigarette stubs were found almost everywhere. It struck us if we could recycle it and make something out of it, it would save a lot of waste,” said Gupta.

Gupta is a Delhi University graduate and Kanet is an engineer.

Studies have found that cigarette butts are the most discarded waste in the world. Around 5.6 trillion cigarettes are sold globally every year, of which almost half are discarded.

In India, last year 1.11 million cigarettes were sold.

Environment experts said that the butt of a cigarette is made of plasticised cellulose acetate, which remains in its original form in the environment for at least 10 to 12 years. Even after that, it only breaks into smaller particles which contribute to soil and water pollution.

“An experiment was conducted on the effects of soaked, used cigarette butts on two fish species — saltwater topsmelt and freshwater fathead minnow — in the US, and it was found that one cigarette butt per litre of water was enough to kill half the exposed fish,” said Dr Persie Danen, an Australian conservationist, working for the cleaning of Yamuna in Delhi.

Ravi Agarwal, director of NGO Toxics Links said that not much has been talked about cigarette waste and the effects it has on the environment.

“We find cigarette stubs lying around everywhere and the misconception that people have is that it is biodegradable because of the tobacco and the paper. The most harmful part of the cigarette is the filter which looks like cotton but is actually plastic. People think filters are the best bits in a cigarette but it stays in the environment for many years and degrades it,” he said.

He said that in a cigarette butt high concentration of toxic compounds such as nicotine, tar, arsenic, lead, copper, chromium, cadmium, and a variety of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are found which leach away the top layer of the soil and pollutes water.

Agarwal said that some states in the US have started government programmes to collect and recycle cigarette waste and a similar initiative is needed in India.

Several individual smokers, cigarette vendors and commercial establishments have started selling cigarette butts to Gupta and Kanet. Now, they are roping in sanitation workers and rag pickers for collection. The collectors are paid Rs400/kg of cigarette waste they pick up.

After signing up to their service Code, gives you a steel bin where you can collect your butts. Every 15 days they empty the bin and pay you after weighing the waste collected.

Their V-bins are installed on a membership payment which ranges from Rs99 for three months to Rs499 for five years. After 15 days, the waste collected is taken away and the member is paid Rs80 for every 100grams of waste.

In a small makeshift set up in Noida sector-37, Gupta and Kanet work on separating the ash, tobacco, paper and the filter of the butts collected.

After each part is separated and cleaned, the tobacco and paper are dipped in a chemical mix to convert it into compost. The process takes about 25 days.

“We would need at least one tonne of ash before we can start making these. Our system is too new and we are currently just at the collection stage,” said Kanet.

Kanet also said that the cottony filter is cleaned and reused. However, they have planned that the filter can be turned into wire meshes and used as air filters in the future.

“We don’t waste anything, not even the water we use in cleaning the butts. It is treated and used to water the plants outside our workspace,” they said.

The beginning of this venture, however, was not easy. From their bins vanishing to insufficient collection, Kanet and Gupta have fought their way through to do their bit for the environment.

In three months, Gupta and Kanet have collected at least 10kgs of cigarette waste, which could have ended up clogging drains, polluting the soil and sparking fires.

When asked if the system encourages smokers to smoke more, they said that it actually would do the opposite and would help people cut down on smoking.

“It acts as a shock therapy. When you keep collecting your stubs in a single bin you know the quantity you have smoked by the end of a fortnight. By just looking at the quantity at least some would want to cut down,” Gupta said.


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