Man Makes $1,000,000 Recycling Cigarette Butts
If you were to take a poll asking you, "what is the most common form of plastic pollution, what would you answer?" Most people would probably tell you "Plastic bottles or Straws. While these are good guesses, they are incorrect. The most common form of plastic pollution is actually Cigarette butts and they are the most abundant form of plastic waste in the world, with about 4.5 trillion individual butts polluting the surface of the Earth.
There is a common misconception that cigarettes are made with cotton or paper, while that may have been true decades ago, today's cigarette butts are primarily plastic.
26-year-old Naman Gupta, from Uttar Pradesh in India, has made it his life mission to protect the environment and clear up cigarette butts. He is doing so by making toys, keyrings, mosquito repellents, furniture, and organic compost from old cigarette butts. He runs a company that installs bins in cities to collect butts, which are then recycled and made into anything from cushions to key rings. Since 2016 his company has made over one million dollars and he has recycled 300,000,000 cigarette butts—the equivalent of 100,000kg.
Cigarette butts are small and tend to go unnoticed but they are hiding everywhere. Contrary to what many believe, cigarette butts are not harmless. They are made of cellulose acetate, a man-made plastic material, and contain hundreds of toxic chemicals. Meanwhile, cigarette filters can take up to 12 years to completely degrade, the chemicals they release can remain in the environment for years. They also form microplastics in the process, which can inhibit plant growth in soil, and are highly toxic to aquatic life. Naman, said: “There was a misconception that it [cigarette butts] must be made out of cotton, so not everybody notices the problem that it is actually plastic." .. There were no laws or companies who were recycling or managing this kind of waste, it was a completely new concept in India. ... 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.”
Naman was in his third year at Delhi University studying commerce when he decided he wanted to start the first cigarette recycling company in India named CODE Effort, it stands for Conserving Our Depleting Environment They receive up to 6,000kgs of cigarettes every month, which are deposited into waste receptacles called VBins outside street vendors and paan shops. The vendors receive a fee per kilo of butts they collect. The company splits the butts into three parts—the filter, paper, and leftover tobacco. The filter is shredded, chemically treated for 24 hours, and then made into stuffing for cushions, soft toys, and squishy keyrings. The paper and tobacco are turned into compost which is sold to farmers and growers, or domestic mosquito repellents. Naman said: “There were a lot of critics—the problem of waste as a whole is an underrated topic [in India], not everyone is very keen in discussing climate change and waste management."
Naman is working to educate people into curbing their consumption of cigarettes as well as disposing of them wisely. He said, “Our business model is on a mission to eradicate cigarette waste in our society in an environmentally-friendly manner."