Code collects cigarette butts from smokers and shopkeepers and recycles them into innovative products.

Smoking causes cancer but cigarette butts can be recycled and could earn you some money
Atom Tobacco Thursday, May 11, 2017 - 18:46

Ever wondered what happens to a cigarette butt after you smoke? If you’re a smoker, how often do you throw cigarette stubs into the trash can? And do you know how much this contributes to pollution?

These were just some of the questions Vishal Kanet (25) and Naman Gupta (22) from Delhi grappled with after hanging out with a group of their friends, who emptied two ashtrays full of cigarette butts in a span of a few hours. They wondered what happens to the stubs and how dangerous they are to the environment? Are they biodegradable and can they be recycled?

Their curiosity led them to pore over extensive research. They soon discovered that the filters inside the butts are made of cellulose acetate, which has characteristics similar to plastic. The cigarette stub, in turn, is made up of several chemicals, which cause extensive environmental damage.

By some estimates, 1.69 billion pounds of cigarette butts wind up as toxic trash each year. And over 4.5 trillion cigarettes are littered worldwide each year, making it the most littered item in the world.

With this research before them, Vishal and Naman decided to try recycling cigarette butts. They began by treating cigarette butts with several chemicals. After several attempts, and thanks to Vishal’s background as an engineer, they came up with a chemical that could treat the cigarette butt up to 99%.

In July 2016, several experiments and lab tests later, Vishal and Naman formed Code Enterprises, a Delhi NCR-based company that recycles cigarette stubs into different products.

“We first worked on getting the idea secure before going to the market. There is no such player in the market and we saw that people do not realise that this waste is very harmful,” Naman says.

That year, they setup a collection plant where all cigarette butts are treated.

The business model

In some sense, Code is your ‘kabadiwala’ or scrap dealer but only for cigarettes.

So how does this work? If you’re a chain-smoker or a shopkeeper who sells cigarettes, you can sign up with Code for an annual subscription of Rs 199-299. Code then gives you a bin to collect cigarette waste. Code has also given bins to commercial spaces, to be placed in their smoking zones. Every 15 days, or when the bin fills up, Code picks up the cigarette waste from the bin, which is then brought back to the waste collection plant in Delhi NCR, where the butts are recycled.

Wait, there’s more. By giving all your cigarette trash to Code, you can make some pocket money too! For every 100 grams of cigarette waste, Code pays you Rs 80.

In the case of vendors, where a larger quantity of waste is generated, Code pays them Rs 700 for every kilogram of cigarette waste. While these are the prices in Delhi and NCR, the prices vary depending on the city and state. 

“Our model is a lot more beneficial for vendors. We also focus there more because they collect a lot more trash without even smoking. Since they don’t have much income anyway, this is a good source of additional income for them,” Naman says.

Currently, Code has a presence in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. In all places outside Delhi NCR, Code has associates who take care of the collection, and eventually transport it to the collection plant. Code has over 50 associates across these states.

“You cannot transport trash across states without prior approvals. This is why we appointed associates in all the cities we expanded to. These associates take care of the collection and they have tied up with those state governments and have approvals in place. They are franchise holders of our company,” Vishal says.

The recycling

Once the cigarette waste comes to the treatment plant, different parts of it are treated to make different products.

For example, the ash of the cigarette that is present in the waste is used to make grey bricks. However, since there is not much ash that comes with the trash, this is done on a relatively small scale.

The cigarette butt has a paper coating around the filter and most of the time, there is some tobacco left in it. This, Naman says, is the biodegradable part of the stub.

“We use a bacterial and fungal composition that treats the paper and the tobacco over 20-25 days. This then becomes a compost, which we sell to gardens and nurseries,” he adds. Code charges about Rs 20-25 per kilogram of compost.

The plastic-like cellulose acetate filter, which comprises of about 50 chemicals, is treated for 15-20 days and is mixed with cotton to make a material that can be used to stuff beanbags, soft toys and any other soft things. This material contains 90% of cotton and 10% of the treated filter.

With this material, Code has launched cigarette box-shaped keychains, which are priced between Rs 50-99.

Code is working on developing a number of other designs by the end of this month. These keychains are sold in shopping complexes and are sometimes also given to the cigarette vendors, from whom they source the waste.

Code also aims to create a good-quality affordable air purifier using the cigarette filter as the main absorbing agent. “If you see, the filter has an absorbing nature. So, it can be used to trap chemicals and pollutants present in air. We have already started working on it and if we succeed, it will become the most profitable business for us,” Naman declares.

However, a lot depends on how much cigarette waste they are able to collect. Having started with just 100 grams in the first month of operations, it has grown into an average collection of 100 kgs every month. In fact, it collected 500 kgs of cigarette waste in the last three months.

However, more collection will mean paying people more. So how sustainable is this business? The company is currently investing to produce stock and is not exactly making money.

However, Code is not worried about this. “Profitability will come soon. Plus, since we are working to reduce pollution, I’m sure when we do require investors, we will receive all the support we need for this good cause. I’m confident that the government too, with its focus on Swachh Bharat, will support us going forward. With the support of the customer and the government, and a good cause, I don’t think we will fail,” Naman says.

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