Cigarette butts turned into toys, cushions.  How two brothers built a business

Cigarette butts turned into toys, cushions. How two brothers built a business

“During my college years, my friends used to smoke, and I noticed that they used to stub out their cigarettes in public places, in random ashtrays or trash bins. I then tried know about cigarette waste and its impact on the environment,” Gupta , the Delhi University alum said.

The 28-year-old said cigarette butts take around 12 years to decompose as the filter is made of 95% plastic (cellulose acetate). “It was a turning point for me. I felt terrible that no one has ever spoken about this world’s biggest man-made contaminant”.

Gupta then approached his elder brother Vipul Gupta, an engineer, to find an eco-friendly solution to dispose of cigarette butts.

On September 25, 2018, the two brothers started a private company called Code Effort to upcycle cigarette butts. “My brother, who has a science background, helped with the infrastructure, machinery, chemicals”.

The Gupta brothers began developing an end-to-end solution so that they could upcycle every component of cigarette parts (the fiber (Cellulose acetate), the paper, as well as, the leftover tobacco) to create sustainable products (such as home decor items, soft toys, accessories, artifacts, buttons, sculptures, mosquito repellants, compost powder, etc).

Collection of cigarette butts

According to Gupta, there are around 250 million adult smokers in India, who consume 2-3 cigarettes generally every day. Around 100 billion (10,000 crore) cigarettes are consumed in India each year which leads to 26,454 tonnes of waste generation.

Initially, the company got engaged with rag pickers and used to collect 10 grams of cigarette butts per day. However, as of June 2022, Code Effort is dealing with more than 2,000 ragpickers across more than 250 districts, collecting up to 1,000 kg of cigarette waste daily.

Gupta claimed that Code Effort is processing 30 tonnes per month of cigarette butts every month as of June 2022. By the end of this year, the company is planning to process 45 tonnes of cigarette butts monthly.

Additionally, the company allows people to get involved in this initiative as individuals, and environmental organizations can voluntarily collect cigarette waste and transport it to the company in Noida. “We pay minimum 500 to maximum 800 per kg for cigarette waste to external suppliers,” Gupta informed.

Challenges

One of the biggest challenges for Code Effort was the ‘collecting the butts’-the company’s significant raw material. Since cigarette butts are flammable, Gupta said that had there been separate trash bins for smokers in public places, the waste segregation parts would have become simpler for Code Effort.

“That was a turning point for us. We realized that cigarette butts should be disposed of properly”. Gupta suggested installing separate dustbins for every 50-100 meter distance where people could dispose of their cigarette butts.

Code Effort tried to resolve its biggest challenge of cigarette butts’ procurement by creating VBin, where V stands for VALUE.

“As there were no disposable options available for smokers, we made a brand VBin–a cigarette receptacle bin. The V-bins helped in segregating at source,” Gupta said.

Code Effort, which is mainly operational in Delhi Gurugram and Noida, installed the VBin in market areas, corporate companies, smoking zones, and restaurants in these three cities. However, one can buy the V-bins from the company directly, he added.

Upcycling of cigarette butts

According to Gupta, a cigarette butt comprises three components–fibre, paper, and tobacco. He said his waste management and segregation company upcycles all three components into sustainable products.

Nangli Village women making sustainable products for Code Effort

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Nangli Village women making sustainable products for Code Effort

From tobacco, which is a natural pesticide, Code Effort makes compost powder and donates it to nearby plantations and nurseries.

The second component is the paper which they convert into a pulp and later formulated into sheets. Code Effort also makes mosquito repellant from the paper.

The third component is fiber, which is scientifically called cellulose acetate, which is first treated using their proprietary process. After the recycling of fibre, it goes through quality approval and lab testing. And after getting the quality certification and lab testing, the same fiber is used in stuffing cushions, pillows, mattresses, soft toys, keychains, artifacts, and many more.

Making soft toys out of cigarette butts

Born and brought up in Noida, the Gupta brothers opened the recycling facility in Sector 134, Nangli Village. Naman Gupta recounted how the village community and landlord helped them to set up the factory on one of the plots. Naman and Vipul approached village women to make products for them. Naman said they provided them the training and all the equipment involved in making products like soft toys, cushions, pillows, and artifacts. “We gave them a sewing machine, needles, thread, fibres, and other relevant equipment and asked them to make the final product. Once the product gets ready, we pick the products from their houses and make the payments,” he said.

Code Effort upcycles cigarette butts into soft toys

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Code Effort upcycles cigarette butts into soft toys

At present more than 100 women are helping to create sustainable products out of the cigarette fiber for Code Effort, Gupta said. Since 2018, Code Effort has invested around 75 lakh as a whole, including all the running expenses, operation expenses, and working capital.

Kids stool made out of cigarette butts

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Kids stool made out of cigarette butts

records

Nama Gupta said that Code Effort recycled around 300 million cigarette butts in FY2020-21. As of March 2022, the company has recycled around 1.2 billion cigarettes. The company’s name has been listed in Limca’s book of record for FY2020. India Book of Record, World Book of Record, and International Book of Record.

vision

As Naman Gupta told Livemint that Code Effort (CODE stands for “To conserve our depleting environment) is eyeing to upcycle 400-500 tonnes of cigarette waste by 2025.

Additionally, the Gupta brothers are planning to launch a new venture –Decor Earth private Limited which will primarily focus on final products. While the Code Effort will focus on cigarette waste management and recycling. “Decor Earth will be a sustainable brand made out of recycled cigarette butts which will go live next month,” Gupta said.

Currently, Code Effort is also in discussion with two venture capitalists and may raise seed funding this financial year, Gupta added.

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