Whether it is a stressful day at work or you’re just hanging out with your friends, if you’re a smoker, there are rare chances that you’re going to skip a cigarette. While the many health hazards of smoking are not unknown to the world, there is one particular thing smokers leave behind which is causing damage not just to them, but to the environment as a whole. Yes, we’re talking about the infamous cigarette butts.
The cigarette butts that almost everyone carelessly tosses out the window or on the street are actually one of the most littered items across the world. According to a 2019 report by National Geographic, “Smokers around the world buy roughly 6.5 trillion cigarettes each year. That’s 18 billion every day.” Also, making things worse is the fact that it is a single-use plastic which is being littered across the world on such a huge scale. The same report also sheds light on how this waste is harming aquatic life and affecting the environment. While the numbers are tremendously alarming, the question arises of what is being done about it.
In the bid of eradicating cigarette waste from the environment, a small village in Sector 134, Noida, named Nangli, runs a venture called ‘Codeeffort’. The company is all about collecting and recycling cigarette butts into cushions, key chains and much more.
Yes, you heard that right. It is the brainchild of Naman Gupta, a young entrepreneur from Noida, who started this venture in 2018 and since then, has recycled millions of kilograms of cigarette waste.
‘CODE’ stands for ‘Conserving our Depleting Environment’ as Naman tells us. The idea behind the company is to eradicate cigarette waste from our environment and turn it into high-quality everyday use products. Not to forget, the company aims to do that with the help and support of the community because Naman, the founder, believes that this initiative wouldn’t have turned into a movement if not for all the people associated with it.
The year was 2018 when Naman, who was just 22 at the time, was almost done with his CA studies and wanted to do something of his own. He tells us, “I come from a commerce background so it was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I am a non-smoker myself but while seeing so many people around me smoking and throwing away cigarette waste, that is when I identified this problem and decided to build my business around recycling that waste.”
The first challenge to kickstart the business was to collect cigarette waste. For that, the company installed ‘vbins’ across Delhi NCR for people to throw their cigarette waste in. Every fifteen days, a picker from the company would go and collect the waste. Today, cigarette waste comes in huge quantities from across India, Maharashtra and Kerala being the biggest contributors.
The operations of the company run at three small locations in the village. At the first location, a couple of women sit to separate the butts into paper and filter. They clear out a lot of about 2-3 kg a day. Next, the butts go to the processing unit. There, the filter goes through a four-step process to be converted into pseudo-cotton-like material for the production stage. The filter is first finely cut where it converts into small fibers. It is then transferred to a drum where it is treated with water and chemicals for an entire day so that it’s ready to be recycled. The next step is drying the lot followed by quality enhancement.
The raw material now moves to the production stage where the ladies of the village sit together to sew soft toys with stuffing of the processed fiber. When the women, employed by the company, are done with their morning chores, they sit together for about 3-4 hours to sew and make the final products over a chit chat session, interrupted by regular tea breaks. These women have been with the company for over four years and work together as a family. Actually, it was always a plan to employ local women in this project for several reasons.
Naman tells us, “I think, we as men don’t really know the real value of money. When the money goes to women, they know how to spend it wisely, they understand its importance because several women aren’t financially independent, especially in rural areas. It was always our plan to employ local women because first, they are experts in the skills like sewing which we really needed and second, it will help to empower them as they get their own salaries.”
Coming to the products that the company offers, the catalogue is diverse and huge. The initial products were key chains and cushions as there were not a lot of resources and these were the products they could easily make by stuffing the processed fibre. Later, the company introduced soft toys which garnered them popularity as it was a popular item among the kids. However, the soft toys are only available for kids the age of six years or above. Naman says, “Because our products are made of processed fibre, we didn’t want to risk the health of small kids because kids below the age of six are very sensitive.”
Apart from this, the latest addition to the products catalogue is recycled handmade paper. It’s not just any handmade paper you’d find in the market, this paper is infused with plant seeds which give them afterlife. So, if you were to throw these papers in the soil, they’ll grow into a basil or marigold plant. New and advanced products like fabric and eyewear are also in the pipeline and all of this is made from those presumably useless cigarette butts.
We asked Naman how difficult it was to raise investments as a young entrepreneur, to which he said, “If you want to be an entrepreneur, you need to be able to take a certain degree of risk. You should know how much you can put at stake to lose. What I believe is that if you’re passionate and have a clear vision, then just the lack of investment shouldn’t hinder you. You will eventually get investments when people see your work and believe in you.”
Naman also tells us that while his business runs on several conventional models like B2B, B2C, D2C and so on, the primary principle of this company is ‘C2C’, which stands for ‘Co-operation to Corporation’. He says that without the support of the local people who believed in their cause and decided to be a part of it, this venture couldn’t have been successful. He says, “I forward my thanks to the community people, to the people associated with my company which I like to call my ‘buttalion’, to my consumers who shared their feedback and helped us grow and to everyone who has made efforts to highlight our cause and talk about it.”
The company today holds four recognised records in the Limca book of records, India book of records, International book of records and Exclusive world record of recycling the maximum number of cigarette butts.