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Business News/ News / Business Of Life/  This startup turns cigarette ends into soft toys, cushions

There’s no doubt that smoking is injurious to health but there’s a startup that’s trying to put cigarette ends to good use. Noida-based Code Effort Pvt. Ltd processes everything that is left after a cigarette has been smoked to make a range of products from cushions and soft toys to organic compost.

It was after a party with a group of friends a few years ago that founders Naman Gupta and Vishal Kanet were struck by the amount of cigarette trash produced in a few hours.

“We looked at the two ashtrays we had filled in a few hours and wondered if one room of friends can generate so much trash, what is the scale of the waste worldwide?" said Gupta. They tried to imagine the afterlife of these leftovers. What happens to the stubs after they are thrown into the dustbin? Are they biodegradable? How much pollution do they cause? Can they be recycled? These were just some of the questions they had.

They started looking for answers and realised that cigarette filters are made of a polymer, cellulose acetate whose properties are similar to plastic. They learnt that the body of a cigarette is made of chemicals harmful to the environment.

Back then, Gupta was studying B.Com from Delhi University while Kanet, who had an engineering background, was working as a photographer. They experimented for a month and worked out a chemical process to clean and recycle the polymer.

In 2016, they launched Code Enterprises, a cigarette waste management firm, which recycles cigarette stubs into different products. Since they were familiar with the Delhi-NCR region they started operations here. The first step was to make people aware of the usefulness of the waste material.

“We distributed pamphlets and visited cigarette vendors explaining what we were trying to do," says Gupta. “We provided them with a cigarette waste collection bin called VBin, and we assured them 250 per kilo of cigarette waste. We also gave bins to commercial spaces for their smoking rooms."

Every fortnight, the friends would collect the cigarette trash. This was taken and treated in the collection plant they had set up.

At the treatment plant, the various parts of the cigarette stub, the paper coating, the burnt tobacco, the filter, are used to make a variety of products.

“The plastic-like filter is treated for about a fortnight, and is mixed with cotton to make a material that can be used to stuff beanbags and make soft toys and cushions," says Gupta. “ The paper coating around the filter is biodegradable and is used to make compost." The products are sold online.

In the first month, they only got 10 grams of cigarette waste. Over time, they found support from corporates and commercial spaces.

“People are educated in Delhi, Gurgaon," says Gupta. “Most companies have corporate social responsibility programmes. What we do is good for the environment and we were also providing a specific rate for the waste."

After a year, Kanet left the company and Gupta relaunched it as Code Effort. He has been self-funding it since.

The first challenge was to ensure a regular supply of cigarette waste. “First you have to build a stable network of raw material, before you start the merchandising and making the by products," says Gupta.

The startup issues specific contracts to suppliers across the country. It also has associates on a contract basis who have to supply at least 30kgs of cigarette waste in bulk every month. These associates also have a target of selling 500 finished products per district.

“We now have 20 to 25 contracts with suppliers all over the country and receive 2,500kgs of cigarette waste every month," says Gupta.

Tobacco manufacturers have also signed up. “Companies that manufacture cigarettes such as ITC and Marlboro supply their rejected products to us. We have specific contracts that we have signed for sourcing that industrial waste," he explains. Karnataka and Maharashtra are the two biggest suppliers of cigarette waste.

When asked about his plans to take on competition from other recyclers, Gupta says Code Effort is only such company in India, and so he has no competition. He plans to leverage that by launching more products and improving his marketing strategies.

“We will launch a range of products in this financial year, including mosquito repellent made from leftover paper and tobacco, more soft toys, and an air purification system for chimneys made from cellulose acetate fibre." The company plans to join hands with non-profits and government bodies for on-field support in marketing and cigarette waste procurement.

“Although we don’t have government support now, our company is in sync with the government policy of Swachh Bharat," says Gupta.

Solutions from Waste profiles startups that have created businesses or products from discarded materials.

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Updated: 07 May 2019, 01:05 AM IST
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