Cigarette butts are turned into mosquito repellent and stuffing for soft toys at this Indian factory

Code Effort has recycled over 300 million cigarette butts from India's streets so far.
Code Effort has recycled over 300 million cigarette butts from India's streets so far.   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
By Angela Symons  with Reuters

An Indian factory is recycling cigarette butts into stuffing for soft toys.

An estimated 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide each year, 90 per cent of which contain non-biodegradable plastic filters.

Reprocessing them into a range of products, including toys and pillows, is the brainchild of businessman Naman Gupta.

"We started with 10 grams (of fibre per day) and now we are doing 1,000 kilograms... Annually we are able to recycle millions of cigarette butts," he says.

REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
Women workers make soft toys using recycled fibre separated from cigarette filter tips at a cigarette butts recycling factory in Noida, India.REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

At his factory on the on the outskirts of New Delhi, an all-woman team manually separates the butts into fibre, paper and leftovers. 

The paper is converted into a pulp, mixed with an organic binder and turned into burnable mosquito repellant.

The fibre is cleaned and bleached with organic chemicals that neutralise its toxins. The resulting white stuffing is used in soft toys and pillows.

REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
Recycled fibre made from cigarette filter tips is seen in a cotton gin machine at a cigarette butt recycling factory in Noida, India.REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

At Gupta'sfactory on the outskirts of the Indian capital, workers also separate out the butts' tobacco, which is turned into compost powder.

His company - Code Effort - has recycled over 300 million cigarette butts from the city streets so far.

REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
Naman Gupta, founder of Code Effort, a company that recycles cigarette butts, poses for a picture at his factory in Noida, India.REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 267 million people, nearly 30 per cent of India's adult population, are tobacco users, and butts litter urban streets where general cleanliness standards are poor.

"(So) working here also helps keep our environment clean," says Poonam, an employee in Gupta's factory.

Cigarette butts are the most discarded waste item worldwide

Cigarette butts are the most discarded waste item worldwide according to the UN Environment Programme. 

Many of these end up in our oceans and on our beaches with disastrous consequences for marine environments.

Cigarette filters are made out of non-biodegradable cellulose acetate fibres, which break down into microplastics and end up being consumed by marine life and birds.

In 2019, 5.9 per cent of the EU population aged 15 years and over consumed at least 20 cigarettes per day, and 12.6 per cent consumed less than 20, according to Eurostat.

In Europe, companies like France's MéGo! have also found inventive ways to reuse cigarette butts, recycling them into furniture like tables and benches.