Cigarette Butts: An Insidious Hazard
Cigarette butts, despite their seemingly innocuous size, pose a significant environmental threat. Globally, cigarette butts are the most abundant source of plastic waste. These remnants, left behind after a smoke, may be small, but their impact is far-reaching. Tobacco products like cigarettes contain over 7000 toxic chemicals. Packed with harmful substances like nicotine, heavy metals, and various chemicals, these discarded filters become environmentally pernicious. What makes matters worse is that these filters are primarily made of non-biodegradable plastic, notably Cellulose Acetate, compounding the problem of pollution. Cellulose acetate is a type of plastic used in most cigarette filters, and it can take up to several decades to break down, releasing toxic components along the way. The slow breakdown of the plastic only prolongs the issue, making it a lasting environmental concern. Even though Cellulose Acetate might be degradable within a span of some years, the annihilative impact it leaves on the environment in the form of toxic waste trickles down for centuries. When people casually toss their cigarette butts, these little toxins find their way into water bodies, soil, and surroundings, causing persistent harm. Once released in the environment, cigarette butts release around 250 harmful chemicals, of which 70 toxins are carcinogenic in nature. Beyond the visible litter, the chemicals released can wreak havoc on aquatic life and soil ecosystems, emphasizing the urgency for greater awareness and responsible disposal practices to curb the detrimental impact of cigarette butts on our environment. Every cigarette butt can pollute up to 1000 liters of water in a freshwater source. As unnoticed as the problem of cigarette butts may have been, it continues to have a detrimental impact on every life form.
Project Leher: A Resolution to propel change
Project Leher is an innovative resolution to tackle the ingrained problem of cigarette butt waste with an aim to not only responsibly dispose of it but also to upcycle the waste to create products of utility. Incepted in 2020, Project Leher's vision is to minimize the adverse effects of cigarette butts on the environment. Leher implements a comprehensive approach of collection, processing, and upcycling collected cigarette butt waste to address the colossal issue of 6.5 trillion discarded cigarette butts, prohibiting the release of thousands of toxins. Leher aims to create an ecosystem where every cigarette butt is disposed of properly and the waste is used to create products of utility. Other than the environmental concern that the project addresses, Leher stages an artisan friendly marketplace to sell terracotta products made out of the recycled cigarette butt waste. Cellulose acetate polymer, after being treated with our proprietary scientific technology via Shri Ram Institute for Industrial Research, blends with terracotta products for crafting by Uttam Nagar artisans. Developed in collaboration with the Latymer school, London, medical grade Gamma Radiation technology is used to detoxify cigarette butt waste. Leher products are available on our official website, online marketplaces, retail stores, and exhibitions. The economic upliftment of the artisans, backed with the environmental impact, makes Leher a distinctive avenue to collaborate with while dealing with the problem of cigarette butt waste.
The Business Model
One of our initial surveys revealed that over 70% of the people did not know about this issue and those aware lacked the means to dispose of it responsibly. As a solution, we developed interactive smoker psyche- oriented bins to ensure waste collection from the HORECA sector. The collected cigarette waste is then segregated into paper which is subsequently used in our packaging material, tobacco and plastic which are sent to SRIIR.
The detoxified waste then undergoes hydrothermal processes and is converted into terracotta products like ashtrays, lamps and vases by the potters of Uttam Nagar, New Delhi which is Asia’s largest potters colony. We even offer customized products and have developed a distinct market for our ashtrays by selling them back to cafes and restaurants for further collection of cigarettes, thus creating a sustaining circular economy.
Impact So Far
Project Leher’s circular operation model has amassed a total of more than 25.1 million cigarette butts until now, taking down the microplastics accumulation by 22,707 kilograms. Preventing the cigarette waste from penetrating the freshwater resources, Leher has been successful in protecting 12.95 million cubic meters of oceanic water from ecotoxicity and ocean acidification. Leher’s circular business model promulgates artisan upliftment by the means of cultivating an artisan friendly environment backed firmly with income security and stable employment. Encompassing a large community of artisans, Leher has directly impacted 273 people with its operative framework. Ranging from a wide variety of Diyas to an exquisite range of planters, the project has yielded a revenue of more than Rs. 18 lakhs and its optimised production cycle has been effective in cutting down costs by Rs. 19.1 lakhs.