By Sukrita Baruah
A group of students from Delhi University’s Sri Venkateswara College are spinning gold out of straw, using cigarette butts littered across Delhi to create brightly coloured cushions and keychains. So far, they claim to have recycled 400 kg of cigarette butts. Project ‘CiggB’, was started in 2016 by members of Enactus, a college-based society, and currently sees the involvement of 53 students.
Arnav Soni, a first-year student who heads the project, said, “If you walk even 100 metres in this city, you will be sure to find cigarette butts. They are non-biodegradable, so we decided that recycling them is the best option.”
He said the students operate in 13-14 ‘micro-markets’, reaching out to ragpickers in these localities to ensure cigarette butts collected reach them. The next step involves segregating the butts. “Each butt contains three components — paper, tobacco and cellulose. While we send the other two components for standard recycling, we use cellulose acetate as filling for cushions and keychain accessories,” he said.
The work of segregating and cleaning the butts, and stitching the cushions is done by women from low-income localities, who have been identified by the college society as a target beneficiary group of the project.
“We currently employ about 20-30 women for the segregation process and 10-15 for stitching. Basic training has been provided by CODE (Conserve Our Depleting Environment), a cigarette recycling company we partnered with,” Soni said. While ragpickers are paid Rs 450 for every kg of cigarette butts they collect, the women are paid Rs 200 per completed cushion.
The finished products are vibrantly designed, covered with sequins or motifs from popular television shows and football clubs. They are sold online through platforms such as the Enactus Store, starting at Rs 30 for the keychains and Rs 200 for the cushions. They are also sold at stalls in college fests, Soni said, adding that the prices are on the higher side as the entire operation is run through proceeds from these sales.