Sitting on the floor of a house on the outskirts of New Delhi, women smile and chat as they fill brightly coloured toy bears with white stuffing made from a product more commonly found in rubbish bins.
The material is composed of cigarette stubs. They’ve been picked up from city streets where they had been discarded with millions of others. Then they’re separated into fibres, cleaned and bleached.
Reprocessing them into a range of products, including toys and pillows, is the brainchild of businessman Naman Gupta.
“We started with 10g [0.35 ounces of fibre per day] and now we are doing 1,000kg [2,205 pounds],” Gupta said. “… Annually we are able to recycle millions of cigarette butts.”
His workers separate out the butts’ outer layer and tobacco. They’re turned into recycled paper and compost powder.
The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 267 million people, nearly 30 percent of India’s adult population, are tobacco users, and butts litter the streets, where general cleanliness standards are abysmally low.
“Working here also helps keep our environment clean,” said Poonam, a worker in Gupta’s factory who only gave her first name.