The 1 billion smokers in the world consume 6 trillion cigarettes every year, leaving behind about 845,000 tons of cigarette butts. The cigarette butts you throw away easily become rich business opportunities in the eyes of others.
Indian student Naman Gupta and photographer Vishal Kanet saw a lot of cigarette butts discarded by their friends at a party. They came up with the idea of recycling cigarette butts and producing them to earn money for various products. In 2016, they established a cigarette waste disposal company, set up a cigarette butt collection box, collected cigarette butts at a high price of $250 per kilogram, and then decomposed the cigarette butts to make toys, mats, and other products for sale. Also in 2016, Japan opened 2 cigarette butt recycling and reuse factories to dispose of the collected cigarette butts in different zones. Tobacco leaves and rolled paper are used as compost, and filters are made into file folders or ashtrays.
The business opportunity for recycling cigarette butts stems in large part from the demand to “protect the environment.” Each year, about 845,000 tons of cigarette butts are discarded worldwide, containing about 7,800 tons of hazardous chemicals. If not disposed of properly, they can seriously threaten the safety of the ecosystem. In fact, cigarette butts have become the most common and largest trash in the ocean. Under the action of waves and sunlight, cigarette butts are broken and decomposed until they become small particles no more than 5 mm in diameter – microplastics.
These toxic microplastics will not only lead to the death of marine organisms such as birds, fish, mammals, plants, etc. but also reach the human body by accumulating in the food chain and causing changes in genetics, brain development, breathing rate, etc., thus seriously endangering human health.
The worst news is that scientists have confirmed that the human body is contaminated with microplastics. So “cleaning up cigarette butts” is a problem for the world. The business opportunity of recycling cigarette butts is not only closely related to global environmental protection but more importantly, the “cigarette butts” themselves are very valuable.
The spongy substance in the filters of cigarette butts, cellulose acetate, is often used for clothing. Fabric spun with acetate fibers is like silk and is characterized by a delicate and elegant sheen, a soft and smooth feel, antistatic properties, and wrinkle resistance. Acetate fibers can also be made into nonwoven medical fabrics. When used for surgical dressings, it does not stick to the wound and is an advanced material for medicine and health. In 2012, the U.S. company TerraCycle launched a recycling program for cigarette butts. Acetate fibers from cigarette butt filters are extracted and blended with other recycled plastics to create a moldable hybrid material that can be made into shipping containers, ashtrays, wood-plastic laminate flooring, decorative items and more.
A small amount of nicotine quickly enters the brain, stimulates the central nervous system, promotes dopamine release, provides mental stability, relieves tension, makes people happy and has an antidepressant effect (this is also the reason why people become addicted to it). In medicine, nicotine is used to treat cardiovascular, skin, snake venom and other diseases. In agriculture, nicotine can be made into highly effective insecticides and biological pesticides to kill insects in grain crops, vegetables, fruits, etc.
Nowadays, with the rapid expansion of its application fields, the demand for natural nicotine in the world market is also increasing day by day. Not only is the price of high-purity natural nicotine still high – it is about $100,000 per ton in the international market – but it is often out of stock. In addition, solanesol in cigarette butts can also be used to synthesize coenzyme Q10 (a heart disease prevention and health agent) and vitamin K2. It is also the precursor of some anti-cancer drugs and is used in many developed countries.