During a vacation, Shriya Tripathi, a textile design student at Delhi's Pearl Academy, saw a riverbed littered with charred cigarette butts.
Cigarette butts, made of cellulose acetate plastic manufactured from purified natural cellulose, are the most common form of plastic pollution in the world. They can take more than a decade to degrade while releasing toxic pollutants into water and soil during the process.
All the above information during a quick online research pushed Tripathi to think of ideas to find a solution to the waste problem. “We cannot stop people from smoking, but we can repurpose the waste into textiles,” she says.
So, we studied cigarette butts further and found that natural cellulose is derived primarily from cotton linter and wood pulp, making them an ideal candidate for recycling. She then worked on reducing the toxicity level of the used butts and removed their pungent odour to get detoxified cigarette butt filaments, which were spun to yarn, and woven into fabric using a table loom.
“I decided to make shoes as smokers put out cigarettes with their shoes in the open, and making shoes from cigarette butts completes the circle. The yarns were handpainted in grey at the loom stage to resemble fading cigarette smoke,” says Tripathi. “The repurposed textile has all the properties of a fabric with contents of cotton and wool and will work well for garments too. It would need a few softening treatments before use in garments. And it can be made with other cellulose plastic waste too.”
She adds that Code, a company based in Noida, also purifies cigarette butt filters into filament form, which are used in the fillings of soft toys and pillows, but they don't make any textile out of it. They collect cigarette butts by providing bins to vendors and smokers, which are collected at regular intervals.
Tripathi says that the collection and purification of filters are the most crucial steps for the recycled textile, bringing it under the slow fashion category as the number of butts required to convert into yarns is high. So it is crucial to form a network for collecting discarded cigarette butts to fasten the process.
“Once the purification of filaments is done, this material becomes bio-degradable in nature. This material is strong and has a good life. Embracing this textile can be a massive step towards eco-sustainability as the consumption of cigarettes is only increasing,” the student says.