Rethinking Cigarette Butts
Project Leher is an end-to-end solution to irresponsibly flicked, toxic cigarette butt waste management. It aims to create a sustained collection chain and recycle cellulose acetate (core of the cigarette butt) into a diverse product after chemical cleansing.


Visit our project site at: www.projectleher.co.in 

//Problem and Solution


Smokers around the globe buy roughly 6.3 trillion cigarette butts that are thrown into the environment every year, (that’s approximately 18 billion every day) making it the world’s most littered waste. While most of a cigarette’s innards and paper wrapping disintegrate when smoked, not everything gets burned. Trillions of cigarette filters or butts are flicked irresponsibly in the environment. 

The filters in the cigarette butts are made of non-biodegradable plastic polymer, ‘Cellulose Acetate’. This polymer, full of toxins and harmful chemicals like nicotine, arsenic, and heavy metals.

Currently, cigarette butts are simply being dumped into the oceans and the landfills causing both water and land pollution. One single butt pollutes 500 litres of water. It has more than 4000 toxic chemicals which get leached in water and soil. Despite being such a huge pressing problem, there is no significant attention and sensitisation around this problem. 

Hence, to bring a first-of-its-kind solution to cigarette waste management, we started Project Leher. Leher, meaning a wave, is a revolution in the waste management sector to tackle the environmental spillover of the world’s most littered waste - cigarette butts. Project Leher aims to create a cigarette waste-free environment by collecting and processing cigarette butts and making handy, diverse products out of them after chemical cleansing. 


//Business Development Model 


We have developed a four-step end-to-end comprehensive mechanism for tackling this problem.


I) Collection: 

We started with establishing a pan-India collection network by partnering with commercial complexes like DLF Cyber City. We then commenced with collecting cigarette waste from cafes, restaurants, bars  & IT Parks in Delhi-NCR. We also set up interactive dustbins with collection partners at concerts, to sensitize people to stub responsibly. Apart from this, we started collecting industrial level cigarette waste as well. Presently, we are collecting 1200 kgs every month, from 10 cities across the country.

The Butt Brigade: In order to curb the toxicity spread by flicked cigarette butts, we started an initiative under Project Leher called ‘The Butt Brigade’. The idea here is to collect used cigarette butts from our subscribers directly from their doorsteps. These subscribers are regular smokers that would receive supplies from us that would aid them in collecting these butts and then sending them across to us on a timely basis to be recycled. Each subscriber or ‘Butt Brigadier’ would choose a subscription plan feasible for them, which would vary from the frequency of cigarette butt collection. This is a hassle-free solution for all of our customers through which they take steps in order to protect the environment from the pollution spread by cigarette butts.  



II) Processing: 

There are mainly three steps involved in processing the cigarette waste collected:

  1. Segregation: After collection, we segregate the paper wrapping and the filter through our network of waste segregators. 

  2. Cleansing: We have developed a proprietary method in collaboration with the Latymer School, London to cleanse the cigarette butts and make them 100 per cent detoxified. We also partnered with the Shri Ram Institute of Industrial Research, to perform the process of detoxification for us so that all the precautions are followed and the waste generated at the end is disposed of in a safe and environment-friendly manner.


III) Recycling: 

We have been able to successfully recycle a batch of cleansed cigarette butt into completely recyclable furniture. We are trying to scale the same on an industrial level. Along with our technology partners, we are trying to make a plyboard that can be used for construction. The paper and tobacco is used as compost and can be further made into mosquito repellent cards, thus making it a zero-waste model. Through hydrothermal melting, we convert the detoxified waste into moldable clay-like material, which is then shaped into products such as ashtrays & planters. 


IV) Market Linkages: 

There are mainly 4 sources of market linkages:

  1. Retail Outlets

  2. Exhibitions

  3. E-Commerce Outlets

  4. Institutional Client


//Triple-Bottom-Line Impact


Environmental Impact

  • Saved 9.8 Billion Litres of water from getting polluted

  • Prevented over 17,890 kgs of microplastic pollution

Social Impact

  • Sensitised 550,000 people about cigarette waste through our campaigns

  • Created jobs for 68 people

Economical Impact

  • Increase in income of potters by 122%

  • Enabled cost savings of $300,000

  • Generated revenue of $20,600




The three-fold impact on the following target groups are:

Primary Beneficiaries: The rag-picker community employed segregation and collection, earning more income than before, with proper safety gear.

Secondary Beneficiaries: The Hotels, restaurants and IT parks whose cigarette waste we will be handling. The customers purchase our recycled products and bring home beauty with value.

Tertiary Beneficiaries: Millions of lifeforms- humans, animals and aquatic life, who will benefit from reduced landfill and water pollution. People were made aware about the catastrophic effect of cigarette waste through regular sensitisation campaigns.




  1. Adjudged as one of the Top 4 projects in Race to Rethink Plastic 

  2. Made it to the ‘1 Race, 4 Oceans’ by Enactus

  3. Lauded by the World Bank and Parley for the Ocean for innovative collection and outreach

  4. Launched an exclusive website and received orders worth ₹2.5 lakhs in first 10 weeks

  5. Created over 35 collaborations to build a unique waste collection network across India