Cigarette butts that grow into plants, a couple's journey to make smoking guilt free
Consider this. Over 4.5 trillion cigarette butts (about 6.9 billion pounds) litter the planet every year. Non-biodegradable cigarette filters are the biggest pollutants found in the ocean, far higher than plastic wrappers and beverage bottles, according to the Ocean Trash Index, Ocean Conservancy.
When you throw your cigarette butt away, it becomes litter. But what if this litter could offset some of the environmental damages caused? Hard to believe? Not really! What if we told you that there exist cigarettes with handmade filter tips with special seeds that sprout anywhere you throw them after use? So, you are not littering anymore, but planting trees.
'Good karma for all' seems to be the motivation behind the launch of Karma Tips, 100 per cent organic, biodegradable and chemical free, handmade filter tips that release live seeds into the ground when disposed of.
Karma Tips is the brainchild of duo Ved and Chetana Roy, who quit their high-flying advertising jobs in Mumbai and Delhi to start this unique venture. With careers spanning almost 20 years and work encompassing brands like Pepsi, 7UP, Samsung Mobile, and Panasonic among others, they decided to quit their jobs to create a niche and 'meaningful' brand.
The idea for Karma Tips came after a briefing session at the 'big tobacco' company, a client of the advertising agency that Ved was working for, at that time.
To know more about Karma Tips, YourStory spoke to Ved and Chetana at their farm in Mallasandra, in the outskirts of Bengaluru.
Ved explains: "During the meeting, it came as an eye-opener that it wasn't tobacco in cigarettes that was the real villain, it was the paper! The paper is manufactured to 'burn continuously' and hence, treated with 99 percent of chemicals in the process. So, while we vilify tobacco, the paper gets away scot-free. There was a Hollywood movie, , made on this subject about how the 'big tobacco' company manipulated the chemicals on the paper to make their 'big brand' more addictive. The paper contains Butane (lighter fluid), Toluene (industrial solvent), Nicotine (insecticide), Acetic Acid, Methanol (rocket fuel), Acetone, Cadmium, Arsenic, Benzene (Petrol fumes), Ammonia (toilet cleaner), Hexamine, and much more. The slower the paper burns the more you smoke, and that makes it more addictive.
Ved continues: "I quit working on the 'big tobacco' account and the agency soon after, but an idea took root in my mind. Despite the warnings on cigarette packets, hard-hitting media communication, pro-active governmental anti-smoking initiatives and even the periodical price rise, the truth is that there's hardly any significant reduction in the number of cigarettes smoked. Though we would appreciate people not smoking at all, we also understood that hand-rolled cigarettes are perhaps a better bet."
The duo moved out of Mumbai to settle down in the outskirts of Bangalore and work on the idea that was playing in their minds. They were clear that something had to be done about making smoking slightly safer for people and at the same time take a few baby steps to make the planet greener.
Karma Tips is a booklet of roaches made of organic paper: treeless paper with seed-infused cigarette filters (to be used with brown, non-bleached rolling paper) that not only made smoking relatively safer but worked positively for the planet. Making cigarette filters that decompose within a few days and sprout plants also made it an innovative proposition that encouraged a certain section (existing smokers) to contribute positively towards the environment without them even being aware of it.
When they realise that they are able to have a little garden of their own just by smoking and planting (or rather, just throwing) their cigarette butts in their empty pots or the garden, it makes the effort worthwhile.
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"We despatched our first batch of experimental booklets of Karma Tips in early 2016 to Croatia, a small number of about 1500. Little did we know that people would not only notice our product but also welcome the powerful idea. The day we got our first reorder was when we knew we were in business! We supplied our second batch of 5500 booklets a few weeks later.
Chetana says: "Currently, we supply a large number of booklets to the UK, Washington, France, Germany, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and to users in India where we started an 'experimental' market in mid-March, this year. The results are quite promising as users from all over the world are quite involved with the product and share their experiences in planting the butts and upload photographs of plants sprouting from them, on the Karma Tips Facebook page. It took us about two years to build our brands despite very little media advertising. A lot of product trials, word-of-mouth, and positive social media reporting from all over the world helped us in spreading information about our unique and innovative products."
Our skilled supervisors come from a lineage of 16th-century paper makers who worked for Mughal emperors. They ensure that the paper is made using traditional methods, without chemicals or wood pulp - what we call the real, tree-less paper.
Another aspect the duo finds hugely satisfying is the time they get to devote to their family and the villages they have adopted in Karnataka. With an employee strength of 20, comprising mostly women, this project has not only taught women a new skill but has also ensured that their children continued their schooling in the drought-ridden village.
Ved also throws light on another 'green' aspect of this project. "The bags that contain the products are handwoven by a community of local weavers, using organic cotton and locally grown raw material. Even the ink we use for printing is food-grade, non-toxic, and made locally. These small initiatives go a long way in involving local and rural communities in the business, thereby helping them prosper."
"After all, any business that makes only money, we believe, is a bad business," he concludes.