'Filter out toxic plastic waste': Kolkata man launches campaign against cigarette filters

If you frequent roadside tea stalls, you will often encounter someone with a glass of tea in one hand and a burning cigarette in the other.

Published: 22nd March 2022 08:27 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd March 2022 02:38 PM   |  A+A-

Nirit Datta

Nirit Datta

Express News Service

If you frequent roadside tea stalls, you will often encounter someone with a glass of tea in one hand and a burning cigarette in the other. In fact, you can spot a smoker in almost every nook and cranny of urban India. Apart from health complications, the end result also includes dropping litter i.e. cigarette filters. The major component in filters is cellulose acetate, which is one of the biggest sources of micro-plastic pollution. Also, these filters contaminate the heavy metals found in the soil thus affecting freshwater ecosystems to a great extent and in turn, causing damage to the environment. 

Passionate about wildlife conservation, Nirit Datta (25) from Kolkata had always wanted to do something that would help the planet. A smoker himself, Datta was curious about what cigarette filters are made of. Detailed research on their origin and he was shocked to learn about the impact that these have on the environment, and how little is done by the government to aid its proper disposal.

Given this general disregard, Datta launched ButtRush—an ongoing 24-hour environmental campaign against cigarette filters. With an aim to collect discarded cigarette stubs as well as create awareness about this issue, he conducted his first clean-up drive on April 28 last year in Kolkata. 

Since then, Datta has conducted similar initiatives in Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Delhi-NCR—the latter was on December 11 last year. The Delhi-NCR drive—it started in Noida, and the team moved to Delhi and Gurugram successively—as Datta mentions, was crucial as they collected 1,02,569 cigarette filters. Anushka Gupta (25) from Gurugram, who worked as a volunteer at the Delhi-NCR ButtRush, mentions, “Most people don’t realise the problematic situation these cigarette butts create. They think filters are made of cotton and are nontoxic. That’s why it is one of the major pollutants that go severely unnoticed.”

Fight for change
Unlike other environmental campaigns, ButtRush is a 24-hour environmental marathon. “We start at 4 am in the morning and continue till 4 am the next day. No one is supposed to sleep. They can take breaks but keep moving,” elaborates Datta. Their motive is to create awareness, generate research and analysis through these rushes, and also provide successful alternatives to the issue.

“The rushes are not just about collecting stubs. We also ask people on the street if they know what the filters are made of, and ask smokers how they prefer dumping stubs,” adds Datta. Datta’s mission is to go beyond reducing plastic pollution and contamination caused due to cigarette butts.

“While many have talked about cigarette butt pollution over the years, barely any action has been taken against it,” Datta mentions. He adds how the billion-dollar tobacco companies in the country allegedly greenwash the issue by paying NGOs to only conduct smaller environmental campaigns that would not affect their [tobacco companies’] reputation and sales. “It is not about the money. It is about being true to the cause and not lying to people who are voluntarily part of this movement.”

Gupta mentions they are witnessing a slow change. “While there were some people on the streets who would look at us and laugh, a lot of them were curious enough to ask what we were doing, and some even joined in to help. It was amazing to see we were actually creating an impact,” she concludes.


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  • Ashis

    But how these butts are disposed? I am curious. I dispose them through dry waste disposal.
    4 months ago reply
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