Sudarshan GC is a member of Media Lab Nepal, an initiative trying to bridge the gap between science and the public through an interdisciplinary approach. ThutoCycle is an idea generated by Media Lab Nepal which is paused at the present moment due to financial problems.
- Tell me about yourself and about your journey for starting your venture? When did it start?
One day, I was watching a documentary about TerraCycle, a company trying to solve the problem of cigarette butts, which motivated me to do a similar work because I had seen the waste created by smokers in hotels, cafes and in the streets. It struck me the very moment that, if we collaborated with the company, we could do something about the waste products. However, when I sent the company an email about my concerns and my proposal of collaboration, they didn’t show any interest. In the heat of the moment, I instantly replied, if you are TerraCycle, we are ThutoCycle – thuto meaning the small chunk of cigarette butts. This is how our name was coined.
- What social problem are you trying to solve or what social change do you see your product/service bring in society?
We are dealing with the problem of environmental pollution. The tobacco industry has hazardous effects on the environment and the people. Roji Rawat, my partner, lives near a factory and the smell emitted by the factory is very disturbing. Similarly, smokers in Nepal litter the cigarette butts everywhere carelessly. If we can do something to decrease the waste of these non-biodegradable substances, we can reduce the environmental dent we are making.
When we say thuto (cigarette butts), people just think of it as one thing. But within a thuto there is paper and tobacco which are degradable and a filter that is non-degradable. From the tobacco, we made a compost that can function as both fertilizer and insecticide. We made this compost within one month which is very quick for any kind of compost because of the fast degradation materials that we used. With the filter that contains tar and nicotine, we wanted to make it safe for reuse so, we treated the filters physically and chemically. The filter is like cotton that can be used to make keyrings which we have already prototyped as well.
3. Who are the founders or partners of the company?
This project was initially started by me and Roji Rawat. We had to segregate the different parts of the cigarette manually due to the unavailability of proper equipment. So, we persuaded students to volunteer with us whom we provided with the work certificate.
- What challenges did you face while starting the company and what are the challenges you are facing right now?
First, we faced the problem of collecting cigarette butts. We went to cafes and restaurants asking them to collect cigarette butts for us and even after saying they would, they didn’t collect any. Then we gave them bottles to put the cigarette butts in for a week, yet they didn’t collect it. We wasted 2 weeks just waiting for them to collect the thutos and ended up with nothing.
So, we decided to give them Rs. 5 for one bottle full of thutos, and finally the young people working in those restaurants were interested to collect it. Then we made a collection box with our name and logo and offered Rs. 100 for a kg of thutos. People finally showed more interest and by the end of the month, we collected 15 kgs of thutos from 8 restaurants and cafes near our college area.
Being students ourselves, we did not know how to communicate with the café people and convince them to collect thutos. So, all the money we gave out to people for the collection, was given out of our pockets which was a challenge itself. We had already spent around Rs. 10,000 and we were also not sure whether our experimentation would be a success or not. So we had to have huge blind faith in ourselves.
After getting 15kgs, the separation process was both time-consuming and exhausting because 1 kg has approximately 3000 cigarette butts, so separating 45000 thutos manually was definitely maddening.
- What is the market potential for the industry your company is in?
I read a lot of scientific articles and I found that getting double benefits from a compost i.e. Fertilizer and Pesticide, is uncommon. Since we were able to make such a rare compost out of waste materials, I think there is great market potential for our product. Similarly, we are not the first cigarette butt recyclers in the world. The presence of many butt recyclers and businesses in this particular sector proves that there is potential for this market and the product is definitely viable.
- What are the key needs of your company?
Our key needs currently are financial support and time investment. Since we are all students who are researching and doing everything manually, we are required to invest lots of funds and time to this project which has been very difficult for us to manage. But, I do know that it is only the initial phase that requires such attention and effort. So, I think we require an amount of Rs. 5 lakhs along with more dedicated and skilled people to contribute their expertise and time to start our company.
Similarly, we’re really in need of finding a different approach to collect cigarette butts, because I really don’t think it is something we should be paying for. It is waste plus we are trying to recycle it. So, we require cooperation from the municipalities to compel people to give the cigarette butts to us rather than carelessly polluting the environment.
7. What is the future plan with your company?
If we get investment and financial support, we are ready to collaborate with other organizations and to establish ThutoCycle as a company as well.
- Do you consider yourself as a Social Entrepreneur?
If I am doing something for the society, I would like to call myself a Social Entrepreneur but I think I have not been successful in what I am trying to do as of now. So I wouldn’t say that I am a complete Social Entrepreneur yet. However, I do believe I am on the path to becoming one. There are a lot of things to be done to be considered a complete Social Entrepreneur. I strongly believe in “innovations before entrepreneurship”.
For more information about Thuto Cycle, please contact Sudarshan GC at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with them on Facebook- Thuto Cycle.
Originally published by blincventures.com