• Susan

H&M: recycled plastic collected by waste pickers now featured on garments sold worldwide


Together with an ecosystem of partners, the non profit H&M Foundation launched a first of its kind $11 million initiative in 2020, to address the gaps in the system that keep Bengaluru waste pickers in poverty and exclusion. Now, plastic waste collected by informal waste pickers is becoming a valued resource in the fashion and textile industry, providing a higher income and recognition as an integral part of the circular value chain. Buttons partly made from the plastic waste are now featured on garments sold worldwide. The buttons are traceable down to the source of the waste along with names of the workers, social security, salaries and working conditions at the aggregation centre.


In 2020, the H&M Foundation initiated Saamuhika Shakti, a collective impact initiative aiming to equip waste pickers to lift themselves out of poverty through a holistic ecosystem of organisations. Eight local partners are working together to support the waste picker community in various aspects – that the waste pickers themselves have identified – such as safe working conditions, access to social services and good quality education, water and sanitation, upskilling or access to alternative jobs, innovations in waste management streams that are inclusive and provide livelihoods to the waste pickers, a shift in the way the population think about waste pickers, as well as increasing economic opportunities. The four year programme (2020 to 2023) is funded by H&M Foundation with more than $11 million and aims to address the gaps in the system that keep waste pickers in poverty.


Kumudha, operator at DWCC Bengaluru.


Two years in the making, Saamuhika Shakti is already impacting around 20,000 waste pickers including their families and has caught the attention of others. With the fashion and textile industry working to shift business models from linear to circular, sustainable materials are in demand, and recycled plastic plays a vital part in creating a regenerative industry. H&M Group has now become a business partner with the social enterprise Hasiru Dala Innovations, placing orders for millions of buttons partly made from recycled PET bottles (rPET) sourced by waste pickers in Bengaluru. This has extended the social impact of Saamuhika Shakti and will further benefit the waste picker community by creating jobs and income opportunities. It is a standalone business partnership which is not subsidised by the funds from the non profit H&M Foundation.


‘Waste management and material recycling are fundamental components of a circular economy, but in order for it to be truly sustainable, it needs to include the very group of people that upholds this value chain in India – the informal waste picker community. If challenges related to waste pickers’ lives and the waste sector can be addressed, waste pickers have the potential to be a key player in a global circular system – and could not only contribute to the health and state of our planet, but also uplift themselves out of poverty. We call it inclusive circularity,’ said Maria Bystedt, strategy lead H&M Foundation.


Shekar Prabhakar, Hasiru Dala Innovations.


The buttons are partly made from post consumer PET waste collected primarily by informal waste pickers in Bengaluru, who segregate the waste and sell the PET to the social enterprise, Hasiru Dala Innovations who have received ‘Guaranteed Member Status’ from World Fair Trade Organization. The PET waste is then flaked and washed and provided to two of H&M Group’s button suppliers in India. The buttons are traceable down to the source of the waste along with names of the workers, social security, salaries and working conditions at the aggregation centre.