In 2020, the philanthropic H&M Foundation launched a first of its kind $11 million initiative, Saamuhika Shakti, 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. Buttons partly made from the plastic waste are being 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.
With the fashion industry working to shift business models from linear to circular, new types of value chains arise – where recycled materials play an important part. But as the demand for recycled raw materials increases, there are urgent opportunities to create social inclusion along the new value chains.
Of the 62 million tonnes of waste generated annually in India, only 19% is treated and the rest ends up in landfills. The largest driving force behind recycling, are the roughly 1.5 to four million informal waste pickers, who are crucial to the waste management system and key players in the circular economy, yet live in poverty, suffer harassment, and have little link to social support services.
Saamuhika Shakti unites ten local experts and NGOs across sectors in a holistic ecosystem in Bengaluru India, aiming to equip waste pickers to lift themselves out of poverty. It is already impacting 32,000 people in the community in various aspects like education, health and safety, while contributing to a circular economy.
‘If we collaborate holistically towards inclusive circularity, we can catalyse solutions that allow both people and planet to thrive. By addressing challenges related to waste pickers' lives, they have the potential to lift themselves out of poverty as well as contribute to a global circular system,’ said Maria Bystedt, strategy lead H&M Foundation.
The initiative has also caught the fashion industry’s attention as they are looking for recycled plastic. The post consumer PET waste sourced by waste pickers in Bengaluru is sold to social enterprise Hasiru Dala Innovations. From there, the PET waste is then flaked and washed and provided to button suppliers. So far, it has resulted in 152 million buttons on garments sold worldwide.