A little over two years ago, nine organisations and one funder came together to form the first-of-its-kind collective impact initiative Saamuhika Shakti, a project aimed at enabling informal waste pickers in Bengaluru to have greater agency to lead secure and dignified lives, with a specific focus on gender and equity.
Initiated and funded by the H&M Foundation, with The/Nudge Institute working as the backbone organisation, the initiative has since worked with waste pickers across areas of concern as pointed out by the waste pickers themselves - informed by a detailed study conducted by FSG, comprising in-depth ethnographic research with waste picker households, consultations with 22 global and national organisations working with waste pickers, and secondary research on the waste management ecosystem in Bengaluru.
These areas of concern included jobs and entrepreneurship, education, social security, income, housing, water, sanitation, health, skilling in waste management, waste innovation, and raising awareness about the work waste pickers do.
Our interventions address a range of issues that are basic and complex at once. But, as waste and waste pickers' lives continue to evolve, our interventions must adapt and grow.
Our current partners have re-looked programs to address challenges both new and old, expanding their scope time and again since the project began in 2020 to serve the community’s interests better.
Over the past few years, the concept of circular economy has become a go-to buzzword for planet-friendly initiatives and for growth.
Over the past few years, the concept of circular economy has become a go-to buzzword for planet-friendly initiatives and for growth. While the circular economic models bring in much-required focus and attention to the volumes of waste generated, it often passes over the main actors who make the segregation and recycling of waste possible, the waste pickers. At H&M Foundation and Saamuhika Shakti we want to go one step further – create proof points for Inclusive Circularity in waste management by showcasing that it is possible to ensure social impact is also at the centre of planet-friendly actions.
With our two new partners, Stichting Enviu Nederland (Enviu) and Intellecap’s Circular Apparel Innovation Factory (CAIF), H&M Foundation and Saamuhika Shakti are expanding on the inclusive circularity learnings, and developing Circular Textiles Waste Models (CTWM) to improve the livelihoods of waste workers.
Planet-positive + People Positive
Their initiatives are designed to improve both planet-positive outcomes – mitigating emissions by plugging the leakage of textile waste into the environment while creating people-positive outcomes – economic activity through the recovery of waste and reclaiming its value.
Over the past decade, policy and infrastructure to process plastic waste have become robust, increasing the value of plastic both for recyclers and the waste pickers who collect it. Textile waste needs a similar trajectory.
India accumulates 7,793 kilotons of textile waste, accounting for 8.5% of global textile waste generation 1.
Out of total textile waste circulation in the country, domestic post-consumer collection contributes 51%, 42% comes from pre-consumer sources, and 7% is imported post-consumer waste. Furthermore, it is estimated that up to 25% of fabric is wasted during the cutting process in apparel production 2.
Innovations in textile waste management are at a nascent stage and growing, but as of yet, the economic value chain bypasses the waste picker.
Currently, textile waste offers little to no income. With limited access to processes and infrastructure for collection and aggregation, the waste workers are able to sell only small volumes to recyclers, who need massive volumes to break even. Thus recyclers currently rely on importing textile waste. Waste workers, therefore, continue to operate with a low markup on the original cost and remain in the vicious poverty cycle.
To solve this, within the Saamuhika Shakti project, CAIF and Enviu aim to establish an integrated Circular Textile Waste Management (CTWM) model in Bengaluru that recovers and reclaims value from textile waste while creating green and sustained livelihoods for the informal waste pickers.
The two partners will work with the collective to include waste workers already under the Saamuhika Shakti program into two work streams:
The partners aim to reach 400 to 450 waste workers through direct and indirect engagement.
Intellecap, a global impact advisory and part of the Aavishkaar Group, works to build businesses that can benefit underserved segments across Asia and Africa. Circular Economy (CE), climate change, gender and livelihood, financial inclusion, natural resource management and enhancement of the private sector are some of the core themes it supports.
In 2018, Intellecap seeded Circular Apparel Innovation Factory (CAIF), in collaboration with Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd. and Stitching DOEN as its anchor partners. CAIF is an industry-led initiative, a common action platform, born to accelerate the transition of the fashion industry across the global south to become resource efficient and responsible by creating sustained green livelihoods. CAIF’s mission is to build the ecosystem and capabilities to enable the circular economy to move from the margins to the mainstream, across the global south.
In the Saamuhika Shakti project, CAIF – which already works with partner Hasiru Dala – will lead the waste-entrepreneurship model. CAIF will use Bengaluru’s existing Dry Waste Collection Centres (DWCCs) as a network of hyperlocal centers to aggregate and segregate post-consumer textile waste.
CAIF will work with 6-7 waste entrepreneurs running the DWCCs to adopt the CTWM model, by building textile waste sorting capacity at their centers and training the waste sorters and free-roaming waste pickers in the handling of this kind of waste. Their intervention will focus on enabling textile waste collection, sorting, and selling to generate revenue for waste pickers.
CAIF’s work will also engage with Bengaluru residents to encourage them to support and actively contribute to collection drives for textile waste being operated by the waste entrepreneurs.
Through these interventions, CAIF aims to impact the lives and livelihoods of 300 - 350 waste workers while diverting about 300 – 400 tonnes of waste from landfills and incinerators by the end of 2023.
Stichting Enviu Nederland is a not-for-profit public benefit organisation with the main goal to build markets for the common good. It accelerates systemic change by building and supporting innovations that improve livelihood and the environment. Enviu has been working in five program areas: financial inclusion, food, plastic waste, circular textiles, and sustainable shipping. In India, Enviu began its work in the circular textiles sphere in 2016.
In the Saamuhika Shakti project, Enviu will work to create a circular B2B textile service model, starting with the hotel industry. Waste hotel linen will be recycled and brought back into the loop as new towels, integrating waste pickers in the process.
Enviu is working on validating the quality of linen produced from recycled fibre to make sure it can withstand 200 washes and comply with 4-star hotel standards. Enviu will then recruit eight hotels and run trials with a few of them before kicking off the project.
Enviu will work with CAIF to help train the waste pickers they employ. By December 2023, Enviu looks to collect and divert from landfills close to 30-35 tonnes of cotton waste sorted by waste workers. Enviu also aims to employ waste workers in alternative livelihood opportunities in the hotels’ laundry, logistics, and warehousing departments.
The CTWM model that CAIF and Enviu plan to use is designed to build socio-economic resilience amongst waste workers and will have the unique advantage of being able to rely on strong relationships already established with the waste pickers by the existing Saamuhika Shakti partners.
Saamuhika Shakti already addresses many of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, including ending poverty, better health, access to good education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, reduced inequalities and economic growth. With CAIF and Enviu on board, the collective impact initiative will also address goals such as climate action and industry innovation and infrastructure.
1 "Wealth In Waste" Report 2022, Reverse Resources