A helping hand

Amrita Prasad
Monday, 20 May 2019

Shriti Malhotra, CEO, The Body Shop India, talks about the brand’s association with Plastics for Change and its efforts to empower waste pickers

We have constantly been made aware of the plastic menace and its negative impact on the marine, ocean and terrestrial life. But we hardly talk about the human cost involved in this. Currently, the population of waste pickers in India, whose livelihood depends on plastic, stands at 1.5 million. They are a part of the informal sector, not a part of organised workforce. 

In Bengaluru, The Body Shop India, a skincare and beauty brand, along with Plastics for Change organisation, is working with waste pickers to ensure that they receive fair and consistent income and mitigate the plastic pollution crisis at the same time. Shriti Malhotra, CEO, The Body Shop India, tells us more about this initiative. 

What is the scenario of plastic waste in India, and particularly in Bengaluru? 
Eighty per cent of the global oceans’ plastic comes from five rivers in Asia and 15,000 tonnes of plastic is dumped every day in India. Buying recycled plastic from India helps reduce plastic waste in streets, rivers and oceans. The Body Shop is incorporating 100 per cent post-consumer recycled (PCR) material into some of our bottles. This accounts for approximately 580 tonnes of new plastic saved year on year. 

The Body Shop and Plastics for Change (PFC) will work alongside local partner — Hasiru Dala, a non-governmental organisation that fights for waste pickers’ rights and Hasiru Dala Innovations, a social enterprise dedicated to creating essential employment opportunities for waste pickers. Through PFC we are trying to change lives of 2,500 waste pickers. 

Can you elaborate on the initiative?
The devastating effect of single use plastic waste on our oceans is not unknown. However, there is a human angle to the crisis too, which is often not discussed. We believe, plastic, if used responsibly, can be sustainable. In our initiative, we are focusing on collecting used plastic and re-using it. And while we do this, the PFC programme parallely helps improve livelihood and working conditions of many people, including women, whose livelihood depends on this material. 

The initiative is a recycling scheme, focusing on supporting the waste pickers’ community and improving their working conditions. Over three billion people around the world live without access to organised waste collection. That’s almost half the planet’s population. Some of the world’s poorest people pick it to make a living. They live and work in appalling conditions, shunned by the society. Now, for the first time, we are bringing in Community Trade in our packaging through our first Community Trade Recycled Plastic. 

How will the collaboration curb the plastic menace? 
The low price of oil has made it cheaper for companies to use virgin plastic rather than recycled. So the value of recycled plastic has plummeted. The low demand for recycled plastic is having a crippling impact on the development of the recycling infrastructure globally. This is resulting in both an environmental disaster and humanitarian tragedy.  Waste pickers have multiple barriers to formal employment so they are unable to make a living from recycling and there is often no other safety net to sustain their families. The low price for recycled plastic results in fewer waste pickers supplying plastic into the supply chain. As a result, the recycling wholesalers and processing facilities are closing.

To address this problem, PFC is implementing a deal process and mobile platform to create markets for recycled plastics and to revitalise the recycling infrastructure. The mobile platform creates transparency and accountability through the supply chain to ensure that that those at the base of the supply chain receive a fair price for the plastic they collect. 

Plastics For Change is verified by the World Fair Trade Organisation, and has developed an ethical sourcing platform to create sustainable livelihoods for the urban poor, while transitioning the industry towards a circular economy.

How is the plastic waste being recycled and reused in your brand? 
We are currently undergoing a comprehensive review of sustainable packaging, exploring a variety of options that can be delivered to our customers across 69 countries, in a socially and environmentally sustainable way. Our long-term vision is ‘Our products do not cause harm to people or the environment and can be repurposed’. We are incorporating 100 per cent PCR material into some of our 60 ml, 250 ml and 750 ml bottles. This accounts for approximately 580 tonnes of new plastic saved on year on year. By the end of 2019, 61 per cent of our pet plastic will be made of post consumer recyclate. We are looking at a broader focus to take a responsible and circular approach with all materials and not just plastic. 

How are you empowering rag pickers through this initiative? 
Informal waste pickers play a crucial role in preventing plastic from entering rivers and oceans. That’s why we are supporting them with the launch of our first Community Trade Recycled Plastic. Together with local partner, PFC, we will support the waste pickers with a) a fair price for their labour and stable income b) more sanitary working conditions c) access to education, healthcare and financial services d) the respect and recognition they deserve in society. 

This marks the start of a wider ambition, which is to introduce Community Trade Recycled plastic across all pet plastic used by The Body Shop within three years. We aim to buy 250 tonnes in 2019, double that to 500 tonnes in 2020 and by the end of 2021, we aim to purchase over 900 tonnes of Community Trade Recycled Plastic. 

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