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Industry Talk

Working with India’s waste pickers

Adopting circular textile waste models in Bengaluru to give informal workers greater agency.

18th May 2023

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Bengaluru, India

Clothing/​Footwear, Sustainable

H&M Foundation is welcoming two new partners to its Saamuhika Shakti initiative in Bengaluru, India.

Saamuhika Shakti is a collective impact initiative via which nine organisations have joined forces to give informal waste pickers greater agency, with a specific focus on gender and equity. This project is initiated and supported by the H&M Foundation and The/Nudge Institute serves as its backbone.

India accounts for 8.5% of global textile waste generation and out of total textile waste circulation in the country, domestic post-consumer collection contributes 51%, while 42% comes from pre-consumer sources and 7% is imported post-consumer waste. Innovations in textile waste management are emerging, but as of yet, the economic value chain bypasses the waste picker.

The two new Saamuhika Shakti partners are Stichting Enviu Nederland and Intellecap’s Circular Apparel Innovation Factory (CAIF).

CAIF will lead the waste-entrepreneurship model and use Bengaluru’s existing dry waste collection centres (DWCCs) as a network of hyperlocal centres to aggregate and segregate post-consumer textile waste. There, CAIF will work with 6-7 waste entrepreneurs running the DWCCs to adopt a circular textile waste model, by building textile waste sorting capacity at their centres and training the waste sorters and waste pickers in the handling of this kind of waste. Their intervention will focus on enabling textile waste collection, sorting and selling.

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. By December 2023, Enviu is seeking to collect and divert close to 30-35 tons of cotton waste sorted by waste workers from landfills. Enviu also aims to employ waste workers in alternative livelihood opportunities in the hotels’ laundry, logistics, and warehousing services.

This new textile recycling setup is contributing to a larger multi-year textile-recycling programme across India, adding on a social perspective and ensuring that the voices of waste pickers are part of the equation. The larger programme is also seed funded by IKEA Foundation.

“Our goal is to generate additional income streams through textile waste,” said Maria Bystedt, H&M Foundation strategy lead “Through this initiative, we are promoting inclusive circularity and improving livelihood opportunities for waste pickers.”

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