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The Next Economy
The Body Shop’s Fairly Traded Recycled Plastic Highlights Human Side of Plastic Crisis

The Body Shop is launching its first Community Trade Recycled Plastic from Bengaluru, India. Along with fighting plastic pollution, the initiative aims to drive social change and help empower up to 2,500 waste pickers in Bengaluru.

The devastating effects of plastic waste on our oceans is well known, but the human element to the crisis is rarely discussed. Over three billion people — almost half the planet’s population — live without formal waste management. This has given rise to an informal waste-picking economy in developing countries.

Some of the world’s most marginalized people pick untreated waste to try to make a living. These waste pickers, many of them women, often live below the poverty line, work in appalling conditions and are shunned by society. Yet they form a critical line of defense in stopping plastic from entering our rivers and oceans.

That’s why The Body Shop, in partnership with Plastics For Change, is launching its first Community Trade Recycled Plastic program — a bespoke and independently verified fair trade program.

Despite the now-constant stream of innovations and strategies around eliminating plastic pollution, walking away from plastic altogether is not the answer. If used responsibly and given value, plastic can become sustainable. And The Body Shop wants to use plastic recycling to help transform lives.

“Plastic recycling is a major source of income for the one percent of the world’s most marginalized urban population, and we are incredibly excited to partner with The Body Shop and other partners to help these groups get the financial and social benefits they deserve. This is the world’s first ever program of verified Fair Trade plastic collection for use in recycling.” Andrew Almack, CEO of Plastics for Change.

In 2016, on the company’s 40th anniversary, The Body Shop launched a bold commitment to become the world’s most ethical and sustainable global business, along with a pioneering global sustainability strategy called Enrich Not Exploit™ — an extensive program of global activity and measurable 2020 targets that touches all areas of the business. The program is comprised of three pillars — enriching its products, the planet and people; one component of the latter involved doubling its Community Trade program from 19 to 40 ingredients and helping to enrich the communities that produce them. Launching today, ahead of World Fair Trade Day (May 11), this is the company’s commitment to tackling the plastic crisis differently.

Community Trade recycled plastic from Bengaluru, India

India alone has 1.5 million waste pickers who collect and sort over 6,000 tons of plastic every day that would otherwise pollute our rivers and oceans. The majority of India’s waste pickers are dalits, previously known as ‘untouchables.’ This means that they have virtually no visibility in society and have limited rights; they are vulnerable to discrimination, poor living and working conditions, and an unpredictable payment system for the plastic they collect.

“I have been picking waste for around 30 years, since I was a child,” says Anamma, former waste picker and current Manager of the Dry Waste Collection Centre in Bengaluru. “This is a really tough and physically demanding industry to be in. Waste pickers face all kinds of hardships, including harassment, late payments and health issues. However, through waste picking I have managed to raise a family and send my children to college. I am really proud of what I do. I believe we play a very important role in keeping cities clean and helping to recycle the huge amounts of plastic waste that society produces.”

Some of the first shampoo bottles made with Community Trade recycled plastic | Images credit: The Body Shop

An abundance of recyclable plastic already exists. In partnership with Plastics for Change, The Body Shop has started using Community Trade recycled plastic in its 250ml haircare bottles, including its bestselling Shea Butter and Ginger Shampoos, with one bottle sold every four seconds. The bottles contain 100 percent recycled plastic (excluding the bottle caps). Of that, 15 percent will be Community Trade recycled plastic — the remainder is recycled plastic from European sources. The Body Shop will increase the amount of Community Trade Recycled plastic over time. Working with a startup company and small waste-picker communities means starting small and scaling up in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Lee Mann, global community trade manager for The Body Shop, says: “As a company, we’ve always had the conviction to stand up for our principles when it comes to helping empower people, especially women, while protecting our planet. Our new partnership with Plastics for Change and our other partners will not only help support waste pickers but also champion plastic as a valuable renewable resource when used responsibly.”

In its first year, The Body Shop will purchase 250 tons of Community Trade recycled plastic to use in nearly three million 250ml hair care bottles by the end of 2019. 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. Over the course of three years, the program will scale up to purchasing over 900 tons of Community Trade Recycled Plastic and help empower up to 2,500 waste pickers in Bengaluru, who will receive a fair price for their work, a predictable income and access to better working conditions. They will also get help in accessing services such as education, financial loans and healthcare services, and the respect and recognition they deserve.

The Body Shop and Plastics for Change will work alongside local partners such as Hasiru Dala, a non- governmental organization that fights for waste picker rights; and Hasiru Dala Innovations, a social enterprise dedicated to creating essential employment opportunities for waste pickers.

“We set up Hasiru Dala and Hasiru Dala Innovations with the goal of giving waste pickers a formal identity in Bengaluru, to enable them to fight for their rights and a fair place in society,” says Nalini Shekar, co- founder and executive director for Hasiru Dala. “Our new partnership with The Body Shop and Plastics for Change is another huge leap in recognizing the relentless work our waste pickers carry out each day, despite being faced with so many challenges.”

Plastics For Change has developed a mobile platform that connects waste-pickers to global markets and ensures a consistent supply of high quality recycled plastic for brands, ultimately bettering the lives of the urban poor while transitioning the industry towards a circular economy. The tech startup is one of the many innovative teams solving global issues through MIT Solve.

“We are proud to support Plastics for Change, a Work of the Future Solver team working to ensure fair wages and safer working conditions for the 1.5 million waste pickers in India,” said Alex Amouyel, Executive Director with MIT Solve. “As a mobile platform bolstering transparency and accountability across the recycled plastics supply chain, its partnership with The Body Shop has the potential to truly tackle the pollution and poverty crisis in India — and set a global standard on impactful, cross-sector sustainability partnerships.”