H&M Foundation Initiative Supports Textile Waste Pickers in India

The H&M Foundation is increasing the ranks of its Saamuhika Shakti initiative with the addition of two partners developing Circular Textiles Waste Models designed to improve the livelihood of waste pickers in Bangalore, India, a group that currently benefits little from the global boom in textile recycling.

The new partners are Stichting Enviu Nederland, Holland, and Intellecaps’s Circular Apparel Innovation Factory (CAIF), India. They join nine other organizations working to help waste workers, who will be integrated into two work streams by Saamuhika Shakti.

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CAIF will lead the waste-entrepreneurship model and use Bangalore’s existing Dry Waste Collection Centers (DWCCs) as local repositories for post-consumer discarded textiles. The CAIF will work with six or seven of the waste entrepreneurs running the centers to adopt the Circular Textiles Waste Model. They will do this by establishing waste sorting capacity in each, and training the waste sorters and pickers to handle this particular kind of discarded textiles.

Enviu will create a circular B2B textile service model, starting with recycled hotel linens that will be made into towels with the aid of new, specially trained waste pickers. Enviu aims to also employ the waste workers in hotel laundries, logistics operations and warehousing services. It predicts that by December 2023, its waste workers will have kept 30-35 tons of discarded cotton textiles from landfills.

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

There are 22,500 informal waste pickers in Bangalore, and 49 percent of them are women. It is reported that they are paid 33 percent less than males doing the same job.

India generates approximately 8.5 percent of the world’s textile waste. Of that, 51 percent is domestic post-consumer waste, 42 percent is pre-consumer waste, and 7 percent is imported post-consumer waste. The H&M Foundation’s Saamuhika Shakti initiative is a new component of a larger multi-year textile recycling program across India designed to benefit the community of neglected waste pickers. The larger program is also funded in part by Ikea Foundation.

According to the market research firm Extrapolate, the worldwide textile recycling market was worth $6.45 billion in 2022, and will grow to $9.89 billion  in 2032, reflecting a compound annual growth rate of 4.3 percent.

Worldwide increases in textile recycling have vast social and environmental benefits. First and foremost, it cuts down dramatically on pollution by using less energy, water, chemicals and pigment to make new textiles. It shifts used clothing to areas that need it, saves money on the real estate devoted to landfill and the cost of disposing of things in it.

The market for recyclables will expand because of the cheap cost of the goods compared with new goods, but will be restrained by the rising cost of processing it, Extrapolate said.

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