Creating art with recycled waste has helped uplift the lives of waste pickers as well as city workers, who were earlier shunned as dailts or ‘untouchables’ or rather thieves.
Our planet is drowning in plastic. The devastating effects of plastic wastes on our oceans are known, with marine life at risk. However, there is a human element to the plastic crisis. Over 3 billion people live without formal waste management— that’s almost half the planet's population. This has given rise to a waste picking economy.
Some of the world’s most marginalised pick untreated waste to make a living. These waste pickers, often live below the poverty line and work in appalling conditions. Yet they form a critical line of defense in stopping plastic from entering water bodies.
In India, there are 1.5 million waste collected and 6,000 tonnes of plastic everyday are sort over. The majority of them are Dalits previously termed as ‘untouchables’. 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. With over three decades of working with these communities around the world.
The Body Shop recently unveiled a giant artwork of a female Indian waste picker in London’s Borough Market. This has been made by using recycled plastic collected by waste pickers in Bengaluru.
The artwork has been created using 1,500 pieces of recycled plastic, collected by the waste pickers. Inspired by Dolly, an Indian waste picker, it was created by artist Michael Murphy.
The brand has also launched its in-store recycling program — BBOB (Bring Back Our Bottles), encouraging return of empty plastic packaging for recycling. It's currently operational across 40 stores. Planned as a pan-India initiative, it is a step for the brand towards valuing plastic and protecting the environment.
Working with a start-up company and small waste picker communities means starting small and scaling up sustainability. In 3 years, the company plans to purchase over 900 tonnes of community trade recycled plastic and help empower up to 2,500 waste pickers. They will also get help in education, loans, and healthcare.
“This project creates fair and consistent income for the waste picker community along with this, we will use recycled plastic to created product packaging.” Shriti Malhotra, CEO, The Body Shop India, said.
“Partnering with Plastics For Change and Hasiru Dala meets our aim of confronting the plastic crisis with a responsible recycling programme, focusing on human element and community development. Hasiru Dala, our local partner will work with the waste picker community directly on this project.” Shriti added.
Waste pickers in Bangalore collect 1050 tonnes of recyclable waste every day. Traditionally considered as untouchables and shunned by the society, were earlier seen as thieves. With these efforts, they are now recognised as city workers and have identity cards too.