Clorox: Reducing Waste and Improving Livelihoods
Reduce waste and improve livelihoods
June 7, 2022
By Matt Kopac, Associate Director, Health and Beauty Sustainability
When monsoons hit Kerala, India, water and plastic flow. Material that litters neighborhoods and on roads is washed into one of 47 rivers that stretch from the Ghats Mountains to the Arabian Sea.
The Odaw River in Accra, Ghana is a site of human and ecological deprivation. It is so polluted with plastic waste and other pollutants that the river is dead and the ocean at the point where the river exits is a dull gray. An illegal slum of thousands of residents sits right on its banks.
These scenes are common in southern countries, where underdeveloped infrastructure is unable to properly manage waste streams. The health consequences of poor waste management are obvious: waste can clog sewers, cause flooding, spread disease and poison wildlife. If burned, the waste releases dangerous toxins into the air.
In the face of these challenges, countries rely on waste workers, often informal workers, to make a dent in the waste. Waste workers – mostly women – help clean up their communities and ecosystems, bringing health and hope to their families and neighbors. But it’s not enough.
It is in this context that I visited India and Ghana in the spring to launch our Burt’s Bees partnership with reuse global, an organization dedicated to reducing waste, reviving lives and restoring the balance of nature. We have forged this partnership as part of our goal to be Net Zero Plastic to Nature by 2025.
This goal starts with innovating and transforming our packaging portfolio. Burt’s Bees already uses 50% post-consumer recycled content in its packaging, and we’re working to reduce our reliance on virgin plastic and fiber by an additional 50% by 2030. We’re also working to achieve 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging. . But all of this takes time. In the meantime, we are committed to recovering and recycling as much virgin packaging as we have left in our portfolio. We estimate this will be around £1.5m a year by 2025.
In India, Burt’s Bees invests in a social enterprise that creates dignified work while tackling the massive health and environmental impacts of waste. green worms takes communities with little or no recycling collection and builds public-private partnerships with local governments and village councils, raises awareness of the importance of recycling and transforms local economies. Where previously the only option was to throw away or burn household waste, Green Worms has created a door-to-door collection business where female collectors manage monthly household subscriptions. Residents deposit their organics in their yard and store their plastics, glasses and metals until their next monthly visit from a collector. Materials are sorted, processed and sold in secondary materials markets.
I traveled to several sites in India, including a sorting facility in the village of Agricole, where I visited 36 separators. Jalsa, the manager of the women’s cooperative employed at the facility, explained that the facility focuses on mixed flexible plastics, sorting them into specific streams before baling them and sending them for co-processing. Thanks to the joint intervention of rePurpose Global and Green Worms, women’s earnings are well above the standard Indian blue-collar salary. This is largely due to plastic credit financing, which provides a premium for multi-layered plastic, thereby changing the economy and making collection worthwhile.
In Ghana, Burt’s Bees supports a social enterprise that collects waste from communities near the ocean. Coliba operates redemption centers that provide cash payments for PET bottles collected from the environment. Thanks to our investment, Coliba is able to change the economy and make collecting and recycling plastic water bottles worthwhile. This may come as a bit of a surprise, as PET plastic water bottles are among the most recyclable items in the United States and countries around the world. In India, for example, it is rare to see a plastic bottle on the street, even among other waste, because its value is greater than the cost of collecting and recycling it. There is a market for that.
This is not the case in Ghana. Walking along the beach, the need is so dire. Beaches are littered with plastic water bottles and illegal dumping grounds; all types of waste litter the coastline. However, following the intervention of rePurpose Global, collectors are now beginning to scour beaches, neighborhoods and roads to collect the bottles. In doing so, they also support the livelihoods of their families.
A redemption center can be found near the beach in the village of Kokrobite. The site is managed by a young entrepreneur, Vaida. She has two staff members, Felicia and Eunice. The women are responsible for removing and sorting the caps and labels, which can also be recycled with the bottles. Juliet runs a similar facility in the beachfront community of Osu. The bottles are then consolidated and sent to a material recovery facility north of Accra. In this facility, a group of 26 people (mostly women), led by the site manager Mercy, process PET into flakes for sale on the international market. Prior to Coliba’s arrival, workers had no job opportunities. Thanks to rePurpose and Coliba, they now earn well above the Ghanaian minimum wage.
I think what I enjoyed the most was the sense of pride the women on the front lines had in their work. The income from work was incredibly meaningful to their families, yes, and they also found meaning as agents of change to protect the health of their neighbors and clean up the environment in and around their communities. The level of pollution was overwhelming at times, but visiting the local waste workers gave me hope that if we all support and center their work, we can really make a difference. By going beyond our innovation efforts to support recovery and recycling, brands like Burt’s Bees can make a significant contribution to the health and livelihoods of people around the world.