A bottom up, micro- entrepreneurship led approach to solution designing for post-consumer textile waste
Textile waste in India has been a growing problem that has been unfolding in scale and complexity over the past couple of years. While pre-consumer waste from factories and manufacturers is beginning to receive the much required attention due to latest EPR developments; post- consumer waste – a direct consequence of hyper fast fashion remains largely outside these conversations.
Indian cities increasingly are facing the challenges with regard to post-consumer waste. A problem in the waiting, textile waste comprises approximately 4-6 percent of municipal solid waste. In 2018 Hasiru Dala conducted a study, which showed that more than 80% of all textile waste given to the dry waste collection system can be repaired or reused if collected separately, preventing it from ending up in landfills and open dumpsites.
The problem here is two-fold: First, in the absence of a proper systematic collection mechanism, consumers face the dilemma of disposing of their clothes after use. Avenues such as donation and charity are most common, but are highly fragmented and ad hoc.
Second, without proper linkages to realise value from such waste, waste entrepreneurs or DWCC (Dry Waste Collection Centre) operators are not incentivised to collect and manage this waste as they do in the case of plastics or other dry waste categories. Unlike those waste streams, textile waste that comes through dry waste collection often finds place in the reject waste category that is typically sent off to landfills or used to soak up leachates in wet waste trucks. Neither of those uses help us with the circularity of textiles.
Karthik Natarajan, Recycling Program Manager at Hasiru Dala, says, “In Bangalore, with the decentralised waste collection system, informal waste pickers are the first line of contact in material recovery from domestic waste. They are the first ones to collect, segregate and recover as much material as possible. In the past, textile waste was given as part of domestic dry waste and it came to the facilities either soiled or contaminated with food and other impurities that are present in dry waste. Unlike plastics, where recyclers see value in the material in spite of contamination, textiles require larger facilities to process once contaminated. Even with elevated levels of segregation, when collected with regular dry waste, textiles almost always end up with stains and contamination.
With our 2018 project, ‘Hasiru Batte’ (Green Clothes, in Kannada), we demonstrated that if we collect clothes separately, they not only end up diverted from landfills, but can be a resource for waste workers to enhance their income as opposed to waste that needs to be discarded. The 2018 audit of incoming textiles also confirmed that there is a need to address textile waste independent of the Dry waste stream for it to be viable for the waste entrepreneurs to engage with it.”
“What happens to post-consumer waste is almost like a black hole. Clothes today are not designed to be recycled. Recycling involving the breaking down of clothes to fibre still is underdeveloped. Challenges with regard to material blends, pricing and higher costs, technology availability at scale, quality of fibres and a plethora of other challenges really makes it very difficult to bring it back into the manufacturing cycle. So, the questions that arise are – how do we manage all of this waste? Can extending their life be the most viable option for now? Where do we begin?” says Trina Roy, Senior Associate, Intellecap currently managing the “Closing the Loop on Textile Waste” project.
With this background Hasiru Dala and CAIF have recently launched a pilot to test a micro-entrepreneurship led approach for local collection and sorting of post-consumer textile waste. It leverages the existing Dry Waste Collection Centres, existing in Bangalore at a ward level, and their close interactions with residents; this pilot aims to establish a traceable textile waste stream from households.
What are we testing? How are we looking to solve this?
Modelled similar to daily dry waste collection, we are establishing a parallel textile waste door to door collection system that will regularly collect old garments and other textiles directly from households. Such a dedicated stream for textile will ensure that textile waste is not mixed and soiled with dry waste, allowing for better quality and condition of clothes to come through collection.
Once the collection is done, the waste is aggregated at DWCCs for sorting. Sorting is a critical step to ensure and enable value realisation of the clothes. Keeping in mind the forward market linkages, the waste is segregated and graded into different categories. While the repairable and reusable clothes and linens find a new life in resale; the poorest categories of waste are sent to innovators who can use them as input to create circular products such as bricks, lamps, table tops etc.
In our joint efforts to create a grassroots system for textile waste management, we are placing waste workers at the centre of the solution. The thrust of our model is in creation of green jobs across the value chain – in collection, sorting, repair and resale. Opening up livelihood opportunities for the existing waste worker community in this textile waste stream has been our first priority. Working in partnership with the DWCC operators the pilot’s focus is to establish a sustainable business case for these micro-enterprises and build evidence for the replication of this model across other wards in the city.
“The partnership helps us reinforce the role of the informal sector in creating a circular flow of materials. The idea seems scalable to other wards in Bangalore and can also be taken to other cities to extend life of usable clothes and aggregate and process the no-reusable textiles. Hasiru Dala has been working to maximise the capacity of DWCCs to generate income and inclusion of waste pickers and this pilot helps do just that.” says Karthik.
“What really has been special about bringing this solution to reality is how from the start it was conceptualised with the waste workers and entrepreneurs. We heavily relied on them to tell us how we should design this model – we got a seat at their table to co-design a solution bottom up that is informed by the pulse on the ground and accounted for the multiple underlying challenges that comes with it. The entire partnership is extremely exciting because of the amount we get to learn from every interaction with these incredible entrepreneurs,” adds Trina.
This blog is part of our knowledge series highlighting updates and learnings from the “Closing the Loop on Textile Waste” Project, in partnership with Enviu, and supported by the IKEA Foundation.