This social enterprise is creating a fair trade system for recycling plastic waste

waste pickers - Plastics for Change
© Plastics for Change

Plastics for Change aims to help decrease plastic pollution, increase the use of recycled plastics, and help urban waste pickers earn a fair wage.

It's one thing to try to 'close the loop' on recycled materials here in the developed world, with recycling bins and services easily accessible almost everywhere, but it's another thing entirely to attempt to keep plastic waste from polluting the environment, especially waterways, in developing countries with little-to-no waste management and recycling infrastructure.

In those countries, waste pickers who manually sort garbage and pull out recyclable materials to sell on to middlemen (who then sell it on to recyclers) are usually only paid a pittance for their work, and are at the mercy of the prices set by the middlemen and the exporters, which is often just barely enough to survive.

With an estimated 30 million waste pickers making a living by collecting waste, and a plastics waste problem that's contaminating literally every part of the planet, is it possible to boost plastic recycling rates (which reduces plastic pollution) and increase the use of recycled plastics by making waste picking more financially viable?

That's one of the core ideas behind Plastics for Change, which seeks to increase the monetary value of the collected plastic waste to the pickers who collect it by creating what's being called the first 'fair trade' system for this material, and by increasing the adoption of the resulting recycled plastic by the brands and companies who use it the most.

"Did you know over 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year? That is the equivalent of placing five garbage bags of trash on every foot of the 217,000 miles of coastline on our planet!" - Plastics for Change

Essentially, Plastics for Change offers a mobile technology to provide "fair trade market access" to individual waste picker recyclers, allowing them to ensure that they are receiving fair market rates, and acting as an "ethical sourcing platform" for sustainable brands that want to integrate this recycled plastic into their products.

Founder Andrew Almack describes the platform as an "open book" that links waste pickers to buyers, and creates a commission for the middlemen based on the price that those at the base of the supply chain receive. The platform also serves as a credibility system for the middlemen, as waste pickers can review and rate the behavior and interactions with these buyers, which can help to build a more transparent and accountable system.

The Plastics for Change project is currently in a pilot phase in Coimbatore, India, but to scale up the venture into a number of other communities, a crowdfunding campaign for the project on Indiegogo seeks to raise at least $10,000, and while it has almost reached that goal with just five days left, it's not quite to the finish line yet. If this project is something you'd like to see succeed, either from a plastic waste and recycling perspective or from a poverty alleviation perspective, consider making a pledge to Plastics for Change today.

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