Launched in 2020, the H&M Foundation’s Saamuhika Shakti project has invested US$11m to help uplift the informal waste pickers in Bengaluru out of poverty.

Now, the project has resulted in the creation of 152 million buttons. These are partly made from post-consumer PET waste and feature on garments that are sold worldwide. The buttons are traceable down to the source of the waste along with the names of the workers, social security, salaries and working conditions at the aggregation centre in Bengaluru.

This initiative highlights the shift towards circular business models, in which recycled materials play a key role. So far, 10 organisations are involved and 32,000 people are said to have benefitted, including the waste pickers and their families.

Initially, the Saamuhika Shakti project was set to run from 2020 to 2023. However, given its success, H&M Foundation’s strategy lead, Maria Bystedt tells Just Style that “Now, we’re evaluating our work and looking for a gap within these new supply chains to see which parts we can improve and scale up. For example, maybe the recycled plastic can be used for hangers. Or, we can find use for other types of waste collected by waste pickers such as metal or paper.

“Saamuhika Shakti has been very successful, as all the partners collaborated towards the same goal. We hope it can inspire other donors like us to dare to invest long-term in complex projects and take on a more holistic mindset.”

This project not only empowers the waste picker community by creating jobs and income opportunities but also turns the waste PET-bottle into a valued resource in the fashion and textile industry as an integral part of the circular value chain.