Burt’s Bees and rePurpose Global Partner to Tackle Plastic Waste

Earlier this month, Burt’s Bees and rePurpose Global announced a multi-year partnership to finance critical recycling infrastructure that prevents plastic waste from flowing into the ocean. The partnership will specifically support frontline waste enterprises in India and Ghana, and promises to eliminate more than 1.5 million pounds of plastic waste otherwise bound for the ocean by the end of 2024.

Liz Bothwell, Head of Content & Marketing

June 22, 2022

8 Min Read
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Earlier this month, Burt’s Bees and rePurpose Global announced a multi-year partnership to finance critical recycling infrastructure that prevents plastic waste from flowing into the ocean. The partnership will specifically support frontline waste enterprises in India and Ghana, and promises to eliminate more than 1.5 million pounds of plastic waste otherwise bound for the ocean by the end of 2024.

This initiative is part of Burt’s Bees’ commitment to achieve net zero plastic to nature by 2025. The brand is committed to a 50% reduction in virgin packaging materials by 2030, and moving towards a target of 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025. 

We recently sat down with the rePurpose Global team to learn more about the partnership and its goals; the investments in Kerala and Accra; and more.   

Waste 360: The partnership is focusing on two communities, in India and Ghana. Can you please describe the differences in the waste cycle in those places as compared to the United States?

rePurpose Global: The waste landscape and challenges in both these countries — India and Ghana — differ vastly from the situation in the United States. While the U.S. has a formalized and organized waste management system, many countries in the Global South are still in the process of institutionalizing waste management on a large scale, India and Ghana included. Plastic waste is generated both through the consumption of single-use products packaged in low-value plastics, and waste imports. Approximately 157,000 shipping containers of plastic waste are exported by the U.S.  every year to countries with poor waste management.

A large volume of waste in India and Ghana is not recyclable because the vast majority of plastics consumed have low economic value. Additionally, there isn’t sufficient infrastructure or funding to scale innovations and solutions that can combat this waste. As a result, a large network of informal waste workers has emerged, primarily individuals belonging to marginalized communities who are not guaranteed safety or regular income in this work. India’s informal network of waste workers exceeds 4 million people today. In our experience, we have learned that India and Ghana are complex regions with equally complex waste management systems.

Waste 360: Can you tell us more about the types of plastic waste in these communities?

rePurpose Global: While the types of plastic waste in these countries do not differ wildly from the U.S. market, facilities available to process these materials are scarce. For example, in Kerala, India the most commonly occurring plastic waste is comprised of low-value materials like multi-layered plastics (MLP). Due to its low economic value and low recyclability, MLP has a very low recovery rate in India; this is the waste most likely to end up in landfills or polluting waterways. Through rePurpose’s impact project in Kerala, India the company’s intervention helped ramp up waste collection giving waste that has no value, new value by incentivizing collection.

In Ghana, a staggering 73 million kilos of PET bottle waste is released into the environment every year. The current recycling rate of PET bottle waste in the country is only about 2%. As such, a major focus of rePurpose’s impact project in Accra, Ghana is to improve PET collection and recycling rates.

Waste 360: Can you tell us more about the aims of your partnership with Burt’s Bees?

rePurpose Global: The goal of our partnership with Burt’s Bees is to eliminate over 1.5 million pounds of plastic waste, over three years (by 2024).

In a broader context, rePurpose plans to remove 44 million pounds of plastic waste from nature in 2022 through our impact projects, including approximatey 4.4 million pounds in Kerala, India, and approximately 0.5 million pounds in Accra, Ghana.

Plastic waste is only predicted to increase over time. While rePurpose Global’s work is one part of many solutions needed to mitigate this crisis, action has to begin somewhere and that’s why we are working with diverse projects and communities across the globe to enable systemic change for years and decades to come.

Waste 360: What are the main steps you are taking to improve collection in Kerala and Accra?

rePurpose Global: In both Kerala and Accra, rePurpose impact projects are mobilizing finance for the development of efficient and holistic waste management systems. In Kerala, we are improving collection by recruiting and upskilling women and youth belonging to a local self-help group, to provide professional door-to-door plastic waste collection services for over 2,000 residential and commercial establishments. In Accra, our project focuses on increasing the purchase price of PET to help increase collection rates. We are doing this by partnering with local buy-back centers to expand collection networks.

Waste 360: What are the main steps you are taking to improve processing and recycling?

rePurpose Global: We are focused on optimizing processes that increase the efficiency of waste management operations at our impact projects. There are multiple considerations that we take into account as requirements are unique to each project. We focus on the machinery and infrastructure needed to increase capacity and streamline sorting and are dedicated to improving working conditions and ensuring safety for individuals who are the backbone of the processing and recycling value chain.

In Kerala, we are supporting infrastructure development to improve conditions for waste workers and enhance processing, including the provision of waste sorting stations and protective gear, clean drinking water, and sanitation solutions. We will invest in uniforms, drinking water stations, first aid kits, collection work gear, and processing work gear–like sorting tables–to improve working conditions and improve processes.

In Accra, rePurpose is improving recycling and other processing by investing in more efficient transportation and upgraded machinery, like baling machines and trucks. These types of interventions improve efficiency and facility capacity significantly.

Waste 360: What other forms will the assistance take?

rePurpose Global: Our intervention on the ground is not limited to collection, processing, and recycling. We are always exploring new ways to scale our environmental impact and empower a broader network of waste workers and community members.

Currently, in Kerala, rePurpose conducts regular training, awareness, and capacity-building sessions for local stakeholders including waste generators, waste collectors, and local representatives. These sessions aim to improve resource recovery rates and long-term program sustainability. Similarly, in Accra, rePurpose is conducting awareness-building workshops and community-driven activities to expand knowledge-building and skill development among local community members on waste management and recovery.

Waste 360: In the partnership, what specifically will Burt's Bees do, and what will rePurpose Global do?

rePurpose Global: To remove 1.5 million pounds of plastic waste from nature over the next three years, Burt’s Bees will finance the waste recovery projects in Kerala, India, and Accra, Ghana for the term of our partnership. rePurpose Global will be responsible for the recovery of ocean-bound plastic waste with end-to-end transparency via our impact projects while also assuring dignified livelihoods for waste workers and community members involved in these projects. Together, our efforts will have not only a profound environmental impact but also a significant socioeconomic impact on the communities we work with.

Waste 360: How much money is being invested in this?

 rePurpose Global: In collaboration with 250+ brand partners, rePurpose Global is channeling millions of dollars every year into the circular economy to scale technology and contribute to building resilient waste management systems around the world.

Waste 360: How important is it to develop end markets, for materials such as PET?

rePurpose Global: While it is essential to develop end markets for materials like PET, it is also important remember that although this material is recyclable and can be remanufactured,  there are lower grades of plastic in the value chain—consumed at higher rates than PET—that are not only non-recyclable but also have no effective collection or disposal system in place. In Kerala, rePurpose is incentivizing the collection of low-value plastics and ensuring ethical end destinations for the same.

Waste 360: How will your work improve working conditions for waste workers?

rePurpose Global: A keystone of rePurpose’s partnership with Burt’s Bees is to create socio-economic impact in Kerala and Accra. Currently, our partnership directly impacts the lives of 350 local workers and community members. rePurpose’s on-the-ground efforts to improve waste collection in these regions are systematically improving working conditions by tackling the immediate and long-term pain points of worker wellbeing through fair wages, fair working hours, safety policies, and sanitation facilities. At both projects, we put safety first by providing PPE kits, rain gear, and additional safety equipment to all workers. In Accra, we’re going a step further to provide sheds for sorters working under the hot sun, label removers, and water filters at the project, where previously workers had to purchase water sachets at roughly 20% of the cost of their daily income.

Waste 360: Can you please describe the economic benefits to the communities affected?

rePurpose Global: rePurpose Global’s impact projects in Kerala and Accra are developing additional revenue streams for workers and creating a market for types of plastic waste that previously did not have an economic value. As a result, we’re beginning to see that the price of PET among recyclers in Accra is steadily rising through the incentivized collection. Similarly, in Kerala, low-value plastic collection assures workers a regular income from selling collected waste to our project partners.

To date, 230 businesses across 26 countries are working with rePurpose Global to measure, reduce, and balance their plastic footprint, resulting in 14 million pounds of plastic recovered from nature every year. To learn more about rePurpose Global, visit: business.repurpose.global.

About the Author(s)

Liz Bothwell

Head of Content & Marketing, Waste360

Liz Bothwell is head of content and marketing for Waste360, proud host of the NothingWasted! Podcast, and ghostwrites for others to keep her skills sharp and creative juices flowing. She loves family, football, her French bulldogs, and telling stories that can help to make the world a more sustainable place.

Follow her on Linkedin or Twitter

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