Estée Lauder, Plastics for Change Partner to Support Community-Based Plastic Waste Solutions

In an effort to combat climate change and reduce waste in its value chain, Estée Lauder Companies’ charitable wing, the ELC Charitable Foundation, has partnered with Plastics for Change to improve the livelihoods of waste collectors in India while diverting ocean-bound plastics.

Plastic pollution is a major
contributor

to the climate crisis and environmental toxicity, and resolving issues related
to the material’s end of life through recycling can be one of the most effective
solutions to the global plastics challenge. The partnership between the Estée Lauder Companies Charitable Foundation (ELCCF)
and Bangalore-based nonprofit Plastics for
Change
leverages plastic recycling as both
an environmental solution and as a lifeline for destitute waste collectors,
offering pathways out of poverty while empowering frontline communities to
protect the environment.

Waste pickers: Frontline allies in the right against plastic pollution

Waste pickers salvage reusable and recyclable materials that have been discarded
in streets, landfills and informal dumpsites. They account for 15-20
percent

of total recyclables collected annually; and because most of this waste is
collected in nations with underdeveloped waste-management systems, the waste
they collect would likely have ended up in the environment.

According to Plastics for Change CEO Andrew Almack, formal waste-management
systems are virtually nonexistent in developing economies such as India.
Developing nations bear the
brunt
of plastic waste and
associated petrochemical
pollution
,
and it’s often the very people in these frontline and fenceline
communities
that are tasked
with keeping plastic in the economy and out of the ocean.

In India, plastic that would otherwise flow into oceans and
waterways

is predominantly collected by marginalized waste-pickers who lack basic human
rights
including social security; and
access to nutritious foods, education or healthcare. The problem is particularly
apparent in Hubli, India, where the PFC and ELCCF partnership has invested.

“Due to the pervasive nature of the caste system in India, the task of waste
collection carries a stigma and falls on the most disadvantaged people groups,
who have been performing this task for generations,” Almack says. “Waste pickers
are highly informal and some of the poorest people in the world, lacking basic
human rights and barriers to formal employment.”

Through ELCCF’s support, Plastics for Change will be able to:

  • Set up an independent plastic collection site at Hubli to expand fair trade
    principles

    and enable greater transparency, accountability and social change for women
    and marginalized communities involved in plastic collection

  • Help support the collection of 1.3 million pounds of plastic annually

  • Increase the social and economic opportunity for 1,000 waste pickers,
    strengthening local recycling infrastructure while also supporting the
    livelihoods of the workers involved.

ELCCF can’t disclose the grant amount given to PFC, but the Foundation made a
total of $64.6 million in donations in FY21. The grant is part of an ongoing
partnership between ELC and
PFC; and though plastic recovered from the Hubli site won’t enter ELC’s value
chain, the collaboration represents ELC’s commitment to supporting the
livelihoods of waste pickers and developing long-term solutions for ocean
plastic waste.

PFC’s holistic development approach is based on trade-and-aid: On the one hand,
PFC enables fair and sustainable working conditions through a robust process of
training, on-time payments, access to banking technology, and markets for
recycled material. On the humanitarian end, the organization provides
opportunities for continued education, skill development, financial literacy,
social security, and housing assistance.

“We’re bringing behavior change in communities and challenging the status quo of
exploitation through indenturing,” Almack said. “We recognise that while trade
plays a critical role to build communities, we also need to support other social
development opportunities for waste-picker families to bring holistic change.”

Leading by example

The Estée Lauder Companies’ products have been a mainstay for discerning
consumers for 76 years. Plastic plays a central role in safely and durably
preserving Estée Lauder products; but convenience and durability have a price —
and ELC is well aware of the significant impacts of
plastics
in
its value chain.

“As a beauty company, plastic is a material that helps us safely store
cosmetics,” said Nancy
Mahon
,
SVP of Global Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability at ELC. “We know that
plastic is among the most pressing sustainability issues today, and we are
committed to taking action through our commitments and efforts both internally
and externally. … When we look to address the challenges associated with it,
it’s about reduction of virgin plastic use and an increase in PCR [post-consumer
recycling] innovations.”

ELC seeks to lead the prestige beauty
industry

in scaling sustainable packaging for discerning consumers. The company aims to
reduce the social and climate impact of plastic with both upstream and
downstream solutions to reduce plastic at the source and capture waste as input
for new materials.

The company set an enterprise-wide packaging
goal
to cut virgin plastic in packaging by at least 50 percent by 2030. In the short
term, ELC is focused on achieving 75-100 percent recyclable, reusable, recycled
or recoverable packaging by 2025. To this end, the company is redesigning its
packaging for recyclability and refillability, as well as reducing or
eliminating superfluous and non-recyclable packaging. At the end of FY21, the
company was 59 percent toward reaching its 2025 goal — including already meeting
its 2025 post-consumer recycled material goals by over two percentage points.
That goal met, ELC set a more ambitious goal of 25 percent PCR material in its
packaging by 2025.

ELCCF’s partnership with PFC is part of the company’s broader corporate
responsibility portfolio

driving Estée Lauder Companies’ “beauty inspired, values driven” strategy. ELCCF
provides annual grants to organizations in the US and across the globe in
alignment with the Foundation’s key three pillars: Health, education and the
environment. Since 2016, ELCCF has supported programs at the intersection of
climate justice, women’s empowerment and social equity.

“We are incredibly grateful for partners like The Estée Lauder Companies
Charitable Foundation, who have come alongside us in making a meaningful impact
towards people and planet,” Almack said.

The plastic problem is not something to be solved in silos, he said. Working
with mission-aligned partners such as ELCCF is critical in empowering grassroot
organizations such as Plastics for Change in scaling their solutions.

But mission-aligned support is just the first step, Almack says. Companies need
to invest in packaging innovation, a goal ELC is working toward through a
network of collaborators to help advance collective approach to more responsible
packaging.

And finally, there’s consumer engagement.

Helping consumers make wise choices in their buying
decisions

through honest and transparent communication is essential to bringing change,”
Almack said.

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