L’Express is one of France’s best known weekly newsmagazines. On its website, an entire section is dedicated to “Business with a meaning”; it highlights business initiatives that contribute to changing the world and shaping a better future. As part of a partnership with Ashoka, the international network of social entrepreneurs (which has nearly 3000 “Fellows”, in 70 countries), L’Express recently featured a slideshow about the Pepenadores project in Mexico in “Business with a meaning”. The project, which is supported by the Danone Ecosystem Fund and operated by Danone’s water brand Bonafont and the NGO Mundo Sustentable, empowers waste pickers and improves the plastic recycling circuit.
A project with social, business and environmental benefits
As Stéphanie Schmidt, Full Economic Citizenship Europe Manager at Ashoka explains,
in Mexico only 20% of recyclable waste is actually recycled.
The people who sort the waste in order to identify what is recyclable are called “pepenadores”: they collect almost 90% of all recycled materials in the country. These 800,000 workers live and work in extremely precarious conditions: they operate in the informal economy, are often exploited by corrupt intermediaries, and the job is dangerous too (accidents involving the machines operating in the landfills are a frequent occurrence). Helping these people become more empowered and improve their living and working conditions is consequently a major social challenge. But it is also a business issue for Bonafont, as the r-PET supply chain is not sufficiently structured to meet the company’s needs (r-PET is recycled plastic, used to manufacture new bottles).
To address the social, business and of course environmental aspects of the Mexican recycling industry, the Pepenadores project has constructed a sorting centre outside the landfill (making sorting easier and safer), built ten recycling shops and negotiated prices that secure the waste-pickers’ revenue.
This has allowed 287 people to achieve an income five to six times the local average.
For Bonafont, the aim is now to double the volume of r-PET it purchases. In addition, 15,000 tons of CO2 have been saved so far, along with75,000 trees, 50,000 litres of water and 16,000 Kw of energy.