Hanger recycling, reuse, and livelihood opportunities for the vulnerables

By Ranjeeb Sarma and Sudhir Shetty

The idea of recycle, recycle, recycle has closely come from creating meaningful economic, social and environmental benefits in the communities, around the stores and beyond. 

From creating an environment for circular economy to collaborating with like minded partners in making healthier choices, we are adamant on using less plastics and whatever little we use must get reused or recycled.   

But unfortunately, the majority are not on the same page. This is well reflected through a quote that got viral, caught eyes and raised eyebrows on social media – “What difference is one plastic bottle going to make, said seven billion people”. 

This is not just a statement alone but a behaviour that has mounted over years – an outcome of sheer ignorance and lack of bold initiative. And therefore, we stand in a situation today, where the plastic usage has increased at the rate of 625% globally since 1975. 

With no sustainable systems in place, these plastics are either getting accumulated in landfills or in the ocean which is not alone a threat to human lives but poses threat to other species too. As per Greenpeace, an estimated 12.7 million tons of plastics, from bottles to microchips, ends up in our oceans every year. 

Scary, isn’t it? We had to intervene.

A call to action at the end of all stakeholders was an urgent callout. 

It was not us alone, the government of India has also been contemplating strict action. The current Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi while delivering the Independence day speech August 15, 2019 pitched for freedom from single use plastics. 


And here we were, at M&S sourcing office India discovering innovative interventions to reduce and reuse our use of plastic through social inclusion.

And here we were, at M&S sourcing office India discovering innovative interventions to reduce and reuse our use of plastic through social inclusion. 

In 2018, Catalyst group of organisations, in collaboration with Marks and Spencer and an impact investor, launched an eco-social initiative that champions in reduction and management of plastic products into waste, while contributing to people, planet and prosperity.

The initiative started with strategic collaboration  to improve the reusability of plastic hangers from M&S India stores and its local vendors. This provided livelihood opportunities to the urban poor, especially those vulnerable women, people with disability or in difficult circumstances. The initiative is layered within the urban poor  Integrated Community Based Health  and Wellness (ICHW)  project communities across Mohammadpur, Gurugram, Haryana in North and Bommanahalli, Bengaluru, Karnataka in South.

It was decided that the profit from the earnings will be utilized back in the upkeep and maintenance of the primary health and wellness programme, led by the community members themselves.

To do so, hanger sorting units were set up within the same vicinity as the community health project. One of the units is located in the urban pockets of Gurugram, India and the other one is simultaneously running in Bommanahalli, Bangalore by Fuzhio, a part of the Catalyst group of organization and a sister concern of Swasti. 

The key business includes receipt of ‘used’ hangers from the stores of Marks & Spencer India; involvement of the community in sorting the good hangers for ‘re-use’ while sending the rejected hangers to a recycling unit. This was done to ensure zero plastic (hanger) waste to landfill.

Location Gurugram Bengaluru
NUMBER OF UNIT 01 01
NUMBER OF WORKERS 18 (12 women and 06 men) 12 (09 women, 3 men)

The units are  integrated with the community wellness centre run by Swasti and the community members, who are primarily  women in urban poor settlements of Mohammadpur, Gurugram and Bommanahalli, Bangalore Both communities comprise of largely migrant workforce across India.

The plastic reuse work provides livelihood opportunities to community members who are based out of this urban slum community. The health programme with an outreach of an average of over 1000 families in both Delhi and Bangalore. 

For the Hanger Sorting Unit, the team had identified the most socially and financially vulnerable members within the community. Each team member has her/his story of struggle; few of which we have shared in the below segment.

The Gurgaon unit has created livelihood opportunities for 18 migrant community members and the Bangalore unit has created livelihood opportunities for 12 migrant community members to run the business. 

Recycling and repurposing of hangers is done mainly by women and members of marginalized communities, who are hired, trained and empowered by our organization.  Any surplus from Noble Plastics is re-invested into our healthcare programs for the urban and rural poor. Finally, we measure the carbon footprint that Noble Plastics operations generate, and planted an equivalent number of trees to ensure carbon neutrality.

So far, we have generated INR 24 lacs (25.876 Pound sterling) worth wages in the hands of the community. Saved Marks and Spencer INR 8 lacs (8628 Pound sterling) worth of plastic, 60 tonnes of plastic reused and 400 trees achieve carbon neutrality.


Stories of Change from the Hanger sorting unit

At a hanger unit, Minta weaves a future of possibilities

Married for 18 years now, the 36-year-old Minta likes to believe in the strategic play of life. “One thing that I have always lived through has been my financial adversity. I wanted to be a teacher but my parents having four children to take care of, forced me to drop out and get married even before I was ready,” she said.

Minta agreed to get married without a hush thinking her life would get better but little did she know that her would be husband barely works for half a month. “He is an alcoholic and I was often a victim of domestic violence-like situations. I kept mum as I had nowhere to go,” she added.

Her husband, Om Prakash (40), two children and Minta have been living in Mohammadpur for over a decade now. Back in Patna, Bihar; Minta’s husband would never go to work that forced her to ask relatives to cover two meals a day. 

“My maternal cousin stays here and she insisted we shift and start afresh. I did my strategic play, made my husband understand politely and quietly moved 1000kms away from Bihar, in Mohammadpur,” she smiles with confidence. 

But her strategic play did not work well. Her husband still wouldn’t work that slowly pushed them to inhabit a 10×10 rental room space. “I was depressed for long enough and was forced to ask for loans during the SHG meeting of Viraat group,” she explains 

Julie, who is the wellness facilitator, asked her if she was interested in taking up a job. Minta although was very traditional in approach took that bold step on her own and finally decided on her new beginnings. She was more than willing to take up the new job at the newly established hanger unit from her community wellness facilitator. 

“I took this bold decision because my children are extremely good in studies and have dreams too. Looking at me working so hard for the family, my husband is far more regular at work now,” she smiles.

The unit was jointly established by Swasti Health Catalyst and Marks & Spencer and added a much appreciated extension to the “Integrated Community based Health and Wellness” Programme by introducing a livelihood enterprise initiative on Hanger Sorting and Resusage.

The unit has been set up with a strategic collaboration between Fuzhio, Swasti and Marks & Spencer where Fuzhio is the executing business partner for sorting hangers provided by Marks & Spencer’s with on ground management and resources support from Swasti Health Catalyst. 

The key business includes receiving ‘used’ hangers from the stores of Marks & Spencer’s, sorting the good hangers for ‘re-use’ ultimately promoting the re-use of the plastic and preventing it from going to dump yards.

The unit was set up in March-2019 So far, Since March-2019. The unit has received 10332 boxes which contained 702,975 ‘used hangers’. The unit has created livelihood opportunities for 18 migrant community members to run the business and has generated more than 1.3 lacs of income in the last two months. 

Today Minta, works in the sorting unit and her daily responsibilities include sorting of good hangers, removing stickers, packing the sorted hangers or breaking the rejected hangers. She approximately earns INR 11,000 per month.

Minta shares that her work life routine has given a meaning to her life and she looks forward to her day every morning and going to her work place. She enjoys coming to her Hanger Unit as she finds the environment a happy place to work in.  Further Minta shared.

“Working in the Hanger unit has given my family the strength of coming out of our never ending poverty. For the last two months, I have been able to provide my family with meals three times a day. I still am in a lot of debt that I am trying to pay off slowly. My husband has got into some work which will help us to earn a little more for the family. However, unlike the old times, I do not feel helpless and worried about his lack of earning anymore. My hanger unit will support my family with their needs.”


Sanjay feels more stable and respected today!

Never believed in a stable job, Sanjay has changed over half a dozen jobs in the past. “No one treated us like humans. We were treated as bonded labourers until I started working in the hanger unit,” he said. 

36-year-old Sanjay Singh is a migrant resident of village Mohammadpur, Gurgaon. Originally from a small town of Uttar Pradesh, Aligarh, Sanjay migrated to the national capital with his wife and two children.

“When we first shifted here, I did not allow my wife Neelam (32) to work anywhere. I had false beliefs that women must take care of the household chores,” he said. 

Sanjay started his journey with earing INR 7,000 in 2011. Often frustrated he shifted jobs for meagre hike but never allowed his educated wife to work. 

Around two years ago, his wife joined the Self Help Group and learned about the recent hanger unit set up in Mohammadpur. 

“My wife and I fought almost everyday. My salary was not enough to run the family,” he added. 

Slowly with help of the local wellness facilitators, Neelam gained confidence and courage to make her husband understand about good opportunities she was getting in nearby schools. 

“My wife made me understand about good opportunities nearby. She was asked if she wanted to become the headmaster of a primary school. Something changed my mind and I allowed her to join. We barely fought after that,” he added. 

In no time, Sanjay’s automobile factory closed down their unit and was left jobless. “I realized the importance of partners working together,” he smiles. 

Sanjay recalls that his wife managed the household for two years alone until he was offered to work at the hanger unit. 

“The work culture at the hanger unit is unbelievable as compared to my last workplace. I am being respected and felt equal at work. Being the line supervisor here, I directly manage the immediate workforce. We all are like a family now,” he added.

Sanjay joined the Hanger Unit and became one of the first hired laborers in the Fuzhio run Hanger Sorting Unit in Mohammadpur. According to him, this livelihood opportunity at the Hanger Sorting Unit has come to him as a ‘God’s Blessing’ which saved him from his ‘ongoing unemployment struggle’ since the last two years.

The unit has been set up with a strategic collaboration between Fuzhio, Swasti and Marks & Spencer where Fuzhio is the executing business partner for sorting hangers provided by Marks & Spencer’s with on ground management and resources support from Swasti Health Catalyst. The key business includes receiving ‘used’ hangers from the stores of Marks & Spencer’s, sorting the good hangers for ‘re-use’ ultimately promoting the re-use of the plastic and preventing it from going to dump yards.

At the Unit, Sanjay being senior among the laborers is given the role of supervising the work of his co-fellows. As part of his role; Sanjay helps the other laborers in quality check, data entry, loading and unloading work and more at the hanger unit.

For Sanjay, the last two years of unemployment has taught him many lessons on the personal front. Therefore, getting back to work and earning his family some income has brought some peace at his home.

As for now, he only wishes that this stability continues forever in his life.


Sunita flexes the gap with a spirit 

Differently abled Sunita (32) and Raja Ram (40) have always had their shortcomings. More so because they were affected by polio and the employers always doubted their abilities to perform like others.

“Things were worse in our village. My husband could not find a decent job and I was not allowed to work,” she said. 

With high hopes we travelled 1000kms to the national capital from Kutiya village in Chapra, Bihar. Having spent a decade in Mohammadpur now, they still look for some financial stability in their lives. 

“When I had first joined the hanger unit, my husband asked me not to reveal it to my in-laws. Only a month ago, my husband informed them about my enrollment in this job,” she said. 

Sunita’s husband is a tailor in a nearby factory and his income has been INR 9,000 for over six years now. “Our needs were increasing but his income wasn’t,” she added. 

One day, our wellness facilitator Rama visited Sunita seeing her upset and sitting outside her small room. On asking, Sunita revealed that her husband broke his arms in an accident and the doctor has suggested he rest for at least three months now.

“We had mere INR 500 in hand. I still remember having INR 50 in hand and not knowing what we would eat tomorrow,” she gets conscious while she narrates.

In no time, Sunita was placed at the hanger unit where she manages segregation of reusable hangers.

The unit has been set up with a strategic collaboration between Fuzhio, Swasti and Marks & Spencer where Fuzhio is the executing business partner for sorting hangers provided by Marks & Spencer’s with on ground management and resources support from Swasti Health Catalyst. The key business includes receiving ‘used’ hangers from the stores of Marks & Spencer’s, sorting the good hangers for ‘re-use’ ultimately promoting the re-use of the plastic and preventing it from going to dump yards.

 The unit was set up in March-2019 So far, Since March-2019. The unit has received 10332 boxes as the first consignment which contained 702,975 ‘used hangers’. The unit has created livelihood opportunities for 11 migrant community members to run the business and has generated more than 1.3 lacs of income in the last two months. 

Sunita with moist eyes mentions “I have seen tough times and 2019 too did not begin on a good note. I always wanted to get a regular job but my disability was always a challenge. However, the hanger unit is different. I never felt that I am differently abled. Working now seems like a dream come true.”

The unit has been set up with a strategic collaboration between Fuzhio, Swasti and Marks & Spencer where Fuzhio is the executing business partner for sorting hangers provided by Marks & Spencer’s with on ground management and resources support from Swasti Health Catalyst. The key business includes receiving ‘used’ hangers from the stores of Marks & Spencer’s, sorting the good hangers for ‘re-use’ ultimately promoting the re-use of the plastic and preventing it from going to dump yards.

Sunita earns approximately Rs. 10,400 on a monthly basis which is much higher than her husband’s earning. 

Raja Ram is fully recovered now and recently joined the Matrix Factory in Mohammadpur. They have started saving money for their children now.

Sunita signs off with a wide smile and a very positive note, “Earlier I would think about the importance of my existence and today I am planning to buy a house of my own.

Satyavani feels more self sufficient than ever

A 24 years old resident of Gulbarga colony, G. Satyavani counts herself to be a successful mother of two children.

Originally from Bellandur, Tamil Nadu she spent 15 good years in Bangalore now. Always aspired to complete her education, she was forced to drop out when she was in grade 7. She is modest, empathetic and likes to live in reality. She currently lives with her family of three – including her mother, her brother, and her two children (one boy – 4 years old and one girl – 2 years old) in Bommanahali, Bangalore.

 Satyavani and her family are also members of the Tirupati Sangha wellness group promoted by Swasti Health Catalyst in Bommanahalli.  Before working at the hanger unit, Satyavani was a domestic help.

Sangeetha, her wellness facilitator said, “I told Satyavani about the opportunity at the Fuzhio run hanger sorting unit. She wanted to take the job but was hesitant to do it on her own since it was far from her home.”

She decided to wait until she found people who would accompany her to work. Once her family moved into their new home, she met Kalpana and Shaheen who were interested in working at the hanger sorting unit. After she spoke to Sanjeev, the community wellness manager, she finally decided to take on this new opportunity.

Her brother and her work to provide for the family since her husband is no longer present in their lives.Her brother works as a construction worker and earns INR 500 per day. She is able to earn a bit more here in comparison to her previous job as a domestic worker which comes out to be a total of INR 400 per day.

 Her mother helps her take care of her children when she’s at work.  Satyavani speaks fondly about  the work environment at the unit and said, “Everybody in this job speaks nicely to me, even sir speaks nicely.” 

The schedule provides her with stability to come in at 9:30am and leave by 6pm. The lunch breaks are a bit more relaxed so she’s able to step outside for some much needed fresh air. She started out with easier tasks and now her role has transitioned into checking the quality of the hangers, sorting the hangers and taking inventory which she finds more difficult. 

The unit has been set up with a strategic collaboration between Fuzhio, Swasti and Marks & Spencer where Fuzhio is the executing business partner for sorting hangers provided by Marks & Spencer’s with on ground management and resources support from Swasti Health Catalyst. The key business includes receiving ‘used’ hangers from the stores of Marks & Spencer’s, sorting the good hangers for ‘re-use’ ultimately promoting the re-use of the plastic and preventing it from going to dump yards.

Although this job has its flaws as she confidently points out, she’s able to step up to the challenges that come along with it. This opportunity provides her with the ability to support her family and most importantly her children as a single mother.


Annexure-1 

About ICHW:

Integrated Community Health and Wellness Programme (ICHW) is a response to the multilayered problems that limits healthy living for the poor and marginalized. It is a preventive-promotive health programme supported by Marks and Spencer in Gurugram, India. ICHW provides affordable and accessible primary care through nurse practitioners and a protocol-based treatment, and proactively prevents diseases/conditions among urban poor communities.  

 The key elements of ICHW includes:

  • Primary care for member families (locally) through a nurse led telemedicine supported facility, with family as first responder and navigates them through existing secondary and tertiary providers for any complex health problems.
  • Preventive promotive health through community based health facilitators.
  • Blended financing model starts with gant capital.
  • Delivered in four different settings currently – Urban, Rural, Factories and Marginalised community collectives.
  • Combines various streams of sciences – medical science, behavioral science, social science, technology and health financing.
  • Five revenue streams – Interest spread on inter-lending among members, sale of health products, sale of citizen services, sale of insurance, and direct sponsorship of ultra-poor family’s health.