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Responsible sourcing in the plastics recycling supply chain

Globally the world produces about 400 million tons of plastic waste every year. Moreover, between 75 and 199 million tons of plastic are currently in our oceans. Retail companies have publicly committed to reach between 15 and 50 percent of their packaging manufactured from recycled materials by 2025. Currently, recycled plastic feedstock is extremely limited. 

We need global leaders who can take bold actions to make a circular economy for plastics a reality.

On the other hand, the World Bank estimates that there are 15 million informal waste workers globally, the majority of which are routinely exploited. Their experience - shaped by persistent marginalization, lack of social safety nets, vulnerability to human rights abuses, and insufficient incomes - cannot be ignored in the broader pursuit of a circular economy for plastics.

In emerging markets, informal waste workers are at the frontline of plastic waste recovery and recycling.. According to recent estimates, there are approximately 2.2 million informal waste workers in India (2017-2018), and 3.7 million employed in a similar role in Indonesia’s informal sector. A recent study of nine Asian cities found that the contribution of informal waste workers accounted for over 95% of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recovered for recycling.

The Challenge

There is a clear disconnect and lack of profitability along the recycled plastic value chain, from collection through to manufacturing by large buyers. Specifically, there are distinct challenges around informality, the competitive landscape, and nascent standard-setting initiatives that do not address the full extent of human rights and other protections. 

It’s a shared responsibility and opportunity to embrace a diverse group of actors and integrate social and environmental considerations into supply chains for recycled plastics.

For global consumer brands and investors, the perceived social risk associated with informal plastics recovery makes solutions to prevent plastic pollution unattractive for investment. Without this investment, a growing number of brands, manufacturers, suppliers and recyclers with commitments to incorporating recycled content will not be able to achieve their objectives.

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Making responsible sourcing a reality in emerging markets

In collaboration with partners and industry stakeholders, The Circulate Initiative has created a program for actors across the ecosystem to pursue the ambitious yet achievable goal of driving responsible sourcing in the recycling value chain. 

The program will address the policies and practices that should be implemented in emerging markets with a view to fair remuneration, ethical labor, and human rights for informal waste workers. We cannot prevent plastic leakage without addressing the need to develop a systemic approach that ensures the safety and livelihoods of waste workers.

Key Priorities


Public commitments to guiding principles


Harmonized standards, shared definitions and measurement


Project funding to build capacity of aggregators, recyclers and community partners


Training for third-party certifiers and technical assistance providers


Improved material traceability and transparency

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Coordination and communication across stakeholders

Desired Outcomes


Significantly improved working and living conditions for informal waste workers


Public and private sector actors make public commitments aligned with shared principles for responsible sourcing


Recyclers use a responsible sourcing framework to manage their impact on waste workers


Brands and large buyers procure increasing quantities of socially responsible plastics

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Investments and capital deployed are increasingly aligned to responsible sourcing principles

Get Involved

To learn more about The Circulate Initiative’s Responsible Sourcing program and how you may partner with us, please get in touch. 

Key Stakeholders

Key Stakeholders in driving systems change in responsible sourcing:

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Governments and policymakers

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Recycling companies


Brand and corporations


Informal waste worker networks

Our partner SecondMuse has worked with organizations like BINTARI Foundation, who in turn support and enhance the work of the collectors, sorters, and aggregators that make up a crucial stage of recycling supply chains in South and Southeast Asia.




Responsible Sourcing in the Plastic Waste and Recycling Sector: Examples of Inclusive Practices in India

Partners and Collaborators

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