As natural resources come under increased stress due to population growth and an expanding middle class, optimization of material use becomes an urgent priority. While collecting, reducing, reusing, and recycling some materials is technologically and economically feasible, others, like plastics, present a bigger challenge. Low oil prices, thousands of applications of plastics, sorting and recycling challenges, and poor waste management infrastructure have resulted in millions of tonnes of plastics flooding into the ocean annually.
Worldwide, both government and business have been struggling to implement practices conducive to the large-scale recycling of plastics. Instead of these formal actors, it is informal actors in developing countries that have successfully built businesses on the collection, trade and recycling of plastic waste. This informal sector consists of small businesses and self-employed persons with little or no legal recognition and low capital investments. Its workers are often wrongly considered to be poorly skilled and to possess little technological know-how. Yet, the informal recycling sector as a whole contributes massively to a more circular plastic economy. Furthermore, this sector is one of the most dynamic and adaptive, catering to ever-changing demands in plastic products. This report uses the example of India to raise awareness of the scale and structure of the informal recycling sector and its contribution towards a more circular plastic economy. The direct contributions of the informal plastic recycling sector are described within the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The report also describes how the informal recycling sector has addressed challenges commonly experienced by global business when moving towards more circular plastic economy and explores linkages with the informal sector.