Disability bias and plastic waste: the startup fighting for double impact

MELIOR is a British startup that aims to employ people with disabilities. It is also producing sustainable products in an attempt to stem the UK's plastic waste problem

A UK business set to launch this week tackles two important social issues; disability employment and environmental impact. MELIOR, which produces sustainable cleaning products, plans to hire disabled candidates and make a dent in the disability employment gap while reducing plastic waste.

The social enterprise is the brainchild of Diane Cheung, an ex-employee of one of the country’s most established disability employers Clarity, which has recently made headlines where workers allege they are owed outstanding wages, including unpaid furlough and pension funds.

A social impact and disability business?

Cheung’s new venture is as environmentally impact-focused as it is social; she has forged a partnership with an R&D-focused global biotechnology company to produce and sell their “non-toxic, ocean and pet-friendly cleaning products”, although the name of the partner has not yet been disclosed.

Key to MELIOR’s promise of sustainability is its “zero waste programme” where glass is used for bottling which allows for constant reuse which is a good way, however small, to help stem the amount of plastic packaging produced in the UK that accounts for 70% of the country’s waste.

While its ‘green’ business model taps into popular consumer preferences for buying from businesses with a social and environmental impact, this is no ‘flavour of the month’ but a trend that could endure for good:

According to a 2020 study by Accenture, over 60% of consumers worldwide have been making more sustainability, and ethically based purchases where this shift is likely to be permanent, as “9 out of 10 intend to keep on” buying from these types of businesses in the future.

Speaking on her reasons for starting her business now, Cheung said: “I’ve seen injustices against people with disabilities at a time they need support the most. I simply could not sit by and watch it unfold.

“There are over 1.1m people with disabilities who want to work but can not find any. Every bottle sold means I am one step closer to employing more people with disabilities. That’s what drives me to make MELIOR a huge success.”

MELIOR’s first hire, Wendy Manning, detailed her struggles finding work as a person with a disability, adding: “My mental health has gotten a lot worse. I’m exhausted worrying about how I’m going to make ends meet.

“It feels as though someone has my hands tied behind my back but expects me to climb a mountain. So I’m really looking forward to MELIOR – it’s something to focus on. It’s a big adventure, and I’m sure it will be a big success.”

Disabled people in the UK: the statistics

COVID-19 has hit disabled people hard. One in four feels they are a low priority on the Government’s list and are financially worse off than before the virus, according to disability charity, Scope.

Before the crisis, disabled people faced long-term struggles, including lack of access to employment compared to their non-disabled counterparts, where significant numbers reported encountering barriers at “multiple stages” of the recruitment process.

As a result of the pandemic, the UK’s unemployment rate reached a four-year high in late 2020 – equating to 1.7 million people without jobs, where this number is expected to rise to 2.5 million this year. But for disabled people, the view is even bleaker, as they are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than others.

Bridging the disability employment gap could stem an impending mental health crisis for this community, nevermind an economic and human rights crisis too. This makes the advent of pre-disability businesses essential for giving them the economic empowerment, mental health boost, and sense of belonging they need to feel enfranchised.

MELIOR launches on Friday 19th February, 2021. Click here to find out more.

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