Plastic Free July: How Indian Brands are Evolving to go Plastic Free

There has never been a more dire time for us to take ecological consciousness and sustainable living seriously. So we talked to Indian brands who are going plastic free.

Srushti Pathak
New Update
Plastic Free July

Plastic Free July is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities. Just like we, the citizens, have adopted better and environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic, brands are also doing their part. Local Samosa talked to Sahar Mansoor, Founder of Bare and Necessities and Rahul Bhatia, Managing Director of Mona B.

How does your brand ensure zero plastic waste or plastic recycling or upcycling? What steps, processes and decisions have you incorporated?

Mona B and Bare Necessities
Image Courtesy: Mona B and Bare Necessities

Ms. Mansoor said that Bare Necessities, by design, creates products that do not generate waste. “Our modular circular packaging prevents any waste from going into the landfill or the environment. All our products are packaged in reusable, recyclable, refillable and compostable packaging.” 

Their products have garnered fame for being environmentally conscious. “For instance, our lip balms, moisturisers and bath salts are packed in glass jars, which can be reused for eternity. Our soaps and shampoo bars come packaged in recycled paper, which can be composted at home itself. Our powder-to-liquid home care range of products are packaged entirely in compostable sachets, even the inner lining of our sachets are plastic-free! Offering plastic-free, zero waste packaging, not only are we minimising our environmental footprint but we are offering minimalistic easy to use products to customers,” shared Ms. Mansoor

Furthermore, Bare Necessities offers a ‘return & refill’ program, through which, customers can return their used Bare jars to them in exchange for a discount code. Ms. Mansoor further explained, “Moreover, our products are a conversation starter on all things sustainability. To elucidate this further, take the case of our outer box packaging, which is completely sustainable. We opted to use cardboard boxes that can be repurposed to create other products. Our boxes can be sealed and secure without the use of any external tape. Furthermore, our boxes can be repurposed into various items like bookmarks by just tearing the box open, and can be DIY-ed to become a photo frame and a phone holder! We have shared a guide for the same on our website. For larger bulk/wedding orders, we use larger cardboard boxes and have swapped single use plastic tape with paper tape, which is compostable.”

Mr. Bhatia stated, “We are an eco-friendly brand and all our products are manufactured from recycled fabrics. Our canvas collection is made out of cotton canvas fabric recycled from Army Tents, our RPET collections are crafted from recycled pet plastic bottles, and our Durrie Collection is made of recycled polyester fabric. All our bags are manufactured using the best techniques and patterns which minimise fabric wastage and scraps. All the fabric scraps after manufacturing are then sent to recycling mills which in turn convert that fabric waste into new fabric for us.” Fabric waste is a major contributor to pollution and Mona B is on a mission to reduce the waste in landfills and oceans.

What are some durable and possible alternatives to plastic in your industry/sector?

Plastic Free July

With advanced technology, there are numerous alternatives available in the market for plastic. Mr. Bhatia shared, “The best would be Cotton Canvas, a strong and durable fabric that has been used for a long time for its breathability, ease of use, and availability. Newer Sustainable and eco-friendly fabrics crafted out of Coconut coir, Hemp, Bamboo, wood, etc. are also gaining traction. Vegan leathers crafted out of mushrooms, pineapples, and algae are also being tested in the industry.”

For personal care products such as toothpastes, tooth powders, moisturisers, among others, glass jars are a sustainable option. “They can be reused multiple times and for different purposes. Compostable paper is a great option to package items like spa bars, shampoo bars, powder-to-liquid home care products among others. There are many other sustainable plastic-like alternatives that are currently available. One amongst them being seaweed, which when processed resembles plastic. It has a similar texture, elasticity and malleability, minus the polluting element. This is an ingredient that is currently under thorough research and can be an excellent replacement to plastic. Other alternatives include bio-plastic however, the home-compostability nature of this can take much longer than compostable materials,” said Ms. Mansoor.

As an entrepreneur, could you share some insights on the amount of plastic and nonbiodegradable waste created in your sector/industry?

Plastic Waste

We are currently living through the largest global garbage crisis, which is directly related to the kinds of daily-use products that are being mass-consumed. Research shows that 150 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions could be eliminated, if we prevented 100% of the plastic leakage from India and Indonesia, alone, by 2030. “Imagine!” said Ms. Mansoor.

The repercussions of this waste predicament extend far beyond emissions and pervade natural resources like water bodies as well. Public awareness about plastics has been on the rise, after alarming forecasts such as there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. In 2010, there was an estimated 12 million metric tons of plastic waste that entered the ocean, breaking into microplastics. The gravity of the waste issue cannot be underestimated - it permeates every aspect of our lives, affecting our health, environment and social fabric. In a country like India, waste is a social justice issue, with waste pickers forced to spend countless hours manually segregating sanitary napkins from needles, all of this with their bare hands.

Ms. Mansoor talked about this topic hitting close to home. “Closer home in Bangalore, lakes have been spewing fire on account of excessive frothing. Caused typically due to chemical surfactants and pollutants, which find their way into the lakes. The ingredients tend to pollute the water, while the single use plastic sachets used in packaging pollutes the soils and landfills. Conventional toxin formulated FMCG products are packaged in plastic, resulting in a non-biodegradable product, which is not safe for the groundwater and the environment, both land and waterways. With green claims, which often cannot be proven, corporations partake in greenwashing, resulting in a serious dearth in transparency.”

FMCG products such as liquid shampoos, shower gels and hand washes are essentially 90% water, effectively customers are forced to pay for transporting water resulting in a higher carbon footprint. “By creating waterless alternatives to conventional hand wash and dish wash, Bare Necessities' product contains 10% of the active ingredients. By mixing the active ingredients with water from the tap in your own home, the soap is ready to use. Our powder-to-liquid home care range is formulated in-house, allowing us to cherry pick ingredients that are not only environmentally friendly but also can effectively tackle dirt and grime,” shared Ms. Mansoor.

With plastic being a part of almost every single consumer product, what changes are possible for brands and companies to reduce the usage of plastic in your sector/industry?

Bare Necessities and Mona B
Image Courtesy: Bare Necessities and Mona B

Brands can adopt a multitude of changes according to Mr. Bhatia. “They can start by taking small measures like switching to biodegradable packaging, replacing bubble wraps with paper alternatives, and switching to greener and sustainable alternatives for production and raw materials. By promoting and supporting circular economy practices, where old bags are collected and remanufactured into new products, the industry can significantly lessen its environmental impact.”

Most of the products that are mass consumed are destined to end up in landfills or the environment - land or waterways. Ms. Mansoor further stated, “Tapping into the potential of a circular economy, which focuses on reducing waste and promoting recycling and reuse is essential. It involves designing packaging that is easily recyclable or creating refillable systems that reduce the need for single-use packaging all together. Through this method, products and materials are kept in circulation through processes like maintenance, reuse, refurbishment, recycling and composting. It tackles climate change and other global challenges, like biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.” 

She shared some examples of this;

  • Coca-Cola Return and Refill Bottles Program
  • Gas Cylinders
  • Mumbai Dabbawalas 

“Increasingly, there are more brands championing this model through their products. An example of this is a brand named SoapBottle. It is a bottle made of soap, containing soap within it. Once the liquid soap is completed, the outer packaging can be used as a bathing soap. Therefore, generating zero waste in the process. Our powder-to-liquid home care range are waterless alternatives to conventional toxin formulated products. Stir It Up, hand wash soap, Dissolve, dish wash soap and Genie in a Bottle, multi surface cleaner stand as a testament to the fact that earth friendly ingredients can effectively tackle dirt and grime, all while being gentle on the environment. Our refill pouches are packaged in compostable sachets and we use forever glass dispensers. In doing so, we are bringing innovation to an industry that has seen none in over three decades!” said Ms. Mansoor

What is the ground reality of plastic waste management in India and where do you see it going in the future?

Plastic Waste

India generates tonnes of plastic waste annually and much of this waste ends up in landfills, rivers, and oceans due to inadequate waste management infrastructure. A significant portion of plastic waste management relies on the informal sector, including ragpickers and small-scale recyclers. However, they often operate without proper regulations and safety measures.

Mr. Bhatia said, “We have seen a shift in recent times with various policies and initiatives coming into place to combat plastic waste such as Plastic Waste Management Rules (2016) which encourage the use of recycled plastic in packaging. Community drives and educational campaigns by the Government and NGOs are also on the rise.”

Ms. Mansoor stated, “To begin with, there is a dearth of awareness about the importance of waste segregation at home and responsible waste disposal. This is exacerbated by the lack of proper waste collection systems, sorting facilities and recycling plants, which hinders effective waste management. All of this, ultimately affects a vulnerable group, namely the informal waste pickers or waste warriors (as we like to call them). This group sorts sanitary napkins to needles to wet waste all with their bare hands, thereby posing a significant threat to their health and working conditions. Integrating them into a formal system with proper training and support is crucial.”

There are many social enterprises, NGOs and social impact organisations working towards these causes, however, implementing and enforcing regulations across different components to tackle the waste crisis is the need of the hour. 

“Besides these, there is a significant rise in individuals taking action to tackle their personal waste. In this context, composting is gaining traction. With convenient home composting options like Daily Dump’s Khamba and community driven composting initiatives, there is certainly some real, visible change. Collective citizen movements accompanied with social media awareness by many eco-warriors, has resulted in the increase in waste management,” observed Ms. Mansoor.

While using zero-waste products is one way of tackling the waste crisis, the other component is raising awareness about sustainability and zero-waste living. Ms. Mansoor remarked, “We do a variety of talks and workshops to talk about the importance of waste segregation and zero waste living for organisations, corporates, communities among others. During our interactions, we constantly observe an eagerness to do better and a curiosity for newer ideas. That said, the implementation on ground needs further improvement. Major cities in India already have dry waste collection centres and these are also publicly available on municipal corporation websites like Bangalore’s BBMP. As responsible citizens, we need to take a step further to reach out to these dry waste centres and support small businesses striving to bring change in our daily necessities.”

What are some government policies you think would help brands go plastic-free with ease? 

Zero Waste

One of the primary reasons for using plastic in packaging is its cost-effectiveness. Additionally, it is versatile in terms of design and functionality. It can be moulded into different shapes and sizes. 

Ms. Mansoor affirmed, “When a packaging looks different, it is a way for a brand to stand out. It also provides a barrier that helps protect the product from contamination and moisture. 

That being said, plastic poses significant environmental challenges, taking hundreds of years to decompose. Much of it also lands up in landfills, or the environment - polluting water bodies and land masses. The production of it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions while relying heavily on non-renewable forms of energy - fossil fuels.”

“In my opinion, some Governments can provide benefits like subsidies and tax exemptions to brands which will encourage them to switch to plastic-free alternatives. Additionally, they can also create a Recycling or Green Standard which brands will have to adhere to. They can also ensure adequate infrastructure is in place to facilitate recycling and composting of industrial waste,” Mr. Bhatia opined.

Ms. Mansoor shared, “As awareness about the environmental impact of plastic increases, beauty brands,especially, are moving away from it to explore packaging options that are sustainable, such as glass, metal and paper. It also sees alignment with the growing consumer demand for eco-friendly and plastic free packaging solutions. Completely eliminating plastic packaging in the beauty industry or the FMCG industry on a larger scale is challenging, but is definitely possible. It requires research to find alternative materials and collaboration amongst brands, suppliers and manufacturers. Consumer demand going up for plastic free alternatives should be leveraged by brands, while also increasing awareness in parallel." 

"Governments can play a critical role here in implementing policies and regulations that encourage and enforce the use of sustainable packaging materials. In this context, strengthening Extended Producer Responsibility Rules is critical to make brands responsible for the entire lifecycle of their plastic packaging. It incentivizes them to invest in collection, recycling, and creating plastic-free alternatives. Furthermore, providing tax breaks, subsidies, and low-interest loans to brands that transition to biodegradable, compostable, or reusable packaging can help incentivize the creation of sustainable options,” concluded Ms. Mansoor.

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