Switching to greener options
Chirchomri Khayi and Rashmi Shrivastav discuss how interweaving sustainability, responsibility and social welfare, some enterprises offer and induce customers to choose and become eco-conscious
You open your eyes in the morning, stretch out to grab that little plastic containing device you cannot live without. You check the time, forcefully widening your eyes to rub off the sleepiness while scrolling mindlessly through the envious lives of virtual friends, put on your plastic slippers and head to the bathroom.
You take a seat on the plastic, answer to nature's call, grab your plastic toothbrush, squeeze toothpaste out of the plastic tube onto the plastic bristles. You brush, rinse, take a squeeze of face wash from that plastic dispenser.
You turn on the shower. Or maybe if you're water-conscious, you fill up that plastic bucket and use a plastic mug, rub the chemical-laden soap that came packaged in plastic within a plastic-coated paper onto your body, take a squeeze of the shampoo held inside the plastic bottle. And maybe, if you want no tangles, even take a bigger squeeze of that conditioner from the plastic bottle.
So ponder: In these first 30 minutes or so of the day alone, how much plastic have you already come in contact with? You probably, already have some inside of you, as well.
Rhea Shukla, co-founder of The Switch Fix in Gurugram, went through a similar experience and was aghast to see just how entrenched plastic has become in our daily lives. She found it ironic that the products meant to be used once are made of materials that will outlast us all.
Do the Switcheroo
Globally, the issue of plastic waste scourge has accentuated the need for a wholesome dialogue.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), it has been estimated that since 1950, more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced. Of that, 60 per cent has ended up in either a landfill or in the natural environment.
Likewise, Shukla and Abhishek Kumar, founders of The Switch Fix, were also aware of the harmful effects of plastics. They believed that their generation's insatiable "need" for convenience and throw-away culture were adding to the problem.
This propelled them to launch The Switch Fix in January 2019 and encourage people to switch from plastics and adopt sustainable alternatives.
Following a series of research and experiments, out came their first shampoo bar. The manufacturing partner sources 70 per cent of ingredients locally, which in turn decreases the carbon footprint of the products, the duo claimed.
The start-up currently sells personal care items such as soaps, shampoo bars, hair blends and bamboo toothbrushes. Eight months on, they now have a vibrant presence on social media to disseminate information, receive feedback for further improvisation.
The uniqueness of The Switch Fix lies in their immense effort that has gone into making their 'packaging' plastic-free — right from sourcing organic materials to requesting delivery partners to refrain from using plastic.
When one orders online, the products are shipped in cylindrical boxes wrapped in Kraft paper and paper tape. The bars come wrapped in the wax paper while their hair concentrates come in glass bottles with aluminium caps, cushioned by crinkle paper inside the box.
The cylindrical boxes are made from recycled paper, and the idea behind its use is to cut down unnecessary plastic wrapping that gets discarded once delivered. The boxes are designed such that they could be re-used creatively by customers afterwards — from storing their art supplies and jewellery to serving as a travelling case.
While their products are currently sold online, they also allow voluntary pickups from their office in Gurugram. "Through Switch Fix, we want to show people that their contribution towards the issue of plastics can be as simple as a switch. Simple steps like refusing disposable items, adopting a healthier, sustainable lifestyle, etc., is the answer", Shukla says.
Are they feasible
Competing against commercial manufacturers is not easy since markets dealing in eco-products are still at a nascent stage in India. Besides, viable alternate resources are limited which makes the manufacturing process and supply chain costlier than their conventional counterparts.
The start-up has had a challenging interaction with vendors because of their order volume and unique requirements. "The box alone accounts for 10-30 per cent of end product cost depending on the order volume and convincing vendors of our business model is a difficult task but despite the challenges, we believe that increasing awareness among consumers will escalate the demand for such alternatives and so will the supply," Kumar adds.
Their products cost Rs 325-825 and currently, they receive 15-20 orders a day from metropolitan cities of India. In the future, the team plans to collaborate with like-minded enterprises by sharing a platform to simplify the switch journey.
The road to sustainability is not straightforward, simple or quick. Everyone has a proactive role to play. Most of the time, an individual's efforts may seem trivial. For instance, a person using approximately 5-6 toothbrushes a year, may think that their actions will not have any detrimental environmental consequences.
But when seen collectively, (7.7 billion), the total amount of used toothbrushes a year roughly translates to 38.5 billion, globally. Imagine where these (almost) imperishable objects end up year after year.
So yes, a simple switch today — 'however minuscule it may appear' — to a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush (not the bristles, mind you) or a plastic-free soap or shampoo could help fix the plastic menace.
On another note, given the rate at which increases in population, income levels and changing lifestyles are occurring throughout the world, it is no surprise that the plastic packaging industry may touch $72.6 billion this financial year in India itself.
By interweaving the concept of sustainability, responsibility and social welfare, enterprises such as The Switch Fix offers and induce customers to choose and become eco-conscious. Such initiatives provide a stratagem to build a circular economy and decouple growth from excessive resource exploitation, production, consumption and wastage.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)