Editor’s Note: This month, that is June 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Feminism And Environment, where we invite various articles about the diverse range of experiences which we often confront while interacting with our natural as well as social surroundings. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My mother is a cleanliness and organization enthusiast. And the lockdown does allow her time to indulge in this—reorganize shelves, rearrange items—all that. Just a few days ago, she found a very old set of makeup brushes that I once owned. This was probably in the times when I was a school student, with not much knowledge of which makeup brushes are good and which aren’t. They were cheap and I bought them without thinking much of it then, only being happy that my family won’t get super angry at me for splurging as it was barely a splurge.
But now, as my mother posed the question of whether or not to throw them, it started bugging me. You see, I try every day to be a bit more conscious, a bit better as a consumer. Makeup brushes, as I know now, may come from animal hair, or synthetic hair which is non-biodegradable. The brush body in itself is plastic. So when my mother asked if she should throw them, I realized the impact my impulsive buying has. While I didn’t feel like throwing them, knowing there is no way this would really degrade naturally, I also had to make this decision because using these brushes would possibly mean damage to my skin which I didn’t want to risk. So between damaging myself vs. damaging the planet—I chose the latter, knowing well that it will eventually cost me or rather cost us anyway.
A while later, my mother came and informed me that she isn’t throwing the brushes away. And I wondered why. As it turns out, a domestic worker in the house was willing to take the brushes home, in order to use it to polish the Ganpati idol and clean it before the festival begins. I felt a little lighter than I did before hearing this.
But should I?
After the ‘n’ number of uses, it will end up in the trashcan and eventually in the oceans or landfills where it will never degrade.
‘But that’s such a pessimistic way of looking at it.’
Sure is, but is it untrue?
I never denied being pessimistic anyway.
‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,’ they say. But we all know recycling should be the last option. In a still developing country like India, not every business and startup can afford to invest in eco-friendly packaging options and solutions. In the beauty and personal care industry, choosing eco-friendly packaging over plastic, can be up to 60 times more expensive depending on what material is eventually chosen. Most manufacturing processes and machinery are also designed in a specific way in order to suit plastic packaging, which is without a doubt most widely used. Using alternative material, thus not only increases business expenditure, but also selling cost, thus reducing the audience it caters to, on the basis of disposable income.
This means that a big sector of the audience, especially those with less to invest for a lot of products, will end up buying items without caring much about the packaging. At the end of the day, being conscious about packaging, being able to spend more on products that are eco-friendly in today’s urban lifestyles that we do struggle in, is a privilege in itself.
Is it fair to expect the almost 800 million people who are categorized as poor to be able to afford their daily necessities coming in something more eco-friendly, but at an extra cost?
It is estimated that every year about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. India is a coastal nation too, with no implementation of regulations on disposal of waste. A visit to any beach is sure to show you the same, where no waves of water come without pieces of waste ranging from fabric to plastic bottles and even metal.
But is there a silver lining?
Something I learnt from what my domestic worker did is creative reusing. We may not have the control over the production and pricing, and especially if we aren’t privileged enough we can only invest in the cheapest items which are not eco-friendly when it comes to packaging at least. But we can reduce buying of such items. One of the things that we do as people with monetary power is splurging without thought. We can do so given the income that is disposable for us. We can even buy multiple products which are more eco-friendly and conscious, even if they are expensive.
But many can’t. And with this lack of privilege, comes a quality that we should all possibly possess. We call it ‘jugaad’ casually, but it is actually so creative and of such importance in current times. We move from a shirt bought to wear outside, to using it at home to moving onto just wearing it to bed and eventually it becomes a tattered cloth to wipe the floors and furniture. The life of a product or a material in this way is so much more than its intended use.
While this is a classic, there are so many times this can be done. Why didn’t I think of using my own old makeup brushes to clean up my laptop keyboard? Why didn’t I think of using it to clean the corners of the kitchen compartments? Is it just that I’m deluded by my privilege? And maybe, even though our domestic worker may have lesser income and lesser education, the situation she is in, or has grown up in, has forced her to be creative in a way that I cannot think of as easily.
While a person’s poverty, their lifestyle not being too desirable and a creative force coming out of it, is nothing to glorify, especially because everybody deserves basic rights and amenities, there are parts we can take with us as people who have more power in the society simply due to our social and economical status. Just because we have more income does it mean that we have to splurge it? We know we can choose to be more conscious of what we buy, while they cannot, but can we also be more conscious before throwing waste as easily and simply because of it being eco-friendly? And if we have so much of disposable income, can we actually invest for those who can’t afford it to have basic access to items that are eco-friendly?
Yes, one person doing this will impact one life at maximum. The planet will still be polluted, the country will still be poor with majority still generating non-biodegradable waste. But as people in power, can we not raise our voices for the betterment of the society as a whole? We have privileges and power; everyone doesn’t. It is important to acknowledge that and begin from there. And what will your one voice and one example do? Well, didn’t 8 billion people think so about the one straw they used? Think of that impact, before making a choice.
Srushti is an Industrial Design practitioner with an equal soft spot for both beauty industry and sustainability. She hopes to combine them together someday. She is passionate about working on social causes and sustainable ventures. She is a regular night owl and occasional writer. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.