Today, beauty care and grooming products like face washes, shampoos and soaps are hot selling items in retail stores. But did you know many of them contain microbeads (minute 5mm plastic capsules) that are infused with skin nourishing vitamins. The beads exfoliate upon use and are supposed to remove dead cells. The only problem is that while human beings think they nourish their skin, these beads are actually found to be carcinogenic, and when disposed of, can destroy biodiversity. They impact ground water, lakes, rivers and oceans. “They clog sewers and destroy city infrastructure,” says Manish Chowdhary, co-founder of Fit & Glow, stressing on the need for retailers and manufacturers in India to promote organic, cellulose-based microbeads.
For those who follow the news would remember Bengaluru’s lakes clogging and foaming up. This has happened across the country. But there is no campaign in India to stop these plastics from being used in cosmetic products. Like always, these campaigns start in the West.
A couple of days ago Tesco PLC, the $67.8-billion UK-based retailer, has announced that it will phase out all cosmetic products with such plastics by 2017. Similarly, the US went on a war path forcing all manufacturers and large consumer goods companies to stop infusing these beads in beauty products. A report last year from United Nations Environment Programme stated that most beauty care products contained polymers that may not break down for at least 100 years, causing permanent damage to aquatic systems.
Why this is a priority?
According to a report by CII, India’s beauty care industry is worth $274 billion globally and $4.6 billion in India. The organised retailing Industry, including e-commerce, is $60 billion in size, and cosmetics form at least nine percent of their revenues. “There is an entire set of consumers moving towards organic brands that do not contain these plastics. Young cosmetic brands today are more conscious about the environment than mass-produced goods,” says Prithika Parthasarathy, founder of AVA Skin Care. She says that there is a case for e-commerce and legacy retailers to be more proactive in addressing these concerns of cancer-causing items. “Maybe they can stamp stickers that say that these products contain microbeads that destroy water and city life,” advocates Prithika.
There are more than 1,000 fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies in India, many of them small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that are selling in legacy and e-commerce platforms. While the consumer in India is young and is just about going global in outlook, they are yet to understand the impact of microbead-based products on the environment. It is time to create a consensus on these issues and save our water resources. The UK and US are banning all such products coming out of manufacturing plants in China and other parts of the world. It is time the Indian consumer woke up, even though we are caught in the demonetisation debate today.