Out of the box

Mita Gupta of Delhi visits a retail shop, goes to the personal care section, looks for the familiar toothpaste, picks it up, brings it home, takes the tube out and throws the packet into a bin. She does not even glance at the elaborate information printed on the packet. And Gupta is not the only one to do so. According to the International Foundation for Research and Development, a UAE-based non-profit, 55 per cent of the Indian population—about 682 million people—uses toothpaste. Given that Gupta uses 10 tubes of 80g toothpaste a year and that each packet she discards weighs 3g, the country must be generating 20,460 tonnes of paper and cellophane waste a year by using toothpaste. In the absence of strict recycling rules, more often than not these packets are found strewn around, polluting the environment.

The new toothpaste packaging design is user-friendly and can minimise waste and manufacturing costs
The new toothpaste packaging design is user-friendly and can minimise waste and manufacturing costs

According to the Centre for Environment and Development, a Bhubaneswar-based non-profit, paper and cardboard form the second biggest component of domestic waste after organic waste, and contribute to about 13 per cent of the total domestic solid waste.

So, why does one need this extra packaging for a toothpaste tube or for various such personal care products, for that matter? If toothpaste alone can generate 20,460 tonnes of waste, imagine the quantum of waste generated from the ubiquitous cold creams, hair oil, shampoos, pain balms and several such commodities that come with extra packets.

N C Saha, director of the Indian Institute of Packaging and member of World Packaging Organisation, says manufacturers claim that outer packaging or double packaging helps stock the product on shelf and in transportation. It also displays the brand name more prominently than the tube or bottle. “No matter how sustainable manufacturers claim to be, they would hesitate bringing even minute changes in packaging fearing that their competitors will have an upper hand,” says Saha, adding that the change has to come from consumers. The manufacturers would be compelled to take heed if the consumers put their foot down and say they do not want this extra packaging.

I have thought about it a number of times but am not sure if we have a choice not to buy the box
Cheeze hain to parda bhi to hona chahiye! (All things should be draped)
Will we get a discount on the product for returning the box?
The Vyapar Mandals should take this up with manufacturers. At least this is how each one can contribute in saving the environment
We had some awareness programmes about this at school or college. But I forgot what it was

Take the example of Kalmar in Sweden. The coastal city’s 35,000 people decided to do away with unnecessary packaging. The country has strict waste segregation laws, which make its citizens pay for the waste they generate. With the help of the city municipality, the people managed to convince manufacturers that they do not want extra boxes on commodities that could have other forms of seal. Since then, several companies have introduced products in shrink-packs in Kalmar.

Kapil Dua of Kalkaji Vyapar Mandal in New Delhi says several cosmetic brands like Maybelline and L’Oréal have done away with boxes and introduced shrink-pack. But some consumers look more satisfied if the product comes in an outer box. It assures them that it is sealed, Dua says. Kalkaji Vyapar Mandal has 200 shops under its umbrella. However, a 2011 survey by Nielsen, a global consumer information and market measurement company, shows Indian consumers are getting increasingly conscious of the benefits of environment-friendly and sustainable practices. India was among the top three countries from the Asia Pacific region that showed affinity towards eco-friendly products in the Global Online Environment and Sustainability Survey. It had over 25,000 respondents from 51 countries.

The trend is in line with global numbers, where 83 per cent believe that manufacturers using recycled packaging and producing energy-efficient products and appliances have a positive impact on the environment. However, when compared with firms in the US and Europe, companies in Indian are yet to realise their full potential, states the survey report. Another 2011 study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) shows several Indian firms are opting for eco-friendly packaging as consumers mature and shift preferences to pro-environment alternatives. The report says eco-friendly packaging sector is growing at 25 per cent a year, while growth rate of overall packaging industry is 20 per cent.

Companies like Blue Dart, Dell and GUCCI have already incorporated recycled packaging in their Indian operations. Hindustan Unilever and Colgate Palmolive, which roll out majority of personal care products, have also set their sustainable targets. Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan India 2011 states the firm would reduce weight of the packaging by a third by using light weight material, optimising structural and material design, developing concentrated versions of products and eliminating unnecessary packaging by 2020. They also claim to have helped significantly reduce overall plastic and paperboard consumption in India. Colgate-Palmolive also targets improving its packaging and waste generation.

Cradle to grave lifecycle

A Balasubramaniam, an alumni of the National Institute of Design and owner of January Design, a design consultancy in Gurgaon, says there is a lot of scope for sustainable design when it comes to packaging. But manufacturers do not take the initiative. For instance, it took a court order for pan masala manufacturers to shift from plastic wrapper to paper packets. But a lot of cellophane wrappers from soaps, condoms and shampoos still find their way into our domestic sewerage systems, choking everything on the way. “Compare this with the elegant baskets that Japanese pack their stuff in and you would understand how design could beautifully contribute in saving the environment,” says Balasubramaniam. “We need to get there, and sooner the better. Designers must engage their clients in the whole designing process.

Systemic thinking needs to be applied to packaging design assignments. A strong lobby for keeping the whole process sustainable needs to be in place,” he adds. Sang Min Yu and Wong Sang Lee of Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in the UK, have come up with unique toothpaste packaging design that eliminates the hard-to-squeeze dead space, minimises toothpaste residue left inside the container and reduces two packagings to one.

Finally, a user-friendly design, so that people easily adopt it. It means waste and manufacturing price can finally be reduced. ISO14040 gives us the following definition for ‘life cycle’: “Consecutive and interlinked stages of a product system, from raw material acquisition or generation from natural resources to final disposal.”… in other words, cradle-to-grave. One wonders what would happen if Mita Gupta, and a hundred others, refuse to buy the extra box on the toothpaste while paying at the cash counter.



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