It’s 2020, the year of chaos and extreme change, and most of us have been fortunate enough to be able to pause for a second, slow the hustle, and explore thoughts we have never had the time or energy to really go into in the past. Just a few months ago, was a time where between assignments and quizzes and the pressure to maintain a social life, many of us were walking blindfolded, grasping at what we could, the traffic, pollution, and crowded BMTC buses, all contributing to a general lack of clarity interleaved with an illusionary sense of purpose, or worse, a lack thereof. But now, it seems like we finally have the opportunity to really sort our priorities out, the nearly apocalyptic climate possibly putting things into better perspective, because we have finally started to question if we will even have a future, given the literal existential risk climate change poses to the human race. What is even worse, is that this looming doomsday threat comes with a deadline, and it feels like we haven’t even started doing anything about it. But then again, what can we do? We are, after all, just tiny, insignificant specs, whose actions have a possibly imperceptible impact on the great scheme of things.
Are we though?
Sahar Mansoor, the founder, and CEO of Bare Necessities feels differently. Very differently.
Sahar describes herself as “an accidental entrepreneur in a family of serial entrepreneurs”. Having completed her MPhil from the University of Cambridge on Environmental Economics and Law, Sahar felt strongly about the trash problem in India. She was confronted by it every day seeing piles of garbage on the streets. Sahar spent time with local waste pickers and watched them sort through waste with their bare hands which got her thinking about the environmental, health, and social justice issues associated with our garbage problem.
Plastic waste, which constitutes a majority of the trash we generate, contributes to climate change in ways many of us aren’t even aware of. Oil, gas, and coal are the fossil-fuel building blocks of plastics that we use, and the extraction and transportation of these fossil fuels is a carbon-intensive activity. Authors of the CIEL report estimated that 12.5 to 13.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent are emitted per year while extracting and transporting natural gas to create feedstocks for plastics, in addition to which 19.2 million acres have been cleared for oil and gas development in the United States alone. Assuming just a third of the impacted land is forested, 1.686 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere as a result of clearing.
These extracted fossil fuels are then refined, and products such as ethylene are manufactured, to finally be used for the production of plastics. In 2015, emissions from manufacturing ethylene were 184.3 to 213 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is about as much as 45 million passenger vehicles emit during one year, and globally, carbon dioxide emissions from ethylene production are projected to expand by 34% between 2015 and 2030.
And we haven’t even started talking about the carbon emissions from plastic when disposed of.
Plastic waste can be processed in three different ways: landfill, incineration, or recycling, and waste incineration has the largest climate impact of all three, followed by landfilling. Globally, burning plastic packaging adds 16 million metric tons of GHGs into the air, which is equivalent to more than 2.7 million homes’ electricity use for one year. If the petrochemical industry massively expands by 2050, GHG emissions from plastic packaging incineration will increase to 309 million metric tons. These estimates only account for plastic packaging, which represents 40% of the whole plastic waste stream, and only 64% of plastic packaging waste is managed after use. To give you even more clarity, only 2% of plastics are recycled into products with the same function and another 8% “downcycled” to something of lower quality. The rest is either landfilled or incinerated.
Now landfilling might seem like an ‘aesthetic’ issue. Isn’t plastic waste just sitting there?
No. No, it isn’t.
Plastics can break down into smaller pieces, called microplastics, through biodegradation or exposure to the sun, heat, or water. These microplastics scatter across the globe, even to the depths of the ocean, and cause a TON of issues for aquatic animals, and basically poison the entire food chain. In fact, Sarah-Jeanne Royer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography has found that low-density polyethylene — one of the most common types of plastics found in the ocean — releases greenhouse gases as it breaks down in the environment. The issue is not confined to direct carbon emissions from the degradation of plastic waste. A lesser-known fact about sea planktons is that they actually help the ocean remove carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere, with the ocean having sequestered nearly 30–50% of carbon dioxide emissions from human-related activities. But now, these planktons are ingesting a growing amount of these microplastics, which has reduced the growth of microalgae and the efficiency of the photosynthesis, hence drastically bringing down the plankton’s capability of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Now think about this. India generates close to 26,000 tonnes of plastic a day, according to a CPCB estimate from 2012. This would amount to 9.5 million tonnes per year. The same study estimated that 60 major Indian cities generate 4,059 tonnes of plastic waste, about 405 truckloads, per day in 2010–12. Worse, a little over 10,000 tonnes a day of plastic waste remains uncollected. The uncollected plastic waste eventually ends up in the natural environment — in our seas and oceans or piling up on our lands. The plastic processing industry is estimated to grow to 22 million tonnes a year by 2020 from 13.4 MT in 2015 and nearly half of this is single-use plastic, according to a Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry study. Who consumes this plastic? Who purchases plastic products/products packaged in plastic, and encourages the growth of the plastic industry? Us. It’s us. We are part of the problem. Which is why we can work towards fixing it.
“I wanted to stop being part of the problem. My solution was to live a lifestyle that best reflects the values I cared about”, says Sahar, who has been living a zero-waste lifestyle for two and a half years now during which she has produced only half a kilogram of trash, all of which fits in a 500 ml jar. While making her way through the zero-waste journey, Sahar realized that it was impossible to find personal care and home care products that didn’t contain harmful chemicals and weren’t packaged in plastic. In response to this problem, she wanted to create a company that mirrored the values of zero waste, ethical consumption, and sustainability. Why wait for someone else to do it when she herself could try and make it easy for other people looking to consume more mindfully?
As a result, Bare Necessities was born.
Using a people-centered and earth-centered approach, Bare Necessities addresses serious flaws in manufacturing, distribution, and consumption by innovating and providing sustainable solutions to waste, and identifying problems that more companies need to address if they want to be innovative and socially-conscious. They’ve also made a conscious effort to make their manufacturing process not only green and sustainable but also socially aware. They source their materials from local farmers and vendors, which not helps support them, but also helps avoid the carbon footprint that would result from the corporatized manufacture and transportation of these materials. Bare Necessities is genuinely passionate about handcrafted, Indian products, and believe that the richness of India can be captured in the indigenous, ancient ingredients whose benefits we have probably heard of but never really experienced for ourselves. In fact, they believe the easiest way to live sustainable, would be to go back to our old ways and use the natural, bare Indian ingredients; which have no harmful impacts on our health or the environment, a principle they have held on to while creating each of their products. In addition to producing zero-waste products, BN also hosts educational workshops and conducts sustainability consulting services, with the end goal of changing the narrative on waste in India, and helping more people understand that positive impact on the community can, and has to start from the individual level.
We are currently in the largest global climate crisis of history, and it is very important that all of us make changes to our lifestyle, even if we start in a small way. Bare Necessities hopes to facilitate that, and want to inspire more people to start thinking about the environmental impact their consumerist habits have. Maybe someday, with help from companies like BN, and hopefully an awareness and readiness to change individually in the general public, a zero-waste lifestyle can be the norm and not the exception!