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How Our Skin Care Products Are Poisoning The Environment

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By Ningreikhan Wungkhai:

Waste_cocobeach_indiaThe presence of micro-beads in exfoliating skin care products causes more damage to the environment than you and I could think of. We consider cosmetics as beauty agents but remain oblivious to its dire impacts to our surroundings. Although many are convinced about the harmful effects of plastic, few know of the recurring use of fragmented plastic in our day to day life. Micro-beads/micro-plastics pollute water bodies as they pass un-channeled into lakes, rivers and oceans. One of the biggest evolving challenges due to this is the large-scale death of aquatic organisms especially those that cannot swim. While the contaminants wash down from cities to oceans, polluting the water, it gathers toxins by absorbing from its surroundings.

Microbeads are tiny plastic spheres made of polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene and are extensively added to toothpaste, body scrubs, and other cosmetic products. Due to its microscopic size (0.1 to 0.5 millimetre) it becomes impossible to net out these elements from the sewage in the purification plants and they, in turn, wash down from household drains and swiftly enter water bodies undeterred. These floating toxins on the surface of the water are then ingested by marine animals which in turn are consumed by humans in the form of food. This process thus poses serious threats not only to aqua and human life but also impacts the entire ecological system.

5 Gyres Youth Action Summit 2015

The Bahamas, an island nation surrounded by pristine blue water, stumbled upon a drastic challenge with massive proportions of plastic waste discharged into its sea. Resting on the edge of North Atlantic gyres, this island nation had to deal with polluted beaches and water bodies overrun by plastic waste. To spreads awareness and uphold feasible measures to treat the polluted sea, the Bahamas hosted the 5 Gyres Youth Action Summit from June 5th to 7th, at Island school Cape Eleuthera. The students of Cape Eleuthera along with students from neighbouring nations were invited to participate in the summit. They were provided with tools and encouraged to proactively tackle the pollution on their island.

Manta & Hi-speed Trawling: Nets are used to collect toxic particles floating over the sea surface at high and low speed. These collected samples from the ocean surface then help researchers studying amounts, sizes and sources of plastic floating in the oceans. These trawlers are a kind of dragnet that fished out the floating micro-beads off the sea surface. However, proper surveys are conducted through visual observation of 60 minutes at the time to spot out as the equipment are limited to capture only a portion of plastic waste.

Estimate of data: The fished out microplastics were evaluated along the shores by the assembled crew and local supporters. This process of evaluation helped the study teams to count and weigh the micro-plastics before submitting the data to iGyre global estimate. The first iGyre global estimate was published on December 2014. The estimated data will determine the volume of plastic waste constituted in the North Atlantic.

Vertical Trawling: In this process the ladder trawler fished out the plastic waste from the depths of the sea. Vertical trawling is used when manta and hi-speed trawler cannot reach the plastic waste that are pushed multiple levels below the ocean surface by waves.

A 13 days Arctic expedition will begin from August 12th, 2016 wherein the participants will conduct first-hand research over the Arctic waters along the Northwest Passage. The Russian ship Akademik Sergey Vavilov, named after academician Sergey Vavilov is a Russian research vessel 117 metres long and 6 metres wide with a speed of 14 knots. This will explore the Arctic waters with research crew and participants. It is confirmed that the August expedition will happen in collaboration with One Ocean and the Vancouver Aquarium to study the abundant distributions of micro-plastics in the remotest of Arctic waters.

The Affirmatives

Micro-beads in beauty and personal care products will be officially banned in the United States by July next year. Outgoing US President, Barrack Obama, has signed a US Senate-approved bill into law under the ambit of Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 to ban and prohibit the manufacturing of cosmetics and other personal nourishing products like toothpaste and scrubs, etc. that contain micro-beads. This bill gave a constitutional push to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act by prohibiting cosmetics that contain plastic microbeads. Moreover, the manufacturing of over-the-counter drugs and sales of over-the-counter drugs that contain micro-beads will be banned ion July 2018 and July 2019 respectively. The Anglo-Dutch multinational consumer goods production company Unilever has consented to censure the use of micro-beads completely as exfoliating agents in hygiene and cosmetics products. Meanwhile, two multinational consumer companies – Johnson & Johnson and The Body Shop – have announced that they have stopped using micro-beads as exfoliants in their products. While some beauty products companies such as Avon, Ali Mac Skincare Ltd, All Natural Soap Co, ARK Skincare, ASDA, and Avon have pledged their non-endorsement of micro-beads.

India too recently sought to ban personal care products that contain microbeads. The National Green Tribunal (NGT), created by Indian Parliament Act to check the expeditious disposal pertaining environmental issues, in its recent application seeking to ban microplastics product has issued a notice to the Ministries of Union Health, environment, and water resources. According to a research report submitted in November last year, the presence of micro-beads in table salt and toothpaste directly impact consumer’s health. It has been scientifically confirmed that these tiny beads when stuck in between tooth and gums, can cause cancer.

It is obvious that banning all products that contain tiny toxins (micro-beads) will be a herculean task. However, to save this earth for our children, and for our children’s children, impossible is not a feasible option for us.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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