Sometime at the beginning of this year, I made a short trip to Goa. My usual haunts there include the Museum of Goa (MOG) and Café Bodega, a charming Panjim cafe with great food and a gallery with art and photography exhibits throughout the year. This time around it was Mandy Barker’s Invasion of the Seas – a dark and impressive photo exhibit that featured plastic litter from her scientific mission to Henderson Island. It is one of the most remote places in the world, and yet it is stuck with 38 million pieces of man-made waste, particularly plastic.

Barker is a photographer who accompanies scientists on their expeditions, to give a visual-voice to what they discover. So, while art and science so often seem to be at odds in what they try to achieve, her work shows that both can have a similar purpose. Marine plastic waste and its irrevocable damage to the planet should evoke both emotion and reasoning. Barker elicits both through her stunning black-background photography, with sharply defined waste pieces in colour.

Plastic waste

Image: Courtesy SGCFA and Mandy Barker

One does not need to be a scientist or an artist to understand that synthetic waste is choking our planet. This is particularly true of our oceans in which about 11 million metric tons of plastic is dumped each year; an amount that is projected to triple by 2040 according to research by The Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ, a sustainability consultancy. Apart from the usual suspects like shopping bags and water bottles, plastic in the ocean comes in innumerable other familiar forms like toothpaste tubes.

It might be interesting to start by analysing individual behaviour and extrapolate it to the collective, to try and understand the magnitude of the issue here. Let’s say every household uses a plastic tube of toothpaste each month. Just multiply that by twelve (for an annual number) and then multiply that by all the families in the world. That’s more than a billion tubes getting dumped in landfills and the oceans every year. Enough waste to circle the earth several times over. Now, that’s a huge price to pay for just cleaning our teeth!

When Deepak (my co-founder at Birdsong) and I started thinking about the idea of a clean, healthy and effective toothpaste, we were also quite sure that we didn’t want one more plastic tube to land into the ocean. As we began our research into alternative packaging, one brainstorming session led us to thinking about how our parents’ generation consumed products like toothpastes. Plastic had not become as ubiquitous as it is now and aluminium was a common choice to make tubes for toothpaste, lotions, creams and ointments in the 60’s and 70’s. After evaluating multiple other options, we determined that aluminium was the clearest choice in terms of recyclability and sustainability. It’s not like it doesn’t come with its share of struggles – aluminium has a high probability of getting dented during transportation, it is not as flexible as plastic and doesn’t reflect print colour well. However the ability of the metal to be recycled and reused in multiple ways is unparalleled. And today we are one of the very few (if not only!) brands that offers a natural, sugar free and SLS-free, Ayurveda toothpaste in an aluminium tube.

Our philosophy at Birdsong is focused on making contributions to people and the planet. For us, this means providing consumers with the best of natural wellness remedies and at the same time being able to make thoughtful choices around sustainability, sourcing and caring for our communities. Moving away from single-use plastic as much as possible and towards more sustainable packaging is just one of the ways in which we want to visualise a life of well-being for all. 

– Radhika 
Co-founder, Birdsong Life

March 02, 2022