Dirty linen

  • 30/05/2005

An average Indian spends more time on washing as compared to people of other countries.

Worldwide, washing has a gender bias, with women spending more time in the activity than men.

Surprisingly, in India the time spent on washing by urban and rural population is about the same.

More washing has led to per capita detergent use almost doubling from 0.99 kg in 1960 to 1.91 kg in 1995. Current use is estimated at 2-3 kg per capita per year.

The industry expects to grow at 8-10 per cent in the current financial year. It sees a great scope of expansion as Indian per capita consumption is thought to be low!

Country Population (million) Per capita detergent consumption (kg) Total consumption (million tonnes/year)
EU 459 459 4.20
India 1,082 3 3.25
USA 296 10 2.96

Detergent penetration is increasing fast in rural and poor urban areas of India. All companies are slashing prices of their products to woo new consumers.

But more consumption will bear a high environmental cost: release of a higher load of wastewater contaminated with detergent. In India, a meagre increase of one gramme in consumption per capita will increase the detergent consumption by 1,100 tonnes per year!

In India, the detergent industry is worth Rs 5,700 crore.

A survey reports that during 2003-2004, premium, mid-price and popular segments accounted for 15, 40 and 45 per cent of the total market respectively.

The survey also predicts, “High consumer awareness and penetration levels will enable the market to grow at a slightly higher rate in the rural areas as compared to the urban areas.”

Much of the growth is expected at the popular brand level

The heat, dust and sweat of a tropical country forces us to wash more and hence use more water.

“Rural Asia has 20-40 litres per day for all their needs as compared to the western world with 160-litres per day available for washing alone,” says Umesh Shah of Unilever Asia.

(See the graphs)

But proportion of water used for washing in urban India is not far behind its counterparts in developed world. The variation between different cities depends upon water availability and climate.

The boost in the industry is also fuelled by washing machines, the new gadget that is seen as a status symbol. The washing machines market grew by 9 .8 per cent during 2002-2003, a survey shows.

Alas, the introduction of washing machines has increased the washing frequencies, prompting people to wash more. Surveys done in the US and Australia show the time spent on washing has increased with the introduction of washing machines and hence the water wasted on washing.

Between the two models of washing machines, the front loading (horizontal axis) ones wash clothes using half the water used by a top loading (vertical axis) machine.

Besides, front loaders use lesser amounts of detergent as well.

However, water consumption takes a back seat when it comes to consumer choice, as water guzzling top loaders are priced much lower than the more water efficient front loading machines.

European Environmental Agency, 2001; Domestic water use study of Perth-Western Australia 1998-2001; Water consumption and wastage patterns in the domestic households in major cities in India, 2005; European Commission, How Europeans spend their time, 2004; Survey on Time Use and Leisure Activities 2001, Statistics Bureau, Japan; Michael Bittman et al 2003, Appliances and their Impact; Anuradha Khati Rajivan, The India Time Use Survey, 1998-1999, Chemical Weekly, April 2005

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