Mindful manufacturing & maximum nutrition

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Reading Time: 11 minutes

I had 2 separate conversations yesterday that were on a topic that We’ve been quite obsessed about in the pre-work leading up the Krya factory. How do we process herbs and grains to ensure that they are easy and convenient to use without sacrificing the nutrients that go into them?

Grain processing for nutrient absorption is an ancient art. Archeological excavations indicate that plant domestication is about 11,000 years old. We first started domesticating vegetables like the bottle gourd, which was used as a vegetable and a container before the evolution of pottery and the art of ceramics. Cereal grains were domesticated around 9000 BC in the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East. Apart from fruit bearing annuals, pulses like peas and grains like wheat were part of this wave of plant domestication.

4. einkorn wheat at the fertile cresecent

 

The domestication of plants and cereals grains led to a great change in our way of life: this paved the way for Man to change from being a nomadic hunter gatherer to a fixed dweller in domesticated groups which slowly evolved to cities and towns. So in a way, the cultivation of cereals and grains created human civilisation itself.

The quern stone is an important landmark in the history of grain processing. Ethnographic evidence indicates that querns were used to grind not only grains for food, but also different kinds of herbs for medicines and cosmetics. Different types of querns existed in the ancient world: saddle querns, beehive querns and rotary querns which we are familiar with in India.

2, syrian quern stone3. egyptian grain grinding

 

The evolution of the water powered mill mechanised the use of the hand quern to some extent. The force of flowing water would generate enough power for the grinding wheel to begin turning. The grinding mechanism was similar to the rotary quern and the grain would be crushed between the rotating wheel and the stationary base of the Water mill. The Barbegal Aqueduct and Mill is a Roman Watermill complex located near the town of Arles in southern France.

 

1. barbegal mill

This mill was strategically located on a Roman aqueduct created to supply drinking water from the Alpilles mountain chain to the town of Arelate (now the town of Arles) on the Rhone River. This aqueduct fed 2 parallel sets of 8 waterwheels to power the attached flourmill. The mills were thought to have been operated almost continuously for 200 years from the 1st century AD and have an estimated capacity of 4.5 tonnes of flour per day – enough to feed the 30,000 inhabitants of Arles.

How fast does it spin? 

One of the ways to analyse the quality of processing is to find out the speed of the grinding mechanism. All rotary based mechanisms where the method involves something rotating around a fixed axis ( a grinding stone in the case of a wet grinder) or even the drum of your washing machine have a measure called RPM (revolutions per minute) to measure the frequency of rotation. The greater the RPM, the greater is the precision and power of the grinding, washing or drilling device.

8. RPM - how fast does it spin

 

A modern ultrasonic dental drill can rotate upto 800,000 RPM. Depending upon the spin cycle you choose in your washing machine the drum can rotate between 500 – 2000 RPM. When cruising at a minimum idle speed, your car engine has an RPM between 750 – 900 RPM. A Formula 1 car’s racing engine is operated at nearly 20,000 RPM. The speed of ancient water mills is estimated to be about 120 RPM.

 

High speed milling machines: devolution?

With the invention of fossil fuel powered electricity, water mills were slowly substituted by electricity powered mills. Milling machines themselves also underwent several technological changes. From the stone based water mills, we moved to roller mills. Roller mills produced a huge technological breakthrough as they were able to separate wheat bran from its endosperm, helping in the introduction of “Maida” or refined wheat flour.

To achieve this super refined flour, slightly wet wheat would be passed through a roller mill. This moisture acts in 2 ways on different parts of the wheat: it softens the endosperm, helping it be ground extremely finely, and it hardens the bran leaving it as a coarse grind. Therefore, you could easily sieve and separate the super refined endosperm from its coarser, much healthier bran and sell super refined flour.

Today’s milling machines are high speed impact pulverisers. Often sold for various purposes from grinding granite and stone for the construction industry to grinding food products like grains and spices, impact pulverisers and hammer mills are sold on 2 counts: speed of food processing (as described through the RPM) and fineness of the material ground.

Krya’s experiments in herb and grain processing and our observations:

We have a line of cleaning products that include a detergent and a dish washing product and a line of personal care products that include a face wash, hair wash and a body wash. Our quest when formulating and manufacturing our products is twofold: are they able to harness all the power of the natural ingredients we use while providing our users with a certain degree of comfort and convenience during use.

The yardstick for determining whether a particular manufacturing process is good or not, really depends on the metrics for measuring a product. Most powdered products are measured on a single metric only: the size reduction of the particles that has been achieved and the evenness of the particle size. Think of any brand of compact powder or even a talcum powder you might use for your child. Apart from the fragrance, perhaps the only way you might measure the quality of your product is the even and smooth feel of the compact on your face or the powder on your child’s skin.Unfortunately this metric of smoothness and evenness has now expanded to cover all powder based products, no matter what they are originally supposed to do.

5. all powders are not the same

Turmeric grinding:

Turmeric, the ubiquitous spice in Indian cooking and medicine is used extensively as is in cooking or as a part of important spice mixes like sambhars powder and rasam powder. Turmeric is a notoriously tough root to grind. Most household mixer grinders cannot get a smooth turmeric powder, so turmeric is usually sent to the neighbourhood flour mill for processing. (Of course the mechanism of the mixer grinder is not suited to grinding at all, as it is designed for a cutting rather than a pounding action). Different kinds of industrial grinders can be used for turmeric grinder.

In very large, high capacity spice grinding operations, an impact mill or a cyclone mill is used to grind turmeric. The RPM of an impact mill starts at 1500 RPM and it can go upto 2800 RPM depending on the purpose of the mill. This kind of mill can dramatically reduce the processing time of grinding hard turmeric roots. This means that greater volumes of turmeric can be ground and processed in this factory.

Ayurvedic medicine processing:

Rasanadi chooranam is an Ayurvedic medicine which is always available at our home. This is an extremely useful preparation to control water accumulation in the sinuses. In Ayurveda, a pinch of Rasanadi chooranam is applied every time you wash your hair at the lymph nodes and certain points on your head. This chooranam helps retain heat in these points and help dry up water before it has a chance to be absorbed internally and reach the sinuses. If you suffer from water accumulation or a feeling of heaviness in your head after washing your hair, in wet weather or if your head sweats a lot, Rasanadi chooranam will make a huge difference to your health and well being.

We tested the physical characteristics and aroma of Rasanadi chooranam bought from 2 different Ayurvedic brands: One came from a government run (presumably lower funded) organisation and the other from a big brand name Ayurvedic company. The Rasanadi chooranam from the government funded Ayurvedic Company was darker in colour and coarser to touch. It was also extremely fragrant and generated a feeling of warmth as soon as it was applied on the head. However the Rasanadi chooranam from the big brand company was much lighter in colour, extremely fine to touch and had little or no aroma. It did not have the immediate warming characteristics of its poorer counterpart.

Both brands have used the same Ayurvedic formulation from the same Ayurvedic text. Both brands use a mixture of conventionally grown / cultivated herbs and forest collected herbs. The major difference lies in the way they have been processed. Clearly the bigger brand has used a more expensive, hi impact, high RPM pulveriser. This pulveriser has, through a combination of high heat, greater number of beating heads and higher energy, achieved fineness of the final product by sacrificing aroma, and some of the products functional characteristics.

Active ingredients and how to release them:

Processing food and natural medicine or cosmetics follow similar principles. The active ingredients in plants are bound up within their cell structure. Our role in creating functional products is to release these active ingredients so that they get to work as soon as you apply, soak or eat them. In grain processing which we spoke about, the active ingredients in the grain like the B vitamins and protein is readily available to the body only when we soak, ferment, or create flour. This very act of creating flour, if done improperly can completely destroy the active ingredients present within the grain.

The active ingredients of soapberry which we depend upon to produce hair magic or laundry magic in the Krya hair wash and Krya detergent is called saponins. These saponins are distributed through the outer shell of the soapberry fruit. To extract these saponins, we need to either soak the fruit in water and extract it as an aqueous extract or powder the shells and make the saponins more bio available so that they are released faster in the presence of water or mechanical action.

6. saponin extraction at krya

 

However saponins, like most active ingredients are sensitive to air, and heat. When processed in a high heat generating milling operation, they get denatured or cooked. These denatured saponins have a lower foaming action and have a completely different aromatic profile when compared to properly processed saponins.

Why process a soapberry at all? Using a whole soapberry is not as effective or convenient as using the powdered soapberry or an aqueous extract. Because it is only through subjecting the whole soapberries to some form of processing, we are able to make the saponins readily available to us.

When is herb or food processing just right? And why you should care

Food or natural products are truly nutritious and provide well being when they have been carefully made, using high quality raw materials and careful processing techniques. High heat and fast processing has 2 negative effects on plant based material: It destroys the volatile, delicate aroma compounds and it denatures vital nutrients like vitamins (some of which are extremely heat sensitive).

For example, thiamine in wheat is one of the first vitamins to be lost in high speed processing. This is especially true in high speed mills where temperatures can reach upto 204 degrees centigrade. In our skin and hair care products, we use several delicate, extremely volatile, aromatic herbs.

Lemongrass for instance, goes into our Kids body wash. Lemongrass is a dry, fibrous grass, and is especially soothing for delicate skin. Its volatile compounds are released by either carefully crushing the grass or through steam distillation to extract its essential oil. When the grass is dried at high temperatures (above 60 deg c) or processed using high speed cutters, the plant loses its vibrant, citrusy top notes. The resulting powder resembles dried hay, and simply adds volume without adding to the therapeutic qualities of our body wash.

9. krya bodywash for kids with lemongrass

 

The Just right level:

Much like Goldilocks and the three bears, there is a “just right” level in all natural product processing. But obviously this varies depends on the kind of product being spoken about.

Here are 3 checks for you to evaluate if your brand of completely natural food, cosmetic or household product has been sourced and processed correctly:

1. Is its colour distinctively lighter compared to the original raw material? The more an ingredient is crushed or processed, or sieved, the lighter it becomes. For example: refine white flour or Maida is super white in colour. This is because the brown coloured bran has been sieved out of the flour, and the endosperm has been moistened and pulverised to a very fine degree.

2. Does it have a characteristic natural aroma? Or does it smell cooked / roasted or burned? Is there any strong, distinctively “un natural” fragrance? If the food or natural cosmetic you’ve bought smells neutral, has no fragrance or has a burned / cooked fragrance, then what you’ve bought has been over processed. Alternatively, if you are buying a brand of natural hair wash and what you smell reminds you of a bubbly lemony synthetic shampoo, then obviously what you’re using is not very natural.

3. Is it extremely even and is the powder of a very high degree of fineness? It should come as no surprise to you that natural ingredients are not identical. No two grains of rice or wheat are alike. No two leaves from the same stalk have identical aromatic compounds of physical characteristics. Similarly, when food or natural products are processed, it is not possible to achieve microscopically identical particle size.

All a manufacturer can do is to sieve the final product to ensure that the particle size achieves a certain minimum or maximum threshold. Within this limit, variations will continue to exist. Complete evenness and near identical particle size can only mean repeated processing and sieving in a high speed mill.

If you are observing this in your flour, then you will be eating nutritionally weak flour. It would make sense to either switch brands or to decide to process your own flour. If you are observing this in your natural hair care or cosmetic product, then your product will not work as well as it could on you. The repeated processing the product has undergone has depleted it of any nutrients that could be absorbed by your skin and hair. Again, switching brands or making your own personal care products would make better sense.

Additional Information:

  • For low heat , carefully processed flour, ask for your organic store’s own brand of flour (to ensure freshness).
  • Krya’s skin and hair care products will be launched commercially in a month’s time. This is why its taking this time.
  • Krya’s all natural cleaning products for the home can be found here.

About the Series:

This article is a part of Krya’s writings on natural products and their sourcing and processing. We are passionate about promoting a truly environmentally sustainable lifestyle and this can be achieved only if we come to rely on using high quality plant based material to clean and care for ourselves and our homes. This follows our earlier series on toxic products in our home and how you could learn to identify and detox your home from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today.

If you would like to explore our toxics series further, here’s what we’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home
  3. Is it a conspiracy? A pre-planned genetic supremacy race? Or simply misinformation? Some reasons behind common toxics & why they continue to be used
  4. Are we putting our children at risk by using these products on them? Here are 3 toxins that plague children through the products we use on them.
  5. Do the products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode what goes into them? Here’s Urban Survival 101 telling you what you should look for in food product labels.
  6. Do the cosmetic products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode them? Here’s Urban survival 102 telling you what you should look for in cosmetic labels
  7. Two non toxic cleaner recipes you could try in your home and a Krya factory update
  8. A holistic approach to beauty and health and a fermented Amla drink to make this February for your family

 

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The Waiting Game

the new krya ecofactory
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Daniel Silva has this to say about the life of a Spy. Waiting is a key skill for the spy. The life of a spy consists of long periods, days & weeks , of boring, zero-action, mind numbing waiting ( waiting for the quarry to make a mistake, commit the next crime or take the bait). These long periods of boredom are interspersed with brief spikes of action, A few minutes of high octane, nerve-wracking life or death situations in which the waiting game is won or you end up dead.

A big green field project like setting up the first krya factory is much like the waiting game ( minus the life and death situations)

the  new krya ecofactory
the new Krya eco factory

 

It took us a month to find out the proper licensing authority since our all organic, plant based goodies could not be slotted into any known category. In this time we had to listen to an official telling us that there is no real proof that herbs like Neem or Soapberry are actually safe compared to the vast body of clinical studies conducted on Triclosan or SLS. I then understood in a small way how survivors might feel when they meet a holocaust denier.

Our first application to the licensing authority in April 2014 was not even accepted for over a month as the department was in a black-out period due to the Nation-Wide general elections. As soon as PM Modi took office, we went back to the department with our application. We were confident that now our “Acche Din Aa Gaye”. We were then told that we would be called for an interview at the next district level board meeting on June 23rd 2014.

Through the month of June we did not hear from the department despite some follow-up & we landed up in their office on the day before the interview determined to get our day in court. We were then shocked to be told point blank that our application was nowhere to be found. The entire department was actually decent in admitting their gaffe ,since we had an acknowledgment receipt , but regardless the application was nowhere to be found. We then had to re-submit the application for the next board review in July 2014.

By this time our early test batches of the Krya face –wash & Krya body-wash had gone viral ( & not bacterial since we have strict quality controls for total bacterial count) and many , many lovely people were writing to us wondering about the launch of the new products. In complete damage control mode, we made yet another test batch of products to bridge the gap till the official launch of our new factory.

On July 23rd 2014, after waiting for nearly four months for a interview, we drove nearly 100 km to the district HQ, waited a couple of hours for our slot and had an interview of precisely 5 minutes. In this time we were given a prima facie approval for our factory project subject to other regulatory clearances and financial closure with the bank.

Anti-climactic as the interview was, we had the approval, which was the main thing. But of course we were told the actual approval letter would be sent by post after obtaining the necessary signatures from the department heads. This letter was sent to us on 9th September 2014! We waited for 48 days just to receive the letter, almost enough time for Daniel Silva to have written his next novel.

By this time I had made so many appearances at the department office, that I felt like Kevin Spacey working at the diner in American Beauty , telling his cheating wife & boyfriend that “something tells me that you are are going to remember me this time”

However we are never low on gratitude and were quite excited to receive our sanction letter, delay notwithstanding.

This sanction from the local licensing authority was a key input document in our application to the bank. When we triumphantly walked into the bank this time we found out that the bank manager who had reviewed our project had been transferred. We would have to wait for a couple of weeks for his replacement to start the process. Merde ! Somehow when you say it in French, it doesn’t sound as crude as the English translation.

We waited for a few days to meet the new manager, got a large application docket and sent the completed forms to the dedicated SME branch of the bank. After a ominous wait for a few days we went back to the bank manager for a status update and were told that the SME branch never received our application. We showed a proof of delivery from the courier company that the letter had in fact been delivered to the SME branch , at which point they said that it could have gotten lost during the bank renovation. Merde !

If you have been patient with this narrative till now, the timeline reads end November 2014 and we are busy telling the amazing Krya consumers to wait just a little more for the launch of the new factory.

Something told us at this point that we needed a new bank and Along Came Polly. (Polly is of course not her real name). On a bright December morning when we were at our factory site office, a lady walked in introducing herself as the new branch manager of a nationalized bank nearby & that she was looking to fund interesting new projects.

We had driven past this particular bank branch, just one mile ahead of our factory site, many many times and it never crossed our minds to consider them. That is Life.

For every weird, frustrating road block or lost letter that we faced till now, the new bank relationship threw up a pleasant surprise. It was as if a conservation law of hard knocks and pleasant surprises was playing out in our project.

So now here we are in early February 2015, having completed every conceivable pre-launch formality required to get our factory project underway. Bank loan application completed. License approval done. Machine suppliers lined up. Raw materials on the way. Consumer tested formulations ready.

We should start the construction work on the factory in a few days and then commence a trial production run shortly afterwards.

The new Krya products – face wash, body wash & hair wash should be available for sale in March 2015.That would be 14 months after we first made a test batch of products for consumer evaluation.14 months is the gestation period for a Giraffe, Sperm Whale or Camel to give birth to their respective babies.

Thank you for the long patient wait for our new ultra green Krya eco factory a.k.a the baby sperm whale to get on its feet.

We promise the wait is nearly over.

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A sustainable business card

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Srini and I have been business card-less for the last 2 years. Printing a business card is not very environmentally friendly for some reasons.

  1. When you go to a printer, they print only a minimum of 200 cards or more. With so many cards you have to force them down family and friends or they are not used for a long time. By which time some important detail in the card like a phone number could have changed.
  2. Regular card printers work only with fully bleached virgin paper and not with any manner of recycled paper.
  3. We are Krya – we believe in saving paper and the environment before bedtime, and a standard issue business card just doesn’t say that.

Moreover being card-less has been interesting. Telling an associate / friend why it is not environmentally unfriendly has led to interesting conversations.

But a business card also is very useful, especially for a young company starting life.

So here is our take on business cards

  1. We printed our cards ourselves – off our office printer. That way we printed only as much as required.
  2. We used a single colour, black for our cards. As we’ve said before, the more the number of colours on paper, the harder it becomes to recycle. Black is also the cheapest, and easiest to produce colour for the environment.
  3. We do not laminate our cards. Lamination is an energy intensive process, and it puts a thin, un-reusable film of plastic on paper, that makes the paper very hard to recycle.
  4. We used tree-free paper for our cards – Our paper is made from cotton waste and not by cutting trees.

This is how it looks.

Krya sustainable business card

There’s one more change we will make now. (And hey it is easy to make because we design and print it ourselves).

We will create a joint business card – because that is even more sustainable than printing 2 separate cards. And because we are a creative partnership – and nothing says that more than a joint business card.

Upping the ante

To get to the bleeding edge of thoughtful business card design, we will also partner with a friend to make our cards Braille enabled.

What is a Braille enabled card?

Nidhi’s Organisation Esha, has trained visually challenged professionals who make your business card Braille friendly. They use a brailler, which is a special machine for the blind, that resembles and woks like a typewriter.

Using this typewriter they Braille emboss your card with your name and perhaps the name of your organisation.

This is how a Braille embossed card would look:

Why are we getting a Braille enabled card?

  1. Our card makes a distinctive statement about who we are and not just what we do
  2. It will delight a visually challenged person who will finally be able to read for him/herself our names and what we do.
  3. The money made on the cards goes directly to the visually challenged professionals working on our card.
  4. It costs an absurd 1Re per card. Esha takes orders for any number of business cards.

By having braille-enabled cards, we are looking forward to getting this done as every little detail about the card says something about who we really are.

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Blue screen error interrupts Blue sky thinking

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For the last couple of days we have been completely swamped by the dastardly blue screen error. For those of you who haven’t encountered one ( Google search seems to indicate this would exclusively be people  without computers or with B&W monitors), this is what a blue screen  error looks like.

Blue screen of death

This is the first time I have encountered this error & the most cursory google search showed that is also known as the “blue screen of death” which occurs when the operating system encounters a fatal  error and the system crashes.

Blue screen error is not fun and it kept increasing in its severity over several abortive attempts to boot the system. The good thing about running your company is you can rearrange all other meetings and tasks to crack the blue screen error and in the bargain gain vital IT skills. And you can write a blog post about the process and potential solutions.

Level 1

Hope this is just one of those things and reboot the PC. Then some. Then in safe mode.

Level 2

We sneak in some PC time after a normal boot and Google search points to a registry cleanup as the best bet. But then windows crashes again, so you get the registry cleaner software downloaded from another PC. So we reboot in safe mode, and then try installing the registry cleaner only to be told that new software cannot be installed in safe mode. So after a couple of reboots, the registry cleaner begins do its stuff.

Level 3

We are surprised by the sheer number, width and depth of issues that are highlighted and fixed by the registry cleaner. It’s a wonder the computer’s been functioning at all. After the first level of registry cleanup we get some normal working time and think about writing the blog post du jour.

This of course means another PC crash and brings us to level 4.

Level 4

Now we think it is time to call someone else to take a look. The first call to a laptop specialist elicits a brisk response; clearly blue screen errors are all the rage. The specialist assures us that if we reload the operating system; we will have a sure fire fix. Of course he also guarantees us that every single byte of information that we have on the computer will be lost and he is rather dicey about backups. I am surprised to be told that this entire fix would cost just Rs 800 and something tells me to probe further. The new version of windows to be loaded apparently is a “cracked” version. Any way you say it , “cracked” is still pirated and that ends the call with the laptop specialist.

Level 5

However the discussions about “cracked” software lead us to another possibility. Since we got a dell laptop with factory loaded windows, there must be some way of accessing that copy of windows which we paid for once, fair and square. As expected there is something known as Dell factory image restore, which will reset the computer to the exact state when it left the Dell factory. Again this process will delete ever single email, photo, file, profile, program on the PC , so we spend the better part of 2 hours backing up everything in sight.

The good news is that the dell factory image restore indeed licked the blue screen error. Not only that, it also gave the PC a clean start. For one year we have been accumulating several GB of data, photos, programs, freeware and we were able to un-clutter the system to a large extent.

It is never a dull day in the office at Krya.



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Radical transparency

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We noticed something strange in detergent labelling today. None of the detergent brands available in the local supermarket declare the ingredients or at least the key ingredients.

This is in stark contrast to other categories like food or skin care where every single ingredient, however minor, must be declared.

The packaging rules* stipulate that odd pack sizes like 175 gm or 390 gm be declared as non-standard sizes. This additional declaration as a non-standard size comes in really fine print & in my opinion not very useful for the consumer to make a better decision.

On the other hand, knowing the exact list of ingredients is certainly useful to consumers. Take phosphates for instance.

Why does my detergent have phosphates?

Phosphates were originally added to detergents to wash effectively in hard water. The most common phosphate used in detergents is sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP).

Phosphates from the detergent eventually find their way via the sewage system into the nearby water bodies. Excessive phosphates released into water bodies are a leading cause of eutrophication. Eutrophication causes an algal bloom on the surface of water bodies – you would have seen it in contaminated lakes and ponds where the surface of the lake is unusually green in colour due to algae. This algal bloom kills off the aquatic animals in the water body as all the oxygen is used up by the algae. The water body in time becomes a dead zone with no life, and unusable water.

What is the phosphate % in Indian Detergents?

The anti-phosphate debate reached a flash point in the U.S. in the early 70’s, leading to a voluntary reduction of phosphates by the detergent industry. Soon many local municipalities banned phosphates entirely fearing further eutrophication of their water bodies.

Canada in 2010 passed regulations that limit phosphates to just 0.5% by weight in detergents.

However in India, in the absence of stringent regulations, detergent brands do not reveal their phosphate percentage. It is estimated that phosphates could be as high as 30 -50 % in Indian detergents, perilously high levels.

Radical Transparency

We came across this concept while reading Daniel Goleman’s Ecological Intelligence*, and it sparked off some interesting debates at Krya.

Radical transparency says that when given generous amounts of information, consumers use it to make the right choices, both for themselves and the environment. Goleman postulates that in the time to come, radical transparency will be the key to higher market shares and profits for companies as they empower consumers to consume responsibly.

We’ve seen a live example of radical transparency at our local organic store. The cost of our produce there is usually more expensive than the supermarket. But over time we’ve been educated on how it is cheaper in the long term because the produce is fresher, better tasting & healthier.

Our organic store retailer is open to discussing his produce, how they are grown, and where they come from. We’ve called him at odd hours to quiz him on his cashews and discuss the effects of endosulfan, and he’s always shared everything he knows on the topic.

We reward his radical transparency by buying more and more from him. We wait patiently if he is out of stock, and work really hard (even changing our schedules) to make sure we meet his order deadlines, and pick up our produce.

Companies who practice radical transparency, will also be rewarded by generous consumers.

We would like to see radical transparency in more products, especially detergents.

We would like companies to trust us with information and tell us what they put into products.

We think that if they do, we can tell them what we want, and together we can make better products.

For the lakes. For the fishes. For us. For everyone.

References:

*Rules here refer to the Standards of Weights & Measures (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 1977

**Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman loaned to us by our cousin, Arvind

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Why bio-degradable is not enough

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Quite often in our research on sustainability, we learn something that makes us sit-up.

We usually accept that it is awesome for a product to be bio-degradable and leave it at that. However when you pull at the thread of bio-degradability to follow it to the very end, you get a different picture.

So to begin, what is bio-degradability?

Bio-degradable matter is organic material with plant or animal origin. They can be broken down into simpler compounds by microorganisms (like bacteria) and they return to nature in a short period of time. For example wood & cotton are bio-degradable. Regular plastic is not.

The key phrase here is “return to nature”. That is, these bio-degradable materials can be re-used by nature to create new living organisms.

Enter Landfills

Human activity generates waste. Daily.

Waste falls in two categories. The solid waste, that goes straight into the dustbin. Then there is the liquid waste handled by the sewage system.

The solid waste goes from your dustbin to a dumping ground in the city called a “landfill”. Unless special, prior segregation is done, all types of waste get mixed up at the landfill. Plastic, food waste, paper, construction debris all become one massive pile at the landfill.

This means that bio-degradable waste anywhere below the top surface of the landfill has no access to light or oxygen. Unfortunately for bacteria to work their magic on most bio-degradable matter, they need light and oxygen.

This means that nothing happens to the bio-degradable matter at the landfill. The lack of light and oxygen will preserve them perfectly like mummies for eternity.

This is the crux of the post. Bio-degradability is potentially good. But it needs an effort to be converted to actual good.

A few numbers from our city

To further illustrate the point about bio-degradability, here are some numbers from the Chennai corporation

  1. Solid waste generated – 500 gm per person daily
  2. Total solid waste generated – 3200 tons daily
  3. Total area used as landfills – 550 acres in Chennai city (24 million square feet)
  4. Life expectancy of landfills – The year 2015

I was aghast that on average I am responsible for nearly 200 kg of solid waste per year. Also, 24 million square feet of perfectly good residential area are used as landfills. And in 4 years from now new landfills will be required.

Solutions

At the highest level, the solutions to handle solid waste are to not create solid waste. This means

  1. Reduce consumption
  2. Reuse stuff. Like reusing plastic bags.

In our case we carry our own bags every time we go to the store.

Once solid waste is generated, the options are recycling and composting

3. Recycling

Recycling is a terrific solution because it works at source, i.e. our home or office where the solid waste is generated to begin with. By recycling materials like paper, certain plastics we can prevent waste from entering the landfill in the first place.

For example, we recently bought office supplies that came in several corrugated cartons.

cartons for recycling

A few years ago I would have thrown them into the dustbin.  Now these cartons will be sent for recycling just like old newspapers

4. Composting

Compost is the natural end point of bio-degradable matter. In other words after the biodegradable matter has been broken down by micro-organisms we get compost, which is a great soil fertilizer and the pillar of organic farming.

Plain vanilla composting is just burying food waste in the garden. A year later the local earthworms and micro-organisms will convert it to compost.

Home composting is a massive step to help reduce the city’s load on solid waste management and reduces the need to create new landfills. More on that later.

To conclude, bio-degradable is good, and with some waste management effort it becomes great.

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Why I love what we do @ Krya

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Yesterday was a big day at Krya.

We put in the finishing touches to the wireframe of the new website. (The wireframe is the backbone of the website. It contains the layout of the website, the navigation, colour schemes and also sets the style guide for the way people interact with the website).

We finalised our packaging design and placed our first order. We spent more than 6 months with the design of the pack, and it has now crossed the rubicon from being an idea in our head to something that’s actually going to be printed.

I’ve been trying to get in touch with M.B Nirmal, who founded Exnora International for some time now. I’m a big fan of his work, and have used many of the ideas he’s suggested to conserve water at home. I was finally able to get an appointment to meet him next week and am pretty thrilled about it – will post further details of our meeting next week.

I got to meet an old friend from work days. She had come down from the U.S, where she now lives for another friend’s wedding. Her class decided to make this a mini-reunion, so 14 of them flew in for their friend’s wedding.

So Srini & I ended up meeting a lot of people from MICA, and got to share what we were doing at Krya.

I love that Krya appeals to everyone I talk to. Everyone wants to know more, asks a lot of questions, and most meets end with email addresses exchanged with a promise extracted to send across links to the website and more information about our sustainable goodies.

I leave these meetings feeling like a newly charged battery. I get to understand sustainability and why it is critical from many different points of view, and our experiments often inspire people to change / look at some part of their lives.

This is the sort of work day everyone dreams of having.

Creative, multi-faceted work, getting to meet inspirational people and the chance to soak in to positive energy from everyone you meet.

& that’s why I love what we do at Krya.

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Trendspotting 2011.

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It is always a good time to be trendspotting but the first week of the New Year is the best. I came across this useful presentation on the top 100 trends for 2011 put together by the creative house, JWT.

I was surprised by the large percentage of trends circling back to the space of sustainability, green, environment, carbon footprint & overall treading lightly

My top picks from the presentation

  1. Facebook e- commerce. Self explanatory.
  2. Self powering devices. Powered by the user interaction. Check this remote from Microsoft.
  3. QR codes. 2-D barcodes that can be scanned by mobile devices.

krya.in QR code

This is the QR code for www.krya.in

4. Non printable PDF format. From the big black panda at WWF. Saves the file with .wwf extension.

5.A restaurant menu with the carbon footprint equivalent of each item.

Here is the original presentation from JWT.

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Sustainable by Design – To liquid or not to liquid

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At Krya, sustainability, usability and beauty are the three core principles of product design.

Sustainability forces constraints, as many cheap & easily available materials and processes are ruled out. But that’s okay, because it is difficult to design it into a product retrospectively.

At Krya we think about sustainable design at 6 stages

  1. Product design: ingredients, format, packaging.
  2. Raw material sources and their transport
  3. Manufacturing process
  4. Transport to consumer
  5. Consumer in use method
  6. Post consumer use disposal

At every stage of a product’s life cycle no decision is too small to be ignored. And each decision has to balance sustainability with usability for the consumers. Take for instance, the choice of product format.

Product format: To liquid or not to liquid?

Whether a product is a solid, liquid or somewhere in the continuum between plays an important role in determining a product’s sustainability.

It turns out that liquid products and sustainability just don’t mix.

Here’s why:

  1. Liquids = complex, resource intensive manufacturing
  2. Liquids often imply effluents
  3. The addition of water into a product requires a clean , antiseptic environment
  4. The addition of water also means possible bacterial contamination so preservatives are a must in the end product
  5. Liquids need tough containers – So hello plastic, goodbye paper
  6. Liquids are expensive to transport – they are voluminous, need special storage, & can be easily damaged

At Krya, we have made the decision to choose a solid format over a liquid format every time.

This commitment extends to our personal life as well. We have eliminated many liquid products like face wash, shampoo and conditioners. We have created organic, natural, fantastic powder alternatives to these categories.

Choosing a solid format over a liquid format can make a huge difference to the environment.

All it needs is an open mind.

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Sapindus Trifoliatus: or how the fruit became a detergent

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We unveiled our first sustainable gooThe fruit that's a detergentdie yesterday, the fruit that’s a detergent.

The fruit has a name. Trifoliatus. Sapindus trifoliatus.

A year ago I had no idea of the existence of such an awesome fruit. Through an incredible concatenation of events, Preethi & I found ourselves with a bag of Sapindus shells. We were thoroughly intrigued by the possibilities. What started off as an innocent laundry experiment a year ago has snowballed into our first business venture.

However I digress.

The Sapindus

The Sapindus is a group of around 10 species of trees whose fruits can be used as surfactants. The name Sapindus is derived from the Latin words Saponis, meaning soap and Indicus, meaning from India. They are commonly known as soapnuts or soapberries. Soapnuts, though isn’t technically right – as they are fruits and not nuts. For the botany snob hidden in you, we can go a step further and call them “pericarps”

India is home to several species of Sapindus. The two most well known of these are the South Indian Sapindus trifoliatus & the Himalayan Sapindus Mukorossi. All species of Sapindus are useful detergents in their own way.

The secret ingredient

The secret ingredient in the fruit is the Saponin which makes it a useful surfactant (or detergent).

Ergo, the fruit that’s a detergent.

How Surfactants clean

Plain water does not usually remove oily particles or tough dirt stains from clothes. The addition of surfactants helps to clean clothes in a two step process.

1. Reduce surface tension

    The surfactant molecules have a water-loving head that attaches to water molecules and a water-hating tail that attaches to the dirt molecules. This creates a force that detaches the dirt from the clothes & suspends the dirt in the water. The agitation of the washing machine or scrubbing by hand further helps detach the dirt from the clothes. As a result of the dirt getting detached the water now starts looking murky.

    2. Emulsification

    Now that the dirt has been removed, it is critical that they don’t re-deposit on the clothes. This is the done by the second action of the surfactant i.e emulsification. Emulsification is the process by which the dirt and the water form a mixture. This keeps the dirt suspended in the water till it is washed down the drain

    But the Sapindus is so much more

    The fruit that’s a detergent is a great surfactant which explains why it cleans so well. However it is so much more than just a surfactant.

    1. It is a certified organic product fruit. So it is absolutely bio-degradable and once used for washing leaves no trace of its existence.
    2. It is powdered to make a great detergent, so it consumes very little energy to manufacture.
    3. It is hypoallergenic, so it is gentle on hands, leaves no chemical residue on clothes, that can be harmful to skin.

    Food for thought

    In the first month of our experiments with the Sapindus we completely eliminated regular chemical detergents. However I am constantly amazed by how well the innocuous, light brown fruit cleans.

    But think about it, regular chemical detergents have been around for the last hundred years or so. However humans and dirty clothes have been around for thousands of years. More often than not it has been the fruit that’s a detergent that saved  the day.

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