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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2 non toxic cleaner recipes and a Krya factory update

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

When we started Krya, the life we left behind was hurried, quite thoughtless, filled with consumption and was full of products. I went from a seven step skin care routine and a 4 step hair care routine to a completely natural, simplified life. Having left a life immersed in the opposite of what we wanted to do at Krya, it seemed natural to wonder if we were starting something that was years ahead of its time. If we were in fact, pockets of a parallel universe living in our world.

As time goes by today, I am happy to note that our Parallel Universe is growing. And that our mission to replace harmful, synthetic, often petrochemical derived products that people use in their homes and themselves, is being aided by a growing concern and awareness around the world.

I was struck by this this week as we met different sets of people to buy equipment for the upcoming Krya factory. The manufacturer of our solar drying equipment broke off our technical discussion of the sun’s path and drying angles to tell us to “stick to our noble path”. He told us that while our going might seem slow, and sometimes difficult, what we were doing was right and needed and that we had to keep on working to help cleanse people’s bodies and lives.

He spoke from the bitter experience of watching his Mother suffer through 2 rounds of surgery for intestinal cancer, and how choosing conventional allopathic medicine did not give them the panacea they were promised.

The connection between the diseases we succumb to, the small illnesses we see in our children, and the food we eat or the products that we apply on ourselves, can seem elusive. We certainly do not equate eating a sugary caramel popcorn at our favourite movie hall with fatigue, irritability or our inability to wake up on time the next morning. Neither is the connection between a 2 am visit to the Pediatric hospital with a breathless child and the detergent used in the home, evident.

But the connections are real. And it is our Life’s work at Krya to  educate and inspire people about these connections and create, safe, completely natural alternatives to care for you as a support structure.

The factory we are working on at Siruseri is in support of our Life’s work. We have been working for more than a year on putting together a clean, thoughtfully designed manufacturing location that creates high quality products with great reverence and joy.

Our factory is located within the Sipcot IT Park, in an oasis of calm and greenery called the Golden Jubilee Biotech Park for Women. This is a special Park that has been designed to promote Women Entrepreneurship in Life sciences. Our layout and machines have been thought through to create gently processed products that retain their natural characteristics and aroma. Wherever possible we have used machines that are much slower (and therefore take more time) than their regular commercial counterparts. By reducing the speed of each batch, we are able to retain the unique natural characteristics of our herbs, leaves and fruits that become such wonderful cleaning , skin and hair care aids in the hands of our consumers.

Designing our factory and creating our manufacturing space has come at a cost: I have been unable to write more frequently in the Blog. My intention when we started this series was to provide a lot of useful and impactful information on leading a toxin free life. I apologise for this long gap in writing on this subject.

I spoke earlier about our Parallel Universe growing. In early december, Arathi, the editor of the Week’s “Smart Life” supplement wrote to us asking us to write an article for the Week’s January Issue with information on the toxicity of household cleaning products. “Give our readers some easy to use, inspiring suggestions on replacing these easily at home”, suggested Ararthi.

George Watt, a medical graduate of the University of Glasgow came to Indian in 1873 and published an authoritative 6 volume dictionary of the economic products of India. 10 years later, inspired by his monumental effort, the British Government asked George Watts to organise in 1885, an exhibition of the economically useful plants of India in calcutta. George Watts did not look back and went on to devote the next 25 years of his life in cataloguing India’s natural biodiversity and wealth.

Our true wealth in India lies in our rich, biodiverse flora and fauna. And in the context of creating non toxic cleaners for our home, our trees and plants provide us with a staggering array of formulation options to easily and efficiently clean and care for ourselves.

Here are 2 recipes that you can start with. We wrote this for our article for the Week. They are easy to make, and work extremely well. They are water based, liquid recipes, which we don’t make commercially at Krya, but are easy to make and environmentally sustainable when made by you for your home.

Multi-Purpose Surface Cleaneruse this to mop your floors, counters, bathrooms and to even scrub your toilet

1. Soapberry powder – 100 grams (Cleansing and anti-bacterial agent) (Use the Krya detergent if you have some)

2. Neem Oil – 25 ml (Anti bacterial agent, insect repellant)

3. Citronella Oil – 50 ml (Insect repellant, freshness)

4. Citric Acid – 25 grams (Preservative, mild bleaching agent)

5. Arrowroot powder – 20 grams (Thickening agent, optional)

6. Water -1.2 litres

Instructions

Mix the citric acid crystals in a small cup of warm water and stir until the crystals dissolve completely. Mix the soapberry powder in 1.2 litres of water and bring it to a boil in a thick bottomed vessel. As the liquid begins to boil, add the arrowroot powder and stir until the liquid thickens to the consistency of a watery shampoo. Once the liquid has thickened, take it off the flame and add the dissolved citric acid liquid. Let the soapberry liquid cool before filtering out the soapberry residue.

Now stir in the neem and citronella oil into the filtered soapberry liquid and mix well. Bottle the liquid cleaner and store in a cool, dry place or in the fridge (after labeling it properly!).

This recipe should give you approximately 1 litre of liquid multi purpose cleaner.

This multi-purpose surface cleaner can be used to clean floors, tiles, kitchen tops or even glass surfaces. This is a concentrate and a few spoons of this can be added to a mug of water which can then be used to clean surfaces. As mentioned before always do a patch test on a small portion of the area to be cleaned before proceeding further. If there are pets at home, you can exclude citronella oil from the recipe.

The Natural no-napthalene linen freshener:

sweet basil

A non toxic fragrant alternative to stinky napthalene balls
A handful each of the following dry herbs:
Neem leaves
Thiruneetrupachai (siva tulasi) leaves
Tulasi leaves
Lemongrass stalks
2 balls of pure camphor or edible camphor (pachai kalpuram)
4 sticks of Sweet flag (called vasambu in Tamil)Place all these ingredients in a pillow case, and coarsely crush them together. Shake well so that the ingredients are mixed well together.  Now divide this mixture into equal quantities (about a tablespoon each) and fill into muslin / cotton bags. Use this in your linen cupboard instead of naphthalene balls to keep insects and moths away.
Replace your natural pot pourri pouches every 2 – 3 months or as the fragrance fades. The old herb mixture can be composted.

 

This article is a part of Krya’s series on toxics in household and personal care products. Through this series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to look around your home and detox it and yourself from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for yourself and your home, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

If you would like to explore our 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
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Urban Survival 102 – reading cosmetic labels

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

This is the second part of our article on the science of reading product labels, in which we will decode cosmetic product labels. In the earlier part we dived into the different elements that make up a food label in the Indian context. Krya does not make food products. We work only in household and skin care products. However we are also aware that good nutrition and health are fundamental to great skin and hair, which is why the earlier article examined food labels.

 The amazing human skin

The skin is the primary recipient of personal care products and to a lesser extent the scalp and hair. It is also our first line of defense and very integral to good health. Therefore I am constantly appalled by how poorly we treat our skin by applying products on it without due diligence.

Consider these skin facts :

  • The skin is the largest organ in the body.
  • The skin renews itself every 28 days ( it is a living growing organ !)
  • The adult human skin can weigh around 3 -4 kg and covers approximately 20 square feet in area.
  • The skin can absorb up to 60% of any product applied on it. (It is not a inert physical barrier like a raincoat)
  • A baby’s skin can be three times thinner than an adult’s skin (& therefore is more vulnerable)

The cosmetic products industry is beset with two main problems today which makes label reading a vital survival skill.

  1. Lenient regulatory standards

A good friend who is the marketing director for a global brand of powder fruit juice concentrate revealed that in India, their formulation contains 96% white sugar, 2.5% preservatives and just 1.5% fruit juice extracts. Even at just 1.5 % levels, they can legally show lush pictures of fruit orchards and claim all the benefits of eating the fresh fruit from the tree. So if you went to the store with just the image carried over from TV advertising and purchased the product without reading the label, you will be sugar high and nutrient low.

8. Oranges_and_orange_juice

What is actually in your “straight from the orchard” orange juice? Mostly sugar?

 2. Creative re-interpretation

Creative re-interpretation is the other side of the same coin that also has lenient regulatory standards. Benefit claims made by brands today are stretched to the point be being farcial or even false. A common example is the use of the word “goodness” in many food and cosmetic products. It is legally possible to add 1% olive oil to 99% liquid paraffin’ to create a massage oil and then claim the benefits of pure olive oil. Here the trick is to use the word “goodness” of olive oil in the claim.

In this backdrop we would like to provide you with 4 filters to scan any cosmetic label to help you make a technical decision, and hopefully a better decision.

The 4 things to think through when reading a cosmetic or household product label

  1. Does it add up to 100 %?

This is the first point to check on a cosmetic label and ask yourself whether it all adds up.

The norm is to provide a full list of ingredients. This is not followed by many products. Then there are cases where complete declaration rule is relaxed, which we will talk about shortly. If the ingredient list says “key ingredients” mentioned with their percentages, you should quickly add the numbers. They will not add up to 100% and often the list of ingredients will account for only 30%-40% leaving you in the dark about the remaining 60% -70%. This is cause for concern.

Example 1: The label of a leading herbal hair wash powder calls itself completely natural and goes on to claim it is a proprietary Siddha formulation. The label declared many wonderful natural ingredients like Soapberry (which we use across our Krya cleaning and hair care formulations), Shikakkai and Amla (which goes into our body wash products). However, the ingredients declared were only key ingredients adding up to just 27% of the product.

6. Acacia concinna

Acacia concinna: a wonderful natural herb used throughout India for hair care. A common ingredient misrepresented in “herbal” products

But what about the remaining 73% of the product,  which is really the major part of what is being applied on your hair. I found the composition of the remaining 73% on the label of the export variant of the same product. The balance 73% contained the following

  • sulphates (a cheap foaming agent)
  • hydroxy propyl tiammonium chloride
  • Hydrated aluminium silicate
  • Preciptated silica
  • Dimethicone
  • Glycerol

None of the above ingredients are good for hair. Let us leave aside the debate of whether they are toxic to hair and environment. At the very least I can aver that the composition of the 73% not declared on the pack is nothing to be proud of and the claim of “herbal hair-wash” is certainly misleading.

  1. Excipients , QS

Many formulations contain active, potent ingredients which need a carrier medium or a buffer or a diluting agent known as excipient, which can safely deliver the active ingredient. These excipients can be natural or synthetic and are usually cost effective, inert, bulking agents. The excipient concept has its origins in medicines. For example bitter medicines for children were given with honey as an excipient to mask the taste. The excipient concept and the format for declaring it has now been borrowed by processed food and cosmetics industries as well.

It is common on labels now for brands to declare their ingredients by weight per 5 gm of the product with the excipient listed at the very end with the suffix “q.s”. Now q.s. from the latin ”quantum satis” is an instruction to add “quantity sufficient “of the excipient to make the formulation. It is also assumed that formulator has an understanding of the safe limits in which the excipient can be used. This is a tricky situation for someone interested in decoding the label. The manufacturer need not disclose what the name of the excipient used neither is there any clear guideline on what chemicals or ingredients that can be called excipients.

Example 2: For example I used an Ayurvedic toothpowder and found it to be rather sweet. The label had listed several herbs well known for oral care which added up to nearly 40% by weight of the product and the balance 60% under excipients. Now I assumed that the excipient would be salt which is rather common. However after tasting the toothpowder and finding it to be really sweet, I discovered that the excipient was mostly sugar, which is not a good idea at all in a toothpowder.

2. toothpaste on brush

Sugar: a common excipient used to make the taste of toothpaste more appealing

Then there are cases where the excipient appears to outright misleading. After our earlier post on sunscreens, a mother messaged us requesting an audit of the Ayurvedic sun screen lotion that she used on her kids. Now the product’s ingredient list read as follows:

  • Key ingredients like aloe , zinc oxide , oil etc at 11%
  • Bees wax at 7.5 %
  • Purified water Q.S.

It appears that water is the excipient forming 91.5% of the lotion. Here is the problem which the lay person would not be aware of.

It is just not possible to form a stable water based lotion with just beeswax as the emulsifier. In the lotion industry a number of other chemicals like cetyl alchohol, stearic acid, polysorbate, carbomer are used as emulsifiers to product a stable lotion in all conditions.

Further with 91.5% water and a long shelf life, some preservatives are required. The industry depends on chemicals like parabens and benzoates for preservative action, which are also not listed in the ingredient list.

This raises many questions: how did this brand of Ayurvedic sun screen lotion achieve a stable product with just beeswax? Is any ingredient deliberately left out to protect the intellectual property? Is it just plain omission?

The only option here is to directly write to your brand and ask them for a complete disclosure of all ingredients including excipients.

  1. Claims & Mis-directions  

Product claims are stretched to the absolute limit today. What started off as creative interpretation of the law can now be stretched to the point where it is no longer true.

Example 3: An example that immediately comes to mind is the line used by an Ayurvedic preparation which claims that their product helps you “stay slim and smart”. I have always wondered about the use of the word “stay” for this therapeutic product. If I am already slim and smart, why do I need this product? The visual communication gives us the impression that it is a problem solver, so if you do not notice the fine print you could easily conclude that this product will “make” you slim and smart. Sadly I know that many consumers have purchased this product in the hope of losing weight. I am not sure whether it worked for them or not.

The other disturbing trend in Indian cosmetic industry is use of the “Ayurvedic” tag to claim the halo of this sacred branch of our tradition. It is possible with some legal jugglery to add a few ingredients that have mention in Ayurvedic texts to an otherwise basic chemical formulation and pronounce the product as “Ayurvedic medicine”. Apart from the obvious benefit of piggy backing on Ayurveda, there are some licensing and tax benefits which motivate brands to borrow the Ayurvedic cloak.

In his book, India Unbound, Gurcharan Das recounts the story of how Vicks Vaporub became “Ayurvedic” when faced with the twin problems of very poor profits and a boycott by the Pharmacies in India. He recounts in the book that in this dire situation someone came up with the idea of re-classifying Vicks as an Ayurvedic formulation. Coincidentally some of the key ingredients are also mentioned in Ayurveda as remedies for common cold and the government approved their reclassification. They then were allowed to distribute the product widely in all stores and not just pharmacies. They also claimed tax benefits allowed to Ayurvedic medicines and scripted a spectacular financial rescue.

Is this really Ayurveda? Is this really presenting a true picture to the consumer who reads the label and trusts that Vicks is a genuine Ayurvedic formulation originally created by a qualified Ayurvedic doctor?

Ayurveda is a very exact and exacting science that has great reverence for the patients well being as well as for the plants, animals and minerals that provide the raw materials to create Ayurvedic medicines. For herb collection Ayurveda specifies place of origin, method of cultivation, time , season of methods of collection and storage.  I very much doubt if Gurcharan Das and the rest of the team at Procter & Gamble regularly invoked the blessings of Lord Dhanvantari at the factory manufacturing Vicks Vaporub as prescribed by Ayurvedic tradition.

This was most likely the first incident in India of a brand exploiting the Ayurvedic classification loop-hole. Since them this is a route abused by so many brands that is has also corrupted many hoary Indian Ayurvedic companies. Many Ayurvedic brands in India have now incorporated “bad habits” from cosmetic companies. For example, I know of an Ayurvedic company that manufactured only tooth powder for over 80 years. The current generations of owners have suddenly started manufacturing a tooth paste with the known cosmetic villains like SLS, sugar, artificial colours and flavors and still continue to call it an “Ayurvedic formulation”.

Charaka, one of the father’s of Ayurveda has said that medicine is that which restores health and brings longevity. He also avers that a pure medicine is one which when eliminating disease should not give rise to even the slightest cause for another disease.

4. Is this product free from known Chemical Villains?

In this blog, we have written several articles putting forth our point of view on several industrial chemicals in cosmetic products that are toxic to some or all humans. These chemicals are skin irritants, endocrine disruptors and even carcinogenic. This is not the place to present a case for or against these chemicals. So we will go straight into our recommendation. Given the bewildering array of what could go wrong with chemicals in cosmetic products it is far easier to look for what is NOT present in a product that read the ingredient list. In our opinion the following claims on a product label should help you make a better choice. So look for

  • Sulphate ( or SLS ) free
  • Paraben free
  • Petrolatum free
  • Fragrance free
  • Aluminum free
  • Lead free
  • Cruelty free
  • Phthalate free
  • DEA / TEA free

We hope that this article and its companion on reading food labels will give you the basic skills to survive shopping in a supermarket aisle filled with thousands of potentially harmful ingredients. Hopefully, you will walk out carrying products that genuinely fulfill the promise they made to you in their communication of being safe and natural for you and your family.

This article is a part of Krya’s series on toxics in household and personal care products. Through this series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to look around your home and detox it and yourself from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for yourself and your home, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

If you would like to explore our 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.

 

 

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The warped state of Handlooms in India

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

I was surprised to read a few days back that Flipkart has signed an MoU with the Indian Textile Ministry to provide an online marketing platform to handloom weavers and their products. Through online marketing platform, Flipkart is also supposed to provide support in data analytics, market intelligence, guidance on how products should be priced, brand building & packaging to the weavers.

Someone reading this report may well question why the government continues to spend money on this Handloom sector. And if so much money, schemes, man hours and support has been already given to boost the handloom sector, is it undeserving of all this aid, as it still hasn’t improved or really turned around?

Handloom Numbers:

When we speak of the handloom sector, we first need to understand its scale through some important numbers. 95% of the world’s hand-woven fabric comes from India and this sector also contributes to India’s export earnings. The Handloom census of 2009 – 10 tells us that that this sector provides employment to 4.33 Million people.  This number has reduced significantly from 1995-96, when the number of people employed by this sector was close to 6.5 Million people in either weaving or allied activities.  But only 15% of the total fabric produced in our country comes from the handloom sector.  Compare this to power loom fabric which in 1956 contributed to only 2.3% of India’s total fabric and today occupies 85% of our fabric market.

In 2011-12, the handloom industry wove 6900 million square metres of cloth. The Government since Independence has (at least on paper) poured thousands of crores of money, and resources down this sector. As of last year, The Textile Ministry’s annual report cites several schemes to rejuvenate the handloom sector. Some of this include:

  • Subsidized rates on hank yarn (of 10% on yarn price) under the Mill Gate Price scheme
  • Marketing events and promotional activities to help weavers exhibit their wares (about 700 were done last year), A ministry sponsored Handloom week event every year,
  • An integrated handloom development scheme with a budget in 2011-12 of 236.5 Crores to provide financial assistance , training in weaving and dyeing, design and management and construction of new handloom sheds
  • Institutional Credit scheme – which provides margin money assistance, an interest subsidy for the first 3 years of loan repayment, a credit guarantee trust fund,  and promotional activities and camps by banks disbursing the loan to help make weavers aware of the scheme.
  • Comprehensive health insurance and health care facilities,
  • A scholarship scheme and life coverage under the Mahatma Gandhi Bunkar Bima Yojana
  • Diversified Handloom development scheme which is to upgrade weaver skills through workshops, exhibitions, design development, documentation of traditional designs, setting up of Weavers service centres, R&D facilities and Institutes like IIHT, NCTD, etc.

Despite all these measures, people in handloom sector have high levels of poverty, extremely variable incomes and sometime abject penury.

Our discussions with companies like Exind Corporation, which is the company behind Kalpadruma in Chennai, tell us about eerie ghost towns where the handlooms are draped with cobwebs.

Older weavers want their children to have nothing to do with the crafts and handloom weaving appears to be largely the occupation of senior citizens with several 70 year old handloom weavers (as seen in the picture below) continuing with the craft with no younger apprentices in sight to continue the tradition.

10.handloom weaving

 

Did you know about the Handloom Reservation Act ?

These activities are over and above the Handloom Reservation Act which was passed in 1985 by the Rajiv Gandhi government. This act is still supposed to be under enforcement and regulates 22 types of garments for the exclusive production of the Handloom sector.

When this act was passed, it was criticised as being draconian and unfairly skewed towards the handloom sector. The act was also criticised as being sweeping and including generic categories of garments into the reserved status.

The Handloom Reservation act has defined a handloom to be any loom other than a power loom, and its reach extends to the whole of India. It also gives sweeping powers to the Ministry to include any garments it may seem fit outside of these 22 reserved garments to be included in the Act whenever they feel the need.

Many of the textile products we use every day are regulated by this act. For example, the Handloom reservation act includes almost all cotton and silk saris for the exclusive production of handloom mills or weavers. Similarly Dhotis, Angavastrams, lungis , dress materials, kambals and shawls with a few exceptions are included in this act.

Certain kinds of fabrics and weaves are exempt from this act. For example, synthetic saris made from polyester, nylon, etc and saris made from chiffon, georgette, crepe, and cotton voile are completely exempt and can be made in a power loom.  Saris made with blends that use material other than silk and cotton, or where 45% or more of the weight of the yarn is made from synthetic or manufactured yarn like viscose are exempt from this act.

Perhaps because of the protests and lobbying of the powerful textile and power loom lobby from the time this act was passed, till date, this Act remains powerful only in paper. If you leave aside the huge sweep of this act and how it seeks to protect a large part of what we wear and ensure that what we wear remains Handloom, which may be called draconian, the fact is that while the Act remains powerful, its execution has been lackadaisical at best.

In January 1995, out of 72,553 power looms inspected for possible violations 656 cases were booked – this is despite the fact that violation of this act by power looms is more the norm rather than the exception. ( as per some government reports)

So what ails the handloom sector and why are such a large number of weavers struggling in utter penury today? Is the only reason the financial might and concentrated power of the power loom industry? Is the government to blame? Are we also responsible?

Conundrum : Is what I buy even handloom?

The Weaver communities talked about in the ancient Sangam period and even upto the 17th century were integrated entrepreneurs. They had close associations with the cotton cultivators who were generally close by. The cotton bales would reach the villages where they would be hand spun by the women in the weaver families. The yarn would then be woven into fabric. Textile dyeing done either at the yarn stage or after the fabric was printed was either done in-house or by a close association of dyeing craftsmen who would typically be located close to a water body. The dye would be produced from plant based material and then transferred onto the yarn or the fabric. The entire process of textile making was integrated more or less within a geographical location. This meant the weaver had to go nowhere for his raw material or textile accessories.

Resources have now become more and more centralised. Today’s handloom weaver cannot find hank yarn or dyes within his geographical location. As weaving today is done in rural and semi rural areas, weavers have to travel far to obtain their raw materials.

The availability of hank yarn for handlooms is also a serious issue. A hank is a coiled unit of yarn or twine.  Handlooms need yarn in this format compared to power looms which need yarn in the cone format.

2. hank yarn

Under the Handloom reservation act, a spinning mill is supposed to produce 50% of their total marketable output as hank yarn for handlooms. Hank yarn is tax free and has other subsidies. A garment is classified as handloom by the government if the raw material purchased is Hank Yarn. This classification based on raw material is merely for convenience as authorities would find it very difficult to physically monitor the output and then classify it as handloom or powerloom. Further, the supposed output of hank yarn, which is handloom ,is also exempt from excise duty.

So some power looms use this subsidy illegally as follows. They purchase hank at the lower rates, re-wind it in cones to fit their machines and create textiles. Since they purchased hank yarn, they then claim that their output is “handloom” and further avail excise duty exemption. This diversion of the hank yarn to power looms reduces raw material availability for the handloom sector. As a result handloom weavers face a year round shortage of yarn for their fabric. This excise evasion not only diverts yarn from a weaver to a mill, it also mis-classifies power loom output as handloom output! So the power loom owner buys yarn at a subsidized rate, weaves it in his mill & sells it as handloom (again at a lower excise rate) – in this process the handloom weaver loses hank yarn, the government loses excise money and consumers like us don’t get to wear a genuine handloom product even though the label may say “handloom”.

Myth : Handloom garments are expensive & old fashioned

Hank yarn and dye are the raw material used to produce a handloom garment. We have already seen how hank yarn can be diverted from handlooms by the loopholes of subsidies and excise exemption. The basic price of the yarn itself that weavers have to pay in a centralised system of yarn production is much more than what they would have paid in the past, when yarn was available in their villages. High cost machine produced yarn available in large towns or cities is what they have access to today. When weavers who are small scale entrepreneurs buy this high cost raw material, it stands to reason that the garments they produce will also have a correspondingly high price.

Consumers used to low cost, mass produced powerloom fabric are often unable to accept this high cost. The question of design innovation is caught in a classic chicken and egg situation: weavers may be willing to innovate if their market risk is reduced by the investor. Investors are of course willing to have innovation if they are sure their fabric will be sold.

In the meantime no one is addressing us the consumers as we sail forth, shopping in Malls and buying powerloom fabric. We do not know their ramifications of our choices. We do not understand what we are losing as we continue to push our traditional fabric and garments out of our wardrobe.

The biggest strength of a decentralised, village based, weaver system of the past was that regional designs and identities were preserved.

For example, in our earlier post written by Richa Dubey, she spoke about the Leheriya design which was created by artisans in a desert longing for the rain. This longing was immortalised in the flow of rain drops on their garments through their dyeing craft. Similarly, a Baluchari sari from West Bengal had motifs like animals, plants, marriage processions, horse riders of vignettes from the Ramayana outlined in white.

4. paisley

The Kanjeevaram saree which was believed to have been woven 400 years ago have peacocks, parrots, swans, mangoes and leaves as common motifs. The borders have triangular pinnacle like marks which represent the temples in and around this town, which gives this town the sobriquet of the “Temple town”.

3.handloom inspiration

With globalisation of fashion, our regional identities and where we come from becomes blurred. And the weaver who continues to craft his fabric taking cues from his environment becomes obsolete and old fashioned.

Myth : Handloom garments are difficult to maintain

Our pieces earlier by handloom and textile enthusiasts talk about the differences wearing a handloom fabric give to its wearer. We have experienced this for ourselves when we wear our Tula rain fed organic cotton handloom shirts, or our Kalakshetra handloom vegetable dyed saris or our Kalpadruma vegetable dyed organic cotton handloom towels.

Handloom garments are extremely breathable and absorbent. So you do not feel sweaty or hot as the fabric allows air to pass through. They also feel very cool and comfortable and soft, especially after they are washed many times. However, they need to be maintained with care – you cannot simply toss them into a machine thoughtlessly like you would with your knits, t-shirts and other powerloom fabric. But this care can reap rich rewards for you as your handlooms will last much much longer.

We are going to write a more detailed post on why there is this difference in handloom garments and how they should be maintained well, and can actually be made to last for decades if not years when done so.

But this post will simply carry a small note on what makes handloom garments different. Natural fibres like cotton and silk require more careful handling compared to synthetics. They are also generally less elastic compared to synthetics which mean that they can shrink or tear under stress unless treated. In large processing plants like those which create cotton knits or t shirts, natural fabrics are specially treated using techniques like mercerisation, or superwashing to enhance the fibre’s properties.

But native handloom weavers have always used local, indigenous methods to enhance the fibre’s strength and ensure that the fibre can withstand the rigours of handloom weaving. Weavers from different states have slightly different ways of tearing yarn. In many places in South India where rice is freely available, rice paste or rice starch is used on the yarn. It is soaked in this paste and then dried before being woven on the loom. In our research we have seen different natural pastes being added to this basic mix including onion paste in some cases.

This natural starch and plant combination along with the handling of the yarn by hand keeps the handloom fabric in better shape compared to powerloom fabric. And as the cotton is gently treated from the beginning it feels soft and comfortable when worn. In order to retain the properties of the handloom garment, it needs to be treated with a similar amount of care from the wearer’s end. But with this care, your handloom saree, skirt or dupatta can retain its colour and be worn just as proudly by you even twenty years down the line.

This post has been able to cover only a few of the issues that assail the handloom sector. We have not even begun to cover the important aspect of fair trade when it comes to this industry which is a point worth pondering about or the question of working in a hazardous occupation, which is a problem associated with chemical dyes. Our upcoming posts will cover all of these and as promised introduce you to some companies and organisations which are worth supporting and are doing sincere and stellar work in this field.

We hope you are enjoying reading our sustainable fabric series and also hope that our series is inspiring you to take a closer look at your wardrobe. Our series on sustainable fabric has the following posts: 

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here
  6. The second part of the textile traditions of India that suit Monsoons and Winter is here.
  7. Our post interveiwing Lata Ganapathy-Ravikiran on Handloom love and why she chooses to support this industry is here.

And do tell us what you think of this new series here or on our Facebook page.

 

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The big green switch – Sruti Hari , Goli Soda

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

Our series of posts on sustainable menstruation have covered 3 kinds of areas: We’ve presented facts about how disposable driven menstruation is un-sustainable, and given you charts, facts and blog articles.

We’ve then featured pieces from actual women who have successfully made the switch – both to cloth pads and menstrual cups,

We’ve then interviewed 3 companies who manufacture cloth pads in India, to understand what makes them tick, and why we should support their work.

But an interesting opportunity came my way when I spoke to Sruti Hari. Sruti is one half of the creative team that runs Ashvita – an art gallery, a series of cafes and retail stores focussing on all kinds of interesting products.

I first met Sruti at the Ashvita Bistro which we discovered a few years ago. A few conversations later, I discovered several areas of mutual interest and conversation.

Sruti’s passionate love for Cinema which lead her to save memorabilia and artefacts form Indian cinemas, sometimes from dustbins to build an impressive collection which now form a part of the Cinema Resource Centre.

1. sruti and ammu

Sruti’s deep love for animals and the environment is evident when you see her care for Ammu Kalyani (her beautiful, rescued Indian dog), when you see her growing her own basil for the pesto made at Ashvita, and when you see her passionately advocating and selling Daily Dump’s Kambhas.

Sruti’s interest for the environment meant that Goli Soda was inevitable. It is Chennai’s first (and perhaps one of the few stores in India) to focus on upcycled and environmentally sustainable goods. Goli Soda’s products are carefully curated to offer you quirky colourful ways to lead a more sustainable life – from coasters made of loofahs, to upcycled wallets, poo paper products, organic clothing and of course Krya’s products.

6. goli soda chennai

Goli Soda also sells Eco Femme’s reusable cloth napkins. We catch up with Sruti to chat about Goli Soda, her experience with cloth napkins and why she recommends and sells reusable menstrual products at her store.

 

 I am a film maker, a model and an environmental crusader.

I have felt connected with nature from childhood – girl guides and treks cemented the bond further. The very fact that my roots are in Kerala meant that I was lived a life that was enmeshed with nature. I spent every summer at my grandparent’s home in Kerala where we grew our own vegetables, used plants and herbs to take care of myself like turmeric for my face and hibiscus for my hair.

My love for animals and desire to lead an ethical life deepened my connection with the planet.

I started giving up non vegetarian food, leather and silk at 6. While I come from a vegetarian household, where even eggs are considered non vegetarian, my older sister used to eat chicken when we went out. So I grew up thinking of chicken as food which you ate outside your house, and never connected my eating with an actual bird.

I joined a summer camp at C.P Art centre where we saw films and had workshops of different animals and birds. I then understood what I had been eating was actually a bird with feelings, and decided to give up eating non vegetarian food. I progressively gave up using leather and silk as well.

 

I started Goli Soda for a selfish reason – to give myself access to ethical and sustainable products

I thought that when I retired I would go back to living more with nature – but then I was too impatient to wait. So I started holding workshops at Ashvita to learn more about the sustainable practices I wanted to learn like organic terrace gardening.

4. the otg workshop at ashvita

As the workshops grew, and my access to environmental products grew, starting Goli Soda became imminent. I wanted access to sustainable and ethical products without having to travel far or search extensively for them online. People on FB and other mediums started to share ideas about cool recycled ideas. But these remained as ideas. To actually make the switch, you need the convenience of products. And I figured there would be more people who want this as well. And given our retail background, starting a store focussed on environmentally sustainable and upcycled products came to us naturally.

 

We choose well designed products that are environmentally conscious to sell at Goli Soda.

Goli Soda started mainly as an upcycled store. We wanted people to understand that and that it was okay to reuse something and give it a new lease of life. We are particular about design and quality because of our background in art with Ashvita. We like to choose products with unique design and high quality.

Also, when it comes to environmentally suitable products, people tend to picture them as boring, and dull and not colourful or cool. We are trying to change that mindset and show people that you can be cool and design conscious with eco friendly products. This explains how we choose the products we retail at Goli Soda. They all have to be well designed with good packaging and product design – the two examples that come to mind are Eco Femme’c cloth pads and Oh gourd’s coasters.

We also offer natural cleaning products like the Krya detergent and the Krya dishwash at Goli Soda. Most people are unaware of how much synthetic household cleaners damage the environment. There is a greater awareness of environmental and human damage when it comes to personal care products but very little when it comes to household care and cleaning products. So we prefer to educate our consumers in that area and don’t offer personal care products at the store.

And of course these are products that I look for which is why I retail these. I don’t want anyone to feel compelled to pick up a synthetic detergent or a chemical filled floor cleaner – they have an alternative which works well.

 

I started selling Eco Femme at the store after my positive experience with their reusable cloth napkins.

Diapers and sanitary pads really affect the environment. Every day when I step out of my house I see used pads and diapers and can see cows and dogs eating this. That affected me. I started to educate people about segregating and composting their waste. When I sell people the Kambha, I tell them to segregate their recyclable waste from their food waste. But I used to be stumped when they asked me what to do with their disposable sanitary napkins and diapers.

3. sruti at a kambha demo

A chance conversation led me to consider using Eco Femme reusable cloth napkins. I think Eco femme’s products are brilliant – the packaging is beautiful, and the product experience is awesome. So I had to have them at Goli Soda as well.

 

I started my switch to reusables gradually.

I started with Eco Femme’s panty liner at first. I thought my experience was brilliant. And it was better than disposables because it came with wings – so I had no side spots or staining. I started getting used to washing and caring for the pantyliners. Then I shifted to daypads for normal flow continuing to use disposables for heavy flow. When I got comfortable, I switched completely to reusables.

Now I still use disposables when I travel, but I am in the process of figuring it out. I have been using reusables for a year now – now when I use disposables I find it very uncomfortable.

 

Having switched to reusables, I discovered how uncomfortable disposables really are:

Before I switched, I used to think disposables could handle heavy flow and protect me from accidents better than cloth. Having made the switch, I now know better. I have had staining accidents only with disposables and not reusables. Using reusables has put me in better touch with my body and I’m intuitively able to handle my flow much better.

I am still figuring out how to adapt when I go to shoots, etc. I travel once every 2 – 3 months and sometimes my outdoor film work can stretch upto 6 months in all kinds of places.

Krya note: Sruti’s point about knowing your body better when using reusables is well taken. This is the case across many categories of reusables. Cloth diapering mums find that children on cloth diapers are more conscious of their bodies and adjust to toilet training faster than disposable diapered babies. Using a completely dry disposable, makes you unconscious of your body’s rhythms and cycles and isolates you from your body.

 

I love the comfort and bright colours of reusable cloth napkins.

I am instantly cheered up by the bright colours and designs of the cloth pads and love how comfortable they feel. There is no synthetic plasticky feel; it feels like you are wearing soft, padded underwear. There is no additional, synthetic layer like there is in disposables,

Of course washing and maintaining it takes a small amount of additional time. I prefer to hand wash my pads myself – but of course washing them is quite easy.

 

I ask other women to switch to reusable cloth pads simply for the comfort they provide.

The environment needs people to act now and not talk. I am tired of dinner table conversations about global warming where no change is made at the end. Everyone knows intellectually why eco friendly products are good – but they believe they are uncomfortable to use which is why they do not take to them fast.

 

While I am an environmental crusader, I find people getting on the defensive if I lecture them about their ways. So I focus on the superior feeling of comfort a product like Eco femme’s cloth napkins can have. I always used a disposable – a combo of wood pulp and gel pads. I don’t know any other way apart from disposables. But the minute I switched to a reusable cloth napkin, I felt good.

When I wash out my own blood and do not throw it into a dustbin, I feel more connected to myself. I ask women to transition slowly – so that they understand their flow and gently transition so that they get comfortable with the experience.

 

We’ve had a reasonable rate of success selling reusable cloth pads at Goli Soda.

I found most people are interested in it. For example, when I heard of cloth pads, I had the image of smelly rags in my mind. When I opened up Eco Femme’s pack I loved it. I find this happening to many people at our store. Some come in armed with information and know what to buy; others take back our flyers and mull over the information.

When I’m around, I’m happy to answer questions about my experience as well. Many people follow my advice and transition gradually. Some give up at the pantyliner stage. But many people carry on and make the switch.  And that makes me proud.

 

And it makes us proud too Sruti. To see your work. To shop at your store. And to have Krya associated with you and Goli Soda. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us and sharing your experiences.

 

Please do support Sruti’s work at Goli Soda and at Ashvita Nirvana (Chennai’s first PETA certified cafe offering vegetarian and vegan food) by visiting them and by liking their Facebook pages. Ashvita Nirvana has a delicious and sinful vegan menu as well – I recommend the hazelnut chocolate vegan shake!

 

More green period information:

To learn more about how you can consciously and sustainably manage your periods every month, start here:

  1.  Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling Srinivas Krishnaswamy ‘s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
  5. Here’s Anita Balasubramanian chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.
  6. Here’s the second part of our interview series: this is an interview of Kathy & Jessamijn of Eco Femme, Auroville
  7. Here’s Susmitha Subbaraju chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads
  8. Here is the perspective provided by SWaCH on the human rights and social justice issues presented by disposables
  9. Here is the third part of our interview series: this is an interview of Gayathri of Jaioni reusable cloth pads
  10. Here is Preethi Raghav chronicling her switch to reusable menstrual cups.

 

Krya giveaway:

We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.

If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now. 

 

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A cup of happiness – conversations with Preethi Raghav

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

Our series on reusable menstrual products has received a lot of questions and queries from women wanting to make the switch from disposable menstrual products. As we have discussed previously, disposable menstrual products come with several questionable environmental and human health antecedents.

 

For one, the environmental footprint of using a disposable sanitary product is very large. A wood pulp based napkin uses up pulp from old heartwood trees, contributing to the decimation of our forest cover. A modern SAAP napkin or a tampon uses highly specialised derivatives of plastic which itself emerges from the fossil fuel industry.

 

Again, a whole lot of technology has gone into producing this SAAP which was itself derived from incredibly ancient fossil reserves from the earth which is a finite resource. Read more about the peak oil crisis here. And our alternatives today are much more sophisticated than the “smelly old rags” sanitary napkin ads are always ranting about.

 

One of the set of emails we got at Krya came from users of menstrual cups. Many cup users wrote to us about the comfort, and invisibility offered by this reusable menstrual product.

I personally confess to an irrational fear of internal menstrual devices. Despite Srinivas being a brand manager in our earlier life of a major brand of tampons and despite the samples he brought me to get me to try one, I was freakishly unreceptive to the idea.

But the many many users of cups who have managed to get over this initial apprehension have gone on to experience a whole lot of comfort and security around their periods. And of course, compared to cloth napkins which we have been discussing, menstrual cups involve very little maintenance.

So for today’s piece on menstrual cups, I have Preethi Raghav, sharing her story of
the switch.

About Preethi Raghav
Preethi Raghav is a very interesting young lady. She is one of the most committed vegan and animal rights activists we know, and does a lot of stellar volunteer work for Blue Cross along with her husband, Raghav.

1. Preethi with the animals she love
Preethi has just started a venture of her own to provide cruelty free, earth friendly jewellery alternatives made from terracotta. Preethi’s beautiful terracotta jewellery is made following special eco friendly process. She has designed her own terracotta stove that does not use electricity and does not emit too much of smoke to create her earth friendly pieces.

2, preethi with no harm charm

In addition to No Harm Charm, Preethi creates educational content for an NGO working towards providing quality education to rural children,  and helps conduct healthy-cooking workshops for SHARAN (a not for profit working in the field of disease control following a cruelty free, whole grain, plant based diet). Previously, She spent a year heading the English department in a government aided tamil medium school, where English was being introduced for the first time.  

Preethi’s other interests include Krav Maga, painting, warli art and doodling. She takes great interest in conservation and other related issues threatening our planet and has been an ethical vegan for more than 3 years now. 

Preethi put all her principles to practice in her wedding which served only vegan and cruelty free food where no silk or gold was used.

Here is Preethi sharing the story of her switch.

The horrific sight of used disposable pads thrown carelessly on the terrace of the school I taught me, made me decide to make the switch.

It was a rainy afternoon in 2011, when I was having fun teaching English to an enthusiastic bunch at a slum, in the heart of Chennai. I had planned a spoken English lock and key activity, and so needed a larger space. That’s when I decided to take the kids to the school terrace. As I reached there, a poor sight awaited me. I saw at least 5-10 used sanitary pads, thrown uncovered on the building terrace. Just before I could ask the children to do a U-turn, they started running all over them, like they were used to it.

This incident shook me. I couldn’t get that off my mind. I immediately took responsibility and began research on how periods should be hygienically managed, so I could talk to the girls about it.

Talking to my friends did not help:  I was just 19 at the time, and all that we were exposed to then, were sanitary napkins. With Google’s help I stumbled upon the existence of menstrual cups and cloth pads. It was then that I decided to make the switch, but honestly I took almost a year to get rid of the “sophistication” that disposable sanitary napkins offered me.

I loved the green-ness of a cloth napkin, but did not like its wet-ness.

Chennai being super hot, I always love some rain and wetness outside, but I did not like feeling wet inside – this was something I disliked even with sanitary pads.

But then once, while I was reading a little more about menstruation to prepare a presentation on the same, I hit upon an informative article that spoke about the essential vaginal fluids that are discharged during our periods, and how they are helpful in maintaining the pH levels.

A year later I developed a hyper sensitive skin condition called dermographism. This condition meant that using even a cloth pad would trigger intense itching in my body, which is when I decided to switch to the menstrual cup.

I loved the neatness and dryness I could experience with a menstrual cup

When I began using the she Cup, I loved it. I additionally needed to put in no extra effort to wash it and dry it. However, I must add that it needed me to do a bit of gymnastics to try to figure out the best way to fit it in for it to seal well, but, that’s because I didn’t see the many helpful videos online then. After about 2 cycles of trying it, I loved it!

I found the idea of inserting a sizeable menstrual cup inside me a bit nerve wracking.

It took me a day’s time to get used to it inside, but, I had to make the try to realize what a wonderful alternative this is. However after a couple of days, I hardly felt it! And the dry feeling was simply so comforting (they don’t dry us out completely the way sanitary pads do, since they just collect the discharge).
I found many reasons to continue to stick to my menstrual cup.

When I started, I simply wanted to help myself from the dreadful hours-long itching that I used to have before due to dermographism. Later, because of the simplicity in usage, I continued to love using my menstrual cup.

Even on my heaviest flow days, I have worn it for 7-8 hours at a stretch before having to empty it, and it still wouldn’t stain.

I also get to measure my periods, which I can’t say is very useful, but very fascinating, and I feel very connected to my system with those measures. Menstrual cups can hold nearly 2 times more vaginal discharge than what a cloth pad absorbs. At times, on my heavy flow-days, I use both the cup and the cloth pad together.

My family and I have found the transition to reusable menstrual products much easier because of the cup.

After fine tuning my mind to accept the switch, I find there is no other discomfort. My partner thinks it is a neat system, as I do since the blood isn’t absorbed like in a cloth pad. So are no external smells or any evidence of blood at all.

I held some myths in my head about menstrual cups which had to change before I accepted the switch.

The greatest myths I held in my mind were :
Myth1- The insertion of a silicone cup, and it’s possibility of leading to infections
Myth2- The disposal of the blood while I’m outside, especially in our not-so-neat public toilets
From the studies available, silicone is widely studied as an implant and is considered non-toxic and inert. Most cups available in the market are medical grade silicone. So there isn’t anything to worry!

 

As far as disposal is concerned, this is such a charmer! I just need to empty the contents and wash it with clean water. Worst case, once, while on a long distance journey I simply cleaned it neat with a tissue and reinserted.  I no longer have to hunt secret places to hide my used pads or look for safer ways to dispose one.

Disposable sanitary products are unhygienic!
Ask any restaurant cleaner and they’ll tell you, that they hate throwing used sanitary napkins and tampons for the decaying stench they have. Ask a corporation worker, he’d tell you that most public (especially govt. schools) bathroom outlets are clogged with stinky used napkins and poor them; they have to remove them all! So I feel at least in a country like ours, we’ve all the more responsibility to contribute to lesser/NO waste of these kind, to help maintain better hygiene.
I know a lot of women including you, Preethi have some inhibitions to trying out a cup. So here’s why you should:

  • Neat!
  •  Just Rs.799 to manage your periods for 5-7 long years! (Save money)
  • No washing and drying
  • Works well for all activities- swimming (can’t wear a cloth pad too), dancing, jumping, exercising, sky diving…
  • No chemicals / pesticides (Cottons are highly sprayed crops accounting for almost 10% of pesticide sprayed. So unless it’s organically made cloth pads, why take the risk of using it?)
  • Can proudly say’ I have nothing for the landfills!’

Preethi’s note to Preethi: I am still not sure if I want to try one Preethi, but May I say your point is extremely well made? Thank you!

Krya’s note: Preethi’s point about pesticide sprayed cotton is a valid one. All of our garments, unless stated otherwise, are sprayed with a super high dose of pesticides and fertilisers. Cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed cash crops around the world, along with coffee and there is concern about the dermal absorption of these chemicals when using this fabric – especially around your intimate areas.

That said, cloth is still a great option compared to disposables. Of course Preethi’s case for menstrual cups is still valid.

Both Eco Femme and Jaioni have plans to launch an organic cotton range of pads. We advise women using the cloth pads until then to pre-wash the pads atleast 4 – 5 times to remove superficial chemical traces like dyes , bleaches and starches – this will also help improve the absorbency of the fabric. Our washing guide will follow in a few days on how you should do this and your main washing. And whenever available, we would strongly advice replacing your stash with organic cloth napkins.
Thank you Preethi Raghav for that candid, straight from the heart set of answers to our questions.

 

3. no harm charmPlease do support Preethi’s work in cruelty free, earth friendly jewellery by exploring her work here and liking her Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some additional links to get you started:

More green period information:

To learn more about how you can consciously and sustainably manage your periods every month, start here:

  1.  Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling Srinivas Krishnaswamy ‘s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
  5. Here’s Anita Balasubramanian chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.
  6. Here’s the second part of our interview series: this is an interview of Kathy & Jessamijn of Eco Femme, Auroville
  7. Here’s Susmitha Subbaraju chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads
  8. Here is the perspective provided by SWaCH on the human rights and social justice issues presented by disposables
  9. Here is the third part of our interview series: this is an interview of Gayathri of Jaioni reusable cloth pads

 

Krya giveaway:

We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.

If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now. 

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How I switched to cloth – Susmitha Subbaraju

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

We received a call yesterday at the Krya office, which made me understand the depth of the pot we have begun to stir with our posts on sustainable menstruation.

An example of one of these thoughts / queries was a phone call I received yesterday at the Krya office. The lady who called was both a Krya consumer and someone who reads our blog regularly. Inspired by the articles, thought-starters and conversations we have been having around reusable products, she called to ask me if she should take the leap and switch to reusable cloth napkins.

Ms.A told me that she had been thinking about switching to cloth for the last 2 years, and had been following the work of Ecofemme who we had posted yesterday about. But she continued to be hesitant about making the switch.

“I have heavy flow. Do you think using these pads will leave stains on my clothing”, she asked. When countered with my explanation of several layers of cloth and a leak proof barrier, she voiced another concern. “Is it going to be very difficult to wash”? She asked. A ready quip came to my mind about how with the Krya detergent it was going to be easy. But I brushed that aside, and approached her question with more seriousness, and asked myself, if I too had felt that when I switched.

And yes, I had. Many of us grew up hearing stories of our mothers using cloth “rags” to manage their menstruation. My mother grew up in a home where menstruating women were supposed to confine themselves to a particular room designated specifically for that purpose. And with 4 sisters, “the room” was pretty much always occupied.

5. african period picasso

Menstrual cloth could not be dried along with other people’s clothes and had to be taken down before regular laundry was dried. This meant that several times, the menstrual cloth would be dried in the same room they were confined to. If older women were also confined, this space would also be the space where they cooked food for themselves, as they were not allowed to enter the kitchen.
These stories became a part of my psyche. Leading me to associate the worst with menstrual cloth. Stories of confinement. Of a lack of space. Of being considered impure. Of blood stained rags being hung inside a room, And of the shame of everyone knowing you were menstruating. All of this got enmeshed in my head with the association of cloth.

The advertising that I saw when I was growing up, with the entry of MNCs into India also worked on this long held menstruation story and the association with cloth. “Cloth is for curtains” said the ad, as they showed women coming out of the taboos of menstruation and bravely switching to disposables.

I carried these images in my head. And these images, of redemption were what propelled me to the world of disposables.

Which is why for new entrants like myself into the world of cloth napkins, the difference comes as such a shock. Far from my images of stained, ragged, smelly cloth rags, today’s modern day cloth napkins are a work of art. They borrow several design cues from disposables and many of them come fitted with wings and cut in the shape designed to make menstruation comfortable. These cloth napkins resemble nothing that my feverish imagination conjured up when I was told my mother and my aunts’ menstruation stories.

These cloth napkins are different. Beautiful, sleek, comfortable. Pretty. Yes they offer the comfort that cloth offered my mother’s generation. With much more sturdiness, ease of washing and caring and comfort of use.

My mind spun back to the present as I spoke to my consumer. I described the construction of a modern cloth napkin. Described how easy it was to take care of, and why it worked. Reassured, she said thank you and promised me she would try one out.

As I sat down to think about how the series should continue, I realised many more people like me (before I made the switch) and Ms.A would continue to hold apprehensions of cloth. With the associations that we collectively held.

And the only way to change these associations was to offer the story of another switch. Another perspective of someone who transitioned into sustainable menstrual products. And loved her switch.

So here is Susmitha’s story.

About Susmitha:

Susmitha is a legend in the Indian vegan community. So much so that a trip to Bangalore, where she lives, would be incomplete for most vegans without having the opportunity to meet her and speak to her.

1. the vegan monsterSusmitha is a jewellery artist and a vegan food blogger. She makes miniature sculptures of very cool vegan monsters like the “Veganosaurus” after whom she has named her food blog.

Her vegan food creations are carefully photographed and displayed to the rest of the world as part of what I could best describe as an “affirmative action series” she has started with other food bloggers called “Vegan temptivism”. Her creations showcase the inventiveness and deliciousness that is possible when you elevate cuisine to an art form, as only a Vegan temptivist blogger can.

4. Vegan hazelnut butter choc ice cream

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When one of my favourite restaurants, Carrots , India’s first vegan and vegan owned restaurant started by Krishna Shastry decided to join forces with Susmitha, every single one of us vegans clapped. And then salivated thinking of how much yummier Carrots food was going to get with Susmitha’s talent added to the arsenal.

It should come as no surprise, given Susmitha’s background that she is an outspoken vegan and environmental activist. She is an avid kitchen gardener, growing many of the micro greens that go into her temptivist fare. And of course, we are proud to share that she is a Krya consumer as well.

Susmitha made the switch to cloth sanitary napkins about 6 years ago. And here is her story.

I first heard about reusable cloth napkins online in my Vegan etsy group.

Everyone was raving about how cool they were and how comfortable they felt, and I was curious to know more about cloth napkins. The idea of using cloth to manage my menstruation actually appealed to me instantly and I started to read more about it online.

When I came across my first cloth napkin brand, I fell in love with the pads.

My researches led me to an etsy seller based in Canada, called Naturally Hip. Her cloth pads were bright, and colourful with happy prints. And her pads looked very thick and comfortable, so I bought a few for myself.

Once I started using them I loved them. And my sister who saw my pads also fell in love and asked me to source more for her – which was a pleasant surprise for me because my Sister was a staunch disposables user and I never thought she would be tempted into switching to cloth.

I transitioned very quickly into cloth after my initial trial.

As soon as I began using cloth pads, I was hooked. I loved how they made me feel with their bright, happy colours and how soft and comfortable the pads felt. I did not realise how uncomfortable disposables were, until I shifted to cloth and saw how comfortable I could feel during my periods.

I had fed myself the marketing messages that I had seen about disposables about how they were thinner, and did not leak, etc. But when I switched I realised how plasticky they would feel, and how they would chafe once I had worn them for a couple of days.

In fact, when I switched to cloth, I was so comfortable that many times I actually forgot I was wearing pads!

Washing menstrual blood did not faze me.

When we were younger and used to use wood pulp napkins, my Mother had taught my sister and myself to rinse out our disposable napkins before wrapping them to throw away in the trash. She had always asked us to be sensitive about this and ingrained in us the need to treat the workers who handle our waste with care.

So we actually grew up rinsing our disposable napkins. Taking care of our menstrual blood was our responsibility, so I had no squeamishness associated with this.

But as I grew up wood pulp napkins began to get replaced in popularity with gel based napkins. Once I switched to gel based disposables, I slowly stopped rinsing my napkins (and it was no longer possible).

But when I switched back to cloth, my years of practice in this helped.

Note from Krya: as Susmitha described this to me, I was transported back in time to my childhood, and remembered my Mother taught me to do the same thing. I was also asked not to carelessly dispose my soiled napkin where someone else would have to handle it or an unsuspecting animal would come across it. So I too rinsed my wood pulp disposable before throwing it away.

Of course, with the advent of gel based napkins, this sensible and sensitive practice ceased to exist as it was no longer possible to continue to do this.

But yes, I did have one apprehension when I switched to cloth napkins.

I was concerned about how I would handle travelling out of my home when using a cloth napkin. So I started gently. I started by using cloth napkins at home and disposable napkins when I was out of the house or travelling.

As time went by and I grew comfortable with using cloth napkins, I began reducing my use of disposables. Now I use only cloth completely even when I go to work or travel on holidays. With a few adjustments I have easily managed to incorporate cloth completely into my lifestyle.

2. Vegan food is awesome

As long as you have access to a private bathroom, any woman can use cloth napkins wherever they are. They are extremely easy to launder and take care of.

I find myself handling my periods much better after switching to cloth.

I find that I am more relaxed and comfortable which explains why I have much less discomfort and symptoms of PMS (although all of that had already reduced when I went vegan). My flow seems more even and everything feels much much better.

I think women should choose cloth napkins in order to treat themselves better during their time of the month.

I’ve actually recommended switching to cloth napkins to all my girlfriends. And while I understand there is a strong environmental and health reason to do so, I never speak about these. I ask them to switch just to see how good they can feel during their periods.

The comfort and the way cloth pads make you feel so outweigh any minor changes in convenience. And with effort you can easily make these work well for you and adopt them into your lifestyle.

Yes washing and caring for your cloth napkins does involve some washing and drying in your bathroom, which may weird out some people.

However I think that women should go ahead and choose products that make them feel good and help them ease any discomfort they feel during their periods. With all that we have to deal with at this time, I don’t think it is fair to expect us to have to deal with anyone else’s discomfort as well.

My husband has been extremely supportive about my switch given how environmentally aware he is as well (Milesh, Susmitha’s husband , is also a vegan and a committed environmental activist in Bangalore).

But even if he had not been, I would have still gone ahead and chosen to use cloth pads because they are good for me. And I guess he would have just come around to it eventually.

I have a simple washing process for my pads.

I wash them once every day. Until then I leave them to soak in cold water, which helps remove the menstrual blood. Once I get around to washing them, I simply rinse out the menstrual blood and then load them into my machine with my other clothes. I run a hot water wash cycle and then dry them with the rest of my clothes.

Cared for this way, my pads are extremely hygienic, wear well, and have worked very well for me.

So if you are a woman reading this, and would like some advice on how to make the switch, I would ask you to switch to cloth pads and have a truly happy period. Enjoy!

Thank you for that happy, rousing and inspirational piece Susmitha.

If you need more convincing, and would like to read more about the problems of disposables, start here: 

  1. Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling a Man’s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
  5. Here’s Anita chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.
  6. Here’s the second part of our interview series:this is an interview of Kathy & Jessamijn of Eco Femme, Auroville

Krya giveaway:

We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.

If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now.

 

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How I switched : Anita B on reusable sanitary napkins

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

I had a careful order of articles planned when we started this month’s series of Re-usables with the series on reusable sanitary napkins. I was going to start by talking about the dangers of disposable sanitary napkins, introduce 3 companies that were creating reusable sanitary options in India and end with a piece on how you should care for and maintain your reusable sanitary napkin to make sure they work well for you.

 

But I was surprised and gratified to see the comments, questions and positivity around this series when we started sharing the facts on Facebook and our blog.

And this response is in no small measure due to the large environmental impact of using disposable sanitary products.

Environmental footprint of a disposable sanitary napkin - by Krya - July 14th 2014 infographic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two facts that affected me most about disposable napkins:

  1. Every time a woman decides to use a disposable “gel” based napkin which is based on an SAAP derivative, every pad she uses has plastic that is equivalent to 4 plastic carry bags.
  2. In India, wood pulp based napkins continue to occupy a large part of our stores (and our landfills) – they are cheaper, and are usually the first napkin many young girls shift to before moving on to the thinner gel based “Ultra” napkins. Every woman using wood pulp based disposable menstrual napkins in her lifetime would have used up the wood pulp from one whole tree.

 

Clearly these facts spoke to many more people apart from me, which explained the number of comments, questions and concerns expressed on these posts.

 

But the decision to shift to a reusable is not an easy one. It comes with a nightmarish vision of the work involved, especially if the work involves disposing of a whole lot of menstrual blood and getting that out of the cloth pads.

 

So I kept on hearing one question over and over about reusable pads:

And it revolved around the “ick” factor associated with menstruation. Was it going to be easy to switch? Were the benefits outweighed by the perceived messiness of cleaning the pads? And most importantly was it hygienic and as comfortable as we said it would be?

Sometimes the only way to dispel these fears is to let an actual user write about her experience with cloth pads. And here I have a lovely piece written by Anita Balasubramaniam who has used reusable cloth pads for close to 10 years now.

 

About Anita: a reusable cloth pad user, mom, life schooler, kitchen gardener and organic enthusiast

My introduction to Anita came on a hot summer afternoon in May 2011, when I received an email from her asking about the Krya detergent. We had beta launched our product but our website was not ready so there was no easy way to pay and get our products then. Anita was one of our earliest consumers and braved her way through our technological challenges to adopt the Krya detergent into her home.

 

Since then, we’ve exchanged detergents, books recipes, ideas on parenting and have met several times recognising in each other a kindred spirit.

 

Anita is a life schooling Mum to 2 gorgeous girls (just look at their smiles below!). She is an environmentalist, and went vegan a few years back. She is a kitchen gardener and makes amazing cups of herbal tea with lemongrass and mint grown in her kitchen garden for those fortunate enough to visit her.

nidhi_yukti_allsmiles1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is Anita’s story of the Switch.

How I shifted to cloth pads: the beginning:

I got to know of menstrual cloth pads in 2002 when I was living in the US. I saw them displayed at a community organic store and was excited to see this option as I was quite intensely exploring ways of living a more sustainable life in any and every way possible. To see menstrual cloth pads was very exciting. If this option worked, I felt I was bringing sustainability in a very personal way into my life. Little did I know how this shift itself would bring deeper perspectives and changes in my life.

 

I found cloth pads very exciting:

I was thrilled about cloth pads as it meant I would not have to repeatedly buy menstrual pads that were disposable (even if made from recycled paper, or bio-degradable material), that were made at a factory or a manufacturing facility, from materials that were either unsustainable, heavily treated, and that would add to the landfill. Just to be out of the consumer mindset with respect to my menstrual cycle felt very empowering. I felt very hopeful and powerful about making this shift that would also be caring for myself and the earth.

 

My experiment began:

I bought a couple of cloth pads to sample and see if I could begin this shift. And I felt wonderful using them. For one, I never got rashes again. They felt softer and more absorbent. As I used the cloth pads, I began to find that there were many other things that happened. I began to feel a sense of caring and intimacy with my body, my blood, my menstrual cycle. I was more tuned to when I was about to menstruate.

 

I would keep the cloth pads handy instead of assuming that I could always run down to the shop to get a pack of disposable pads. My sense of responsibility and care towards myself increased as the months went by. I noticed that many negative beliefs faded and washed away as I washed these pads every month.

 

I began to see that there was really nothing very dirty about this, that this was part of a life giving cycle, just like all cycles in nature are. In death there is birth. In peeling away there is regeneration. As belief systems in one area give way and are replaced by newer more life giving ones, they also influence other areas in life (like handling children’s poop and pee)

 

Why reusables and handling our waste scares us :

We have been disconnected from our bodies, our blood, our poop, our pee. This disconnect creates fear, false beliefs, and lack of experiential knowing. As we begin to get familiar with what we are disconnected from many layers begin to unravel within ourselves. Beliefs change and we develop experiential knowing about what comes out of our body and also what we put into our body. I am now at a place where I see my menstrual blood and my body as sacred, am patient with myself, am comfortable with handling my menstrual blood which once used to be considered dirty.

 

My transition into reusable pads

Over time, I made the shift to using cloth pads entirely and have been doing so the last 5 years. I also considered the menstrual cup and tried it, but that did not work out too well for me. All along the journey, I worked with challenges that came up and beliefs that I had taken on that would stop me from persisting with this shift. Questions related to comfort, washing and drying, safety and cleanliness, etc. As I begin to enquire into them they began to give way and I came up with strategies to overcome these challenges.

 

Find your path

Each of us need to work through these challenges and find strategies that work for us from a place of care, love, and commitment to ourselves and our earth. There is really no one way that works for everyone, but we have to persist to find solutions that are personalized and work for our individual contexts while being sustainable.

 

Thank you Anita !

 

Begin your quest here:

If you would like to make this switch, you can begin your quest here:

  1. Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling a Man’s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series giving you companies that create reusable menstrual products in India: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur.

We also have a giveaway on right now on the Krya facebook page, where we are giving away 3 starter kits of reusable pads –one each by the 3 companies we are featuring in our interview series. If you would like to win our giveaway, please head over to the Krya facebook page and enter our giveaway.

 

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Red is the warmest colour

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Bright red is the colour of my bindi. And the colour of my menstrual blood.

I grew up at a time when buying pads was so taboo that I would point to the brand I wanted. I brought my pads home in a newspaper bag, and imagined everyone who saw me along the way “knew” what I was carrying.

Then I grew up more and went to work, at a company that created disposable sanitary napkins. I was posted in Jalandhar as a Management Trainee, and went to work as one of the few Women sales reps in those parts. I knocked on nearly 30 retailers doors every day and sold the different brands of feminine hygiene products we had, even helping out their consumer with the brand they should choose to buy.

We heralded the arrival of the “thin” sanitary napkin with great fanfare. I tried using it and found it revolutionary: it was thinner and more discreet compared to a regular sanitary napkin and extremely compact workhorse that absorbed a huge amount of menstrual fluid.

The future was here: or so I thought.

When we became parents, and actually saw our future in front of us, all toothless, soft, plump cheeked and trusting, we started out looking for environmental and human friendly alternatives to all the products we were gifted to use on her.

We started by choosing to cloth diaper. The transition was painful. It was sometimes messy, sometimes inconvenient. And it meant that we had to face our fears: a ginourmous amount of poop and pee that we could see. That we had to deal with. That we couldn’t bundle away and hope someone else would take care of it.

And we started to see it work. We didn’t have to rush for an emergency pharmacy trip. Our daughter got very few rashes. And most importantly, we were not creating a landfill problem, but were dealing with our waste ourselves.

You can read more about the environmental problems of disposable diapers here and explore reusable options here.

Starting with one reusable led to an exploration of many more reusables.

The reusable we are going to be focussing on this week is the reusable sanitary pad. I am going to be blogging in greater depth about the massive environmental problems associated with disposable sanitary napkins, the several possible issues on your health and safety, the massive carbon footprint of a disposable which is almost entirely derived from fossil fuel, and the options you have in the form of reusable sanitary pads.

Menstrual cups are also a great option which is popular across the world and is slowly growing in India as well: but as I am not a user, I am going to be focussing on exploring the world of reusable cloth pads.

This series will also see me introducing 3 amazing companies and their teams who are hard at work manufacturing reusable cloth pads in India. Their stories and the work they do are inspiring, and having tried most of their products, I can vouch for the quality of their pads as well.

Maintaining and caring for a reusable is something that is on top of everyone’s priority before they decide to adopt one into their lives. So this series will have us publish an eBook on reusable cloth pads, and how they need to be laundered. As with cloth diapers, cloth pads are intimates and should be laundered only with an extremely gentle, natural option, which makes the Krya detergent an ideal companion to your cloth pads. Our guide will focus on how you can use the Krya detergent to launder your cloth pads. But, in case you have a different brand of detergent, and you would like some help on modifying this care routine for your brand, please do write to me and I will be happy to help you make this important transition.

I end this post, with a beautiful video by Menstrupedia. Menstrupedia is a home grown user resource with fantastic comic style guides and reliable information, designed to provide young girls and women with safe, reliable information on feminine hygiene.

This is a video created by them to encourage a healthy dialogue around Menstruation and bring it out in the open.

To make sure you don’t miss any of our upcoming posts, do connect with us on facebook or subscribe to the Krya blog.

Happy thursday to you!

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The Holiday Eco Spring cleaning series – Part 1

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

This blog is dedicated to helping everyone lead a more environmentally sustainable life, no matter where they are. We choose to in this blog, focus on the unique travails of the environmental enthusiast who lives in a crowded urban city. Perhaps we sympathise more with the urban environmentalists given that we are part of this group as well!

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Urban dwellers face many challenges on the road to environmental sustainability: they are severely time poor, live in overcrowded spaces, and have to compete fiercely for what I term the most basic of resources like clean water, clean air and good quality food and pleasant, natural urban spaces.

For the past few months I have been writing a fortnightly column in The Hindu’s habitat supplement on environmental issues that affect the urban home. This writing work has further driven home for us the task at hand for the Krya blog. The hundreds of queries we have now answered from readers of my column, Krya consumers and everyone else who wants to lead a cleaner life points to the escalating concern of the urban citizen on the state of their lives.

I do not believe the answer is to abandon these urban spaces we have created, Frankensteinian monsters though they may seem to be. The answer is to stand our ground, take a good hard look at our lives and begin to reclaim our life. The many urban oases we continue to seek for inspiration like a neighbourhood park or the beach tell us that a better life is possible. With some focus and determination.

On this note, I would like to begin the holiday spring cleaning series. The months between mid October to early March is pleasant all over India not just for the change in weather and the pleasant rains, but also for the many opportunities given to us to re-connect with our culture and our roots. And the festival season is a perfect time to throw out old ingrained practices and usher in some new, safe natural and eco friendly practices around your home.

Why is this critical?

David Suzuki, a Canadian scientist is one of prominent leaders of the worldwide movement fighting climate change and environmental hazards. His foundation has published an important study of the dangerous chemicals found in everyday cosmetics and cleaning products. The study, evocatively called the “dirty dozen” lists twelve chemicals and sheds light on the harmful effects of the “dirty dozen” to the environment and human health. A disturbing statistic of that study conducted in Canada tells us that more than 80% of the commonly used cosmetics contained the “dirty dozen” in various combinations.

What is the relevance of this study for Indian citizens? The entire “dirty dozen” group of chemicals are also commonly found in products sold in India. This is a direct result of globalization where companies use the same chemicals in their operations across the world. Indians however are at a distinct disadvantage due to the lack of strict government regulations on the composition of cosmetic products which is not the case in Europe or North America. For example a category of frequently used preservatives called “parabens “are limited in Europe to a maximum of 0.8% of the product. There is also a debate towards a complete ban on parabens in cosmetics sold in Europe. No such public debate is happening in India and the same companies that cannot use parabens in Europe are free to do so in India.

The Toxic Three

Monitoring a list of 12 ingredients every time you visit the supermarket is utterly impractical. Therefore, I have created a quick check –list of chemicals to be wary of, called the “toxic three” for easy reference. These are commonly found across many products used daily and there is steadily growing body of research that is unearthing the potential harm caused by them. The “toxic three” for our discussion are

1)    Triclosan 2) Sodium Lauryl Sulphate 3) Parabens

Triclosan is an anti-bacterial agent and will find its way into your home in a surprising number of products. Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and is also being linked to cancer. A new concern is also looming. Due to the uncontrolled use of Triclosan, several strains of bacteria are developing resistance to it causing new “super-bugs”.

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate commonly called SLS is an extremely common surfactant used in cosmetics and cleaning products to remove stains and create lather. A closely related compound is Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLeS). Several studies have linked SLS to eye and skin irritation, reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption and even cancer.

Final in the “toxic three” are Parabens. They are a group of compounds like ethyl parabens, methyl parabens, used for anti-bacterial and anti-fungal actions. They have a property of mimicking the female sex hormone oestrogen thereby interfering with hormone function. In an English study between 2005 and 2008 on 40 breast cancer tumour samples, 99% of them contained at least one type of paraben.

Where are the toxic three lurking in my home?

Triclosan is likely to be found in a product claiming anti-bacterial properties and is found in over 140 products like mattresses, toilet seat cover, toothpaste, soap, moisturizers, rain-coats etc. Many personal care products now advertise an anti bacterial active, so our list expands to include many products that you use on a daily basis like soaps, toothpastes, cosmetics, hand washes, detergents and dish-washes.

SLS or its variant can be found in any synthetic product that foams in your home. This includes personal care products like shampoos, face wash, shower gels, toothpastes and any liquid cleaning product like liquid detergent, liquid dishwash, hand wash, etc.

Parabens are typically used as preservatives in synthetic products and so can be found in a whole host of products from shampoos, to moisturizers, shaving creams and gels, toothpastes, and even makeup.

The toxic three are not just potentially harmful to you and your family, they also create dangerous consequences for our water bodies as they travel downstream.

What happens to your cleaning water as it travels downstream?

Triclosan resistant bacteria and cyanobacteria

Triclosan which was invented in the 1960s for surgeons slows down the growth of bacteria, fungi and mildew. As it is now commonly used in consumer products, it enters streams, and other water bodies through domestic waste water, sewer lines (which in India are rarely treated separately), with Triclosan residues commonly being found in water bodies in the U.S.

A new study published in the Environmental science and Technology journal, says that this constant flow of Triclosan into our water bodies is triggering the development of Triclosan resistant bacteria in water bodies – this alters the natural diversity of existing bacteria in the water bodies, introducing a relatively unknown and drug resistant species, increasing the composition of cyanobacteria by nearly 6 times, besides killing off the algae.

The increase in cyanobacteria which is a side effect of Triclosan entering our water bodies is extremely worrying – some cyanobacteria produce toxins called cyanotoxins which are toxic and dangerous to human, animal and marine life.

We have seen how the products we use around our home not only threaten our health and safety, but multiply their effect as they are released downstream to create dangerous, previously unthought-of of consequences.

What are my options?

At Krya, we tirelessly advocate the cause of using natural ingredients, close to their natural state and processed in a minimal manner.

In our experiments in our home, and the thousands of consumer emails and phone calls we have received show us how holistically effective substituting simple natural ingredients around the home can be.

A simple ingredient like the Soapberry, which finds its way into all our cleaning products can be safely used in formulations for a natural toothpowder, as a safe cleansing agent for hair which does not strip the hair of its acid mantle or its natural oils, to effectively clean clothes while continuing to maintain their colour and texture and even de-grease and clean your dirty dishes.

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Natural ingredients are not just safe, they can also be extremely powerful in their actions – tea tree essential oil, for instance is nearly 100 times more effective as an antibacterial agent than carbolic acid

In the next few parts of the Holiday spring cleaning series, we will explore in greater depth several easily available natural alternatives for the home and also look at simple recipes that can be created to substitute synthetic products at home.

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