Green Bazaar update and conversations on sustainable fabric & menstruation

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If it is too good to be true, then it probably is. Krya was conducting a workshop and showcasing skin care products at the Alternative’s Green Bazaar yesterday. We commissioned a commercial artist to hand paint a cloth banner for us for our stall. We wanted to avoid the regular plastic flex banners with digital prints. We e-mailed our artwork to the artist, who assured us a perfect reproduction of the design by his own hand, using cloth and paint.

We were getting the banner printed in a rush , just the day before the bazaar. The night before the event we hopped into the artist’s studio to check out the progress on our banner. We arrived in time to discover that he digitally printed our design on a piece of flex and was using that as a stencil to create a “hand-painted” sign.

So after all the fuss, we printed a plastic banner in order to create a sustainable, hand-painted cloth banner. Had we known this, we could stopped our artist right at the plastic stage.

So we took our resource heavy cloth banner to the Green Bazaar on Sunday morning, along with the Krya detergent and Dishwash and the preview packs of the soon to be launched Krya hair wash and Krya face wash.

6.Krya at the green bazaar

Conversations on Sustainable Menstruation

We were thrilled to meet the team from Eco Femme, which is doing great work in sustainable menstruation. Kathy of Eco-Femme introduced me to Vijay and his work in menstrual activism. Vijay’s work is in a very specific field in menstruation: the right to sun-dry your undergarments and menstrual cloth. Before you think that this is a little too specific, Vijay shared a study by the Adyar cancer Institute which found that one of the causes of cervical cancer was the lack of sun drying of undergarments and menstrual cloth. The subsequent dampness, moisture and folding away of these garments were somehow able to create favourable conditions for the entry and spread of the Human Papilloma virus, which is associated with several medical conditions including cervical cancer.

I was struck how some people don’t have the basic to right to dry their clothes in the sun and some-how ended up with terrible consequences. This was an eye-opener.

5. eco femme

Later in the day, I was happy to share my experiences with Menstruation and how I made the switch to Eco Femme’s earth friendly cloth pads at Eco Femme’s Sustainable menstruation workshop. Kathy Walking then showed us a very powerful video that they had made at Auroville to demonstrate both current menstrual practices and the environmental effect of continuing to use disposable products. This video showed that women across India tried to dry their undergarments and menstrual cloth in cupboards, under beds, in the bathrooms, under sinks and similarly damp, possibly unhygienic places which had no air or light. This arose from a superstition that menstrual cloth was unlucky and should not be seen by Men. The point that Vijay was making resonated strongly with me as I saw this.

The second piece of research estimated the size of landfill if every single woman in India used disposable menstrual napkins every year–58 billion pads thrown away each year would occupy the land equivalent to 173 football fields every single year!

So yes, it is important to be open about Menstruation, and claim both our right to sun dry and our right to make better choices for our planet.

The Sustainable Fabric workshop

Krya and Chakra design studio jointly hosted a workshop on handlooms and naturally dyed fabric. A conversation with Ananthoo of Tula, reveals an interesting economic fact – a kilo of chemical dye costs as low as Rs 20, and a kilo of vegetable dye could cost anywhere between Rs 400 – Rs 1000 !

7. the Krya Chakra workshop on fabric

So obviously on the face of it, it makes no economic sense to even attempt to use natural dye on your fabric. Plus the colour palette of natural dyes is extremely limited. You will not obtain the “exciting” computer colours that are not abundantly present in nature like lime green or fuchsia or a bright purple.

2. natural dye colour palette

 

The Krya Chakra workshop was an introduction to handlooms and natural dyes, and listening to Bindu, I was struck by other limitations of the craft. The natural dyeing process is temperamental – you are never sure of the exact shade of colour you will get at the end of the process, because the same tree across different harvest years will yield slightly different shades.

The natural dyeing process needs to be done very carefully and meticulously. For example, to ensure the cloth holds the dye, dyers use different pre-treatment methods like soaking the plain fabric in buffalo milk and Terminalia chebulia or Myrobalan before applying the mordant. And this varies from region to region and the natural resources that are available to each dyeing community.

Natural dyeing is also a very water intensive process, compared to chemical dyeing. Chemical dyes come in easy to use forms which can then be straight away applied to the cloth, and have been designed to be colour fast.

But applying natural colours follows a linear process: each colour has to be applied, fixed, the excess washed off and sun dried before the next colour can make its way into the fabric. The process is therefore very time-consuming compared to using chemical dyes.

With so many apparent disadvantages in using natural dyes, why then are we supporting this craft?

While the water consumed by natural dyeing is large, it is important to remember that all of this water can be happily used for agriculture or other purposes. Bindu shares that in her dyeing village, the craftsmen swim in the irrigation canal, and stand of either side of it allowing the flowing water to wash away any excess dye. The farmers who use this water are happy to share it as they believe this water is good for the crops and does not harm in any way.

We must remember that before our centralised factory based models came into being, our lives were more intertwined and symbiotic. Treatises on the fabric traditions of India reveal a system of barter used to exist: cotton farmers would exchange their cotton with spinners for finished yarn which they could then hand weave themselves. Spinners would also barter yarn with weavers for finished fabric.

Chemical dyeing today has its roots in natural plant based dyeing, and the craftsmen are drawn from the communities of vegetable dyers. And they carry along with them practices of vegetable dyeing. So while chemical dyeing does not require the extensive rinsing and drying and liner processing that vegetable dyeing entails, it still requires water as a last rinse. And both small chemical dyers and large dyeing factories dip their textiles into running water and rivers to rinse off the excess dye.

The aftermath of chemical dyeing

We already shared the story of the Noyyal River in Tiruppur. Historically, the Noyyal River was called the “Kanchinadi” and considered a sacred river. The river itself is said to contain minerals which are health giving and considered “antibiotic” in nature.

The Chalukya Chola Kings built an interconnected tank and canal system to this river which helped drain away the excess water from the river into an intricate system of tanks preventing flooding along the banks. And the tanks themselves helped replenish groundwater by percolating the sub soil (in this we must understand that these tanks were not the impermeable cement graves that we dig today in the name of water storage, but tanks where the bottom was mud allowing water to percolate the sub soil).

Today, the Noyyal River has been kindly described as a sewer. The Tamilnadu Pollution control board estimates conservatively that 883,000 tonnes of toxic waste is dumped into the Noyyal River every year by the textile mills around Tiruppur.

2.noyyal runs black

Farmers have abandoned cultivation as digging below 6 feet releases a black, toxic sludge. Any produce grown absorbs chemical content and changes colour – coconuts for instance were found to have red insides as against their regular white insides.

8. Bindu and I at the workshop final

Chemical dyeing related illnesses

A video from Craft mark which documents the process of hand dyeing using chemical dyes, reveals a horrific basket of chemicals which the dyers dip their hands into every month – to set the dyes, the dyers have to dip their hands and the fabric into caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, sodium nitrate and soda ash, and acetic acid. The dye stains their skin almost indelibly and they find eating difficult as the dye colours and odorises the food they eat. They explain that they need to take a 2 day holiday to recover for every 10 day chemical dyeing work they do.

As we shared this with the audience at the Sustainable fabric workshop, we saw several people look at their shirts and garments with undisguised horror – imagine the effect these very same chemicals will have as they sit malignantly close to your skin and continue to be slowly absorbed by your skin every day.

Krya Talk

Of course, apart from the conversations with different people and the workshops at the Bazaar, it is a very edifying experience to stand in your own stall and greet visitors with information about what you do. I found a lot of interest around the Krya hair wash, and our small batch at the Bazaar was sold out. Apparently even my threats of greenish residue left behind in the hair was not enough to deter people who wanted to try out a safer product on themselves. The question I was asked most about was whether the Hair wash would reverse hair fall.

9. How does this work final

I am particularly wary about marketing claims, coming as I do from a background in Consumer Product Marketing. Most research and statistics can be interpreted in any way to obtain favourable results for the product you are marketing.

I particularly dislike product claims – it is my belief that is almost impossible to isolate external, environmental and internal causes from the workings of a product. So if I told you the Krya hair wash would reduce hair fall, and when you bought the product, you also decided to detox your life and started eating organic food that was wholegrain and maybe vegan, with a lot of greens in your diet, it would stand to reason that your health indices would dramatically improve. This meant that your hair fall, if you had any would also slow down. Now should I attribute it to the Krya hairwash you were using at the time? Knowing what goes into the product and how it works, I could say yes. But I would be incorrect if I discounted the dramatic effect of eating clean healthy food on your system.

So to the questions on hair loss, I simply said that the hair wash would do what it was supposed to do really well – it would clean your scalp and hair without loading your system with toxins, and leave your scalp to function in a regular healthy manner without irritating it or stripping it of serum.

I was pleased to find that my underplayed response resonated with my audience. And we quickly sold out. To add to this, 2 of my consumers who had bought the hair wash two weeks back when we launched, came to the stall to tell me how well the product was working for them. And this feedback, as you know, makes my heart sing. If you too would like to try our limited range of skin and hair care goodies please click here.

The Green Bazaar also showcased some interesting food stalls, including a food stall by SHARAN which showcased vegan food and also showcased the vegan creations of a young Mum who is a wholegrain baker. I noticed several participants carrying SHARAN’s leaflets, and was thrilled at people’s interest and curiosity around this very pertinent subject.

3.team sharan

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. lavender at bazaar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In case you missed it, the Alternative’s Green Bazaar is a bi-monthly event – so do ensure you are there the next time around.
If you too would like to know about Menstruation and why it is not environmentally sustainable at the moment and explore your options, start here.

In the meantime, our series on sustainable fabric continues. 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 interviewing Lata Ganapathy-Ravikiran on Handloom love and why she chooses to support this industry is here.
  8. Our post on the warped state of Handlooms in India and what ails the sector is here.
  9. Our post on the dangers and all pervasiveness of Bt Cotton is here .
  10. Our post on Onam, the Mundum neriyathum and wearing your culture is here.
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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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It doesn’t go away – conversations with Swach Co-op

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Julia Butterfly Hill is a U.S environmental activist. She is best known for having lived for 738 days in a 55 meter, 1500 year old California Redwood tree to prevent the loggers from the Pacific Lumber company from cutting it down.

 

5. Julia Butterfly hill

In the context of this piece, Julia Butterfly hill is also known for her rousing and inspiring beliefs and powerful words on what she terms our disposability consciousness. She calls our penchant to use and throw resources that come from fossil fuel reserves and ancient forests, in other words, paper, plastic and disposable napkins, as a weapon of mass destruction.

Julia Butterfly Hill on the disposable economy

Julia also asks us a provocative question: What is away? When we throw things “away” where is away?

In the question of disposable sanitary products and diapers, it is important to ask, who is away? And when we imagine away, who do we imagine is clearing our trash for us?

Last year, after repeated pleas and emails to companies manufacturing sanitary napkins were ignored, SWACH Pune and Stree Mukti Sanghatana from Mumbai took a drastic step. They collected and sent bags of soiled sanitary napkins to the corporate offices of Johnson & Johnson, Hindustan Unilever, Kimberly Clark and Proctor & Gamble – they wanted these companies to understand what it is like for waste pickers to hand pick and collect this waste by hand.

And this is a reality that happens every day across Indian cities.

Waste pickers handle our soiled disposable napkins, which are rarely marked separately and are often mixed with food and recyclable waste. They separate out soiled napkins from useful items by hand, exposing themselves to micro-organisms like E.Coli, salmonella, staphylococcus, HIV and pathogens that cause hepatitis and tetanus.

Because of the hazardous nature of their job, waste pickers can cut themselves when handling broken glass and sharp pieces of metal in the waste. Open, cut skin when exposed to blood soiled napkins or urine soaked diapers can present a very grave health hazard.

The Plastic Waste Management rules formulated by the MOEF in 2011, has included basic provisions asking for extended Producer responsibility when it comes to disposal of products. Producers of goods are responsible for the entire cycle of their products from cradle to grave, and need to provide solutions to help organise waste generated from the use of their products.

We have a conversation with Pratibha of Swach today to understand more.

How SWACH began:

SWACH is India’s first co-operative formed by waste collectors from low income backgrounds. In 1993, waste pickers and waste buyers in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad came together to form KKPKP (Kaghad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat) a membership based trade union.

The Union was started to improve and establish the important role played by waste pickers in solid waste management and to assert through dialogue, their contribution to the environment. Today KKPKP has 9000 members of which many are from social and marginalised castes.

Each member pays an annual fee to the organisation and an equal amount towards their life insurance cover. Members are given ID cards endorsed by the Pune Municipal Corporation, and have access to benefits like interest free loans and educational support for their children.

4. swach in the pinkathon

KKPKP has done stellar work in helping establish the role of its members in Solid Waste Management. Their study helped quantify the waste picker’s contribution to solid waste management and demonstrated how the recyclable recovery operations carried by their members helped save Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation several crores of rupees in waste handling costs.

In 2005, KKPKP launched a pilot programme in conjunction with PMC, which integrated its waste picker members in door to door waste collection work. This pilot programme paved the way for the genesis of Swach – a wholly owned worker’s co-operative which followed a pro-poor Public Private partnership.

Swach began work in 2006 and became fully operational in 2008. The work under Swach includes door to door waste collection services. Swach Plus is another arm of the venture which includes value added components that help boost income like e-waste collection, composting services, and products like ST dispo bags which we will talk about.

2. Swach plus initiative

 

“We hate reaching into a trash bag and encountering a used diaper or a soiled sanitary napkin”…

When people throw napkins into their domestic waste they don’t stop to think that another human being is sorting through all this waste to remove their recyclables. So they wrap the napkins in any old polythene bag, or don’t wrap it all. Some people wrap the napkins in newspaper, but often this opens up and the dirty napkin is exposed. Yes, we are waste pickers, but there are some things we would not like to touch.’

Another waste picker and Swach member, Shobha Bansode says that she puts plastic bags on her hands when she has to handle sanitary napkins. “That’s the only way I can handle this waste.” She says.

Rajendra Kamble, a Swach member says, “There never has been a uniform method of disposal of these pads. Some people wrap it in paper, some put it in a plastic bag and some just throw it, without putting it in anything. But even if one did wrap it, we had to take it out of the wrapping – the paper or plastic, as the municipal wet garbage truck does not even let one small piece of paper and plastic into it. So at the end of the day, we still have to handle your used napkins no matter how you wrap it.”

In order to prevent waste pickers from direct handling of sanitary pads, Swach members started manufacturing Sanitary Towel Dispo Bags. These bags are made out of old newspapers by the waste pickers of Swach. The bags are minimally priced at Rs. 1 and are made available to citizens, bulk buyers include IT companies, Women’s hostels and our members also provide it as per the request on helpline or as part of their door to door collection. By using these environment friendly bags, citizens not only help in preserving the health and dignity of several waste workers but also contribute to their livelihood.

When our waste pickers see this bag, they know not to open it and keep it aside while sorting through the trash they collect.

We were proud to have been featured on Satyameva Jayate in their episode on solid waste management.

3. swach on satyameva jayate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have been working for 6 years on the problem of appropriate disposal of disposable menstrual pads and diapers.

What began as an effort to avoid direct handling of this waste by waste pickers has over time evolved into a complete campaign to ensure manufacturing companies fulfil their duties under EPR (Extended Producer’s Responsibility) guidelines as included in the Plastic Waste Management Rules.

Swach has taken the first steps in beginning a dialogue with manufacturers and the local government about appropriate disposal of STs, keeping in mind the occupational health issues of waste pickers, and in the light of the EPR. Efforts are also being made at an individual level through the Swach members to convince citizens to use the ST Dispo bags.

We have also been organizing awareness sessions at societies where waste pickers are given a forum to convey to other urban women, how they feel about having to handle soiled napkins, often with their bare hands. Such face-to-face conversations have helped in bringing home the issue and have resulted in genuine change in few societies.

While there is a section of women who have shown a certain resistance in spending that extra bit towards disposal of sanitary pads, many women have shown interest in the issue and have taken up the cause by promoting these bags in societies and encouraging their friends. Also, there are various aspects of ST Dispo Bags, which attracts citizens- besides addressing the health and handling issue of waste workers, some women feel it is quite handy and easy to carry in handbags for safer disposal; some are attracted by the fact that is made from recycled paper.

 

Our engagement efforts with manufacturers of disposable sanitary products have met with less success.

We estimate that more than 4 Lakh Sanitary napkins are used in a city like Pune per menstrual cycle (i.e. every month). This we think is a conservative estimate. The figure could go upto 15 lakh disposable menstrual products every month.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has notified the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 on 4th February, 2011. As per these Rules, in line with the principle of Extended Producer’s Responsibility (EPR), the municipal authority may ask the manufacturers, either collectively or individually to provide the required finance to establish the plastic waste collection centres. The producers are required to finance, and organize a system for environmentally sound management of waste generated from their products. The concept of EPR has been adopted as being practised in various countries, requiring the producers to take responsibility for the end of life of their products and to ensure that the waste from such products is channelized for safe handling.

 

For the last three years, as per the Extended Producer Responsibility, and/or CSR, we have been politely asking manufacturers to take more responsibility towards its post consumer waste. We know that disposable sanitary napkins are being promoted as a healthy option to young women (who might otherwise drop out of school after onset of menstruation). We are also sensitive towards our women members. Both KKPKP and Swach cooperative are both women centric organizations with an 80%+ female membership. The coop is particularly concerned about the health and dignity of women who handle and have to deal with this particularly degrading post consumer waste.

 

We also approached the Pune Municipal Corporation to help with this problem. They took a keen interest in the health of our members. They called for a consultation of elected representatives, active citizens groups and various manufacturing companies but they failed to attend this important meeting.

 

Since the responses from companies were so unsatisfactory, we had to take an aggressive step and on the occasion of international women’s day – March 8th, 2013, we launched our campaign “Send it Back”. A small package of used napkins was sent to the head offices of leading Sanitary Napkin manufacturing companies in India, to make them experience how insulting and revolting it is for waste pickers to handle this waste on a daily basis. The idea was to gauge the urgency of this issue and the need of implementing a mechanism for safer handling of sanitary napkins.

6. send it back campaign

The campaign caught attention and responding to the packages sent to them, a meeting was called in April 2013, by Feminine and Infant Health Association (FIHA) at Pune Municipal Corporation Office to discuss the matter with Joint Commissioner and Swach/KKPKP representatives. They said they require at least 90 days to come up with an action plan. We have still not heard back from them.

But also, more importantly, once we sort through the trash piles, we need to know how to further dispose used and soiled sanitary napkins and disposable diapers. Manufacturers till date have given us no answer to the question “does a sanitary napkin or diaper go into organic waste or recyclable waste or do we put into another category of waste? How should we deal with this waste? “

We also started building public awareness on this issue. Some people’s representatives and Mohalla committees – the citizen’s group have also extended their support and had sent letters to the companies demanding accountability.

Krya’s point of view on this:

While Swach’s initiative to make the disposal of used napkins and diapers more sanitary for their members is certainly laudable, we at Krya feel that this is a stop gap solution. A sanitary napkin wrapped in an ST dispo bag will still reach your landfill, although this time other people would not have had to handle it with their bare hands, in the landfill it will degrade slowly leaching blood, pathogens, and the chemical additives that make up its construction.

And of course appropriate disposal methods still do not address the several grave health concerns that disposable products present. Read more about these here and here.

 

It is also a telling comment that manufacturers have been unable to answer Swach’s very pertinent query on what category of waste soiled disposable sanitary napkins and disposable diapers. We are all aware that they are neither organic waste nor recyclable waste, although the blood, pee and poop that goes into them is organic, and the materials they are made up of (plastic and wood pulp) are in theory recyclable.

 

But the lethal combination of mixing organic material into highly processed and specialised material made from fossil fuel renders a used disposable product like a diaper and sanitary napkin completely un-recoverable. The highly specialised SAAP in diapers and napkins cannot be safely retrieved, cleaned well of organic matter and then reused for another purpose at an efficient cost. This is why corporations are investing in incinerators which are the only way to dispose this material – burn it. Incinerating this material comes with added complications of health and air pollution.

 

Citizens living near landfills like Kodangaiyur and Perungudi, routinely lead demonstrations and protests every time the landfills run the incinerators. They complain of lethal smoke and soot that leave them filling ill. This makes sense given the many weird additives, dioxins and fragrances that go into disposable products.

We believe the true solution will emerge when menstrual waste does not leave your home and is handled by me and you, ourselves.  This becomes possible only if we all give adopting reusable menstrual products a serious thought.

We would like to thank Malti, Aparna and Pratibha of the Swach team who kindly consented to or interview and helped us with their important perspective of disposable products from a solid waste management and human dignity.

The Swach team does amazing work in Pune. Please support their work by “liking” their Facebook page, and reading more about their work and services here. There are opportunities for volunteering with Swach and contributing both your time and money to their work. If you are interested in exploring this please contact Aparna or Pratibha at Swach co-op via email.

The photos on this page of Swach’s work is courtesy Swach Co-op, Pune.

But perhaps the best way to contribute to their work and be the solution, would be to consider adopting reusables. If you would like to know 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
  7. Here’s Susmitha chronicling how she shifted to 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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A Convenient Diaper

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

Last fortnight we looked at the horrors of disposable diapers for the baby and mother earth.

A quick summary of the inconvenient facts are:

Krya Infographic 3 - disposable diapers and pulp and crude oil

 

and

Krya Infographic 4 - dangers from disposable diapers

 

For the longer version, please read the original blog post here.

For those struck with a mixture of guilt and hopelessness, hope still waits, in the form of cloth diapers, both ancient and modern.

In a cradle to grave study sponsored by the National Association of Diaper Services (U.S), it was found that disposable diapers produce seven times more solid waste when discarded and three times more solid waste during the manufacturing process, when compared modern cloth diapers (MCD).

When MCDs are used for the baby, solid waste (poop) is flushed down the toilet and not dumped in a landfill, waste is being sent down the right channel preventing water and earth contamination.

The health benefits for a baby put on cloth diapers are numerous.

Cloth diapering depends only on the absorbency of the material used to contain the baby’s waste output and not on uninvestigated, potentially hazardous substances like Sodium Polyacrylate ( the super absorbent polymer , SAP) used in disposable diapers.

Cloth diapers are said to facilitate early toilet training as compared to disposables by achieving the right balance between keeping the baby dry and letting him / her know when it is time to change the diaper. Unlike a disposable, a cloth diaper is never completely dry when full. The feeling of dampness alerts the baby, who becomes sensitized to the idea of a diaper change,

By avoiding all the hazardous substances that go into a disposable diaper which can trigger contact dermatitis and rashes and by alerting the baby’s caregiver to a nappy change, cloth diapered babies are in general less rash prone.

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An Inconvenient Diaper

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

We are parents to a wonderful 13 month old. And not ashamed to admit that we were queasy about the prospect of diaper changes before the arrival of our daughter. As adults we live in a sanitised world with zero tolerance for weird smells of any stripe. We are always reaching for fragrant products (in our case a pure natural essential oil, of course) to banish the smells in our life.

Therefore as new parents, we did not even consider an alternative to disposable diapers. We are conditioned to treat anything poop related as gross and disgusting and disposable diapers presented the least messy solution. (for the parents that is!)

In the first month we went through an alarming number of disposable diapers. And we simply had to do some research to see if we were doing the right thing; to see if there was anything out there beyond disposable diapers.

With the wisdom of hindsight, I could have told my early parent self that of course we were not doing the right thing. Any product that is used so ephemerally and has to be thrown out simply cannot be good for the environment. And anything that works so eerily well to contain a natural bodily function cannot be great for the baby.

So here are the facts:

Calculating our diaper usage, our daughter, assuming toilet training by 2 (which is no longer the norm), would go through 5000 disposable diapers at a conservative estimate by the time she turns two.

We dispose these diapers without flushing solid waste down the toilet as it is supposed to be done. As a result, the diaper sits in a landfill slowly leaching human excreta and bacteria apart from heavy metals, dioxins, and solvents (from the diaper), into the ground contaminating the earth and the water.

What goes into a disposable diaper?

Disposable diapers sandwich an absorbent layer made of wood pulp and a super absorbent polymer (SAP) like Sodium Poly acrylate between two water proof layers of Poly ethylene and Poly propylene. Many brands also have fragrances embedded into the diapers and dyes for the printing.

Crude oil is the basic start for creating the outer water proof layers in disposable diapers.

It takes one cup of crude oil (approx 236 ml) to produce enough plastic for one disposable diaper. 

So according to my estimate, despite using public transport, walking and not owning a car, as parents we would have been responsible for burning up 1180 litres of crude oil just to manage poop and pee!

The middle layer of the diaper, which really what us parents depend upon is the absorbent layer which uses wood pulp and SAP. The wood pulp used in disposable diapers is a kind of chemical pulp which is produced by combining wood chips and chemicals in large vessels called digesters. In this process the heat and chemicals break down the lignin in the wood without damaging the cellulose fibre. The chemical pulp process is followed for applications like disposable diapers and sanitary napkins where a high absorbency and strength is required.

Continue reading “An Inconvenient Diaper”

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What lies beneath – digging in the world’s trash cans: Part 1

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

A graphic photo in The Hindu recently inspired this two part blog post.

As we walk around Chennai, we often have to navigate mounds of garbage. Garbage has a mysterious way of reappearing in double its size after it has been hauled away just a night before, and I cannot help being intrigued by the contents of trash.

Even protected areas like the bio-diverse IIT Madras campus suffer from the garbage problem. A week back on one of our now frequent walks in the IIT campus, Srini and I came across a couple of beautiful spotted deer busily nosing around old discarded containers of junk food. As we gently chased away the deer (who looked most grieved) and safely disposed the junk food container; we began talking about Chennai’s trash cans, and what ails them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some digging (this time on the internet) threw up very interesting facts and figures.

There are many ways to look at the trash data. The simplest – how much trash (or solid waste) does each country generate on an average?

It comes as no surprise that the average US citizen is nearly at the head of the pack; trashing nearly 2 Kg of solid waste every day compared to urban Indians who generate 600 grams of waste every day.

Before we begin to pat ourselves on the back, consider this: In just the last 10 years Indians have doubled their trash generation from 34 million tonnes per year to 68 million tons per year.

 Which lead me to the question; just what are we, the urban Indians, throwing out of our homes?

All of us, no matter where we live, generate 4 categories of trash

  1. Compostable waste – Organic food peels, trimmings, dried leaves, leftover food, etc that can be composted to give rich , nutritious soil
  2. Re-cyclable waste – Paper, plastic packaging, glass, metals, aluminium foil, etc which, if cleaned and processed properly could be re-used. Certain materials like aluminium foil have a 95% recovery / recycling rate if cleaned properly. Recyclable waste is a category that is only potentially recyclable – by mixing them with other kinds of waste, it makes them difficult to separate, clean and process to re-use.
  3. Partially recyclable / re-coverable waste – Most of the E-waste we generate from chargers, to used batteries and other electronic goods falls into this category. If separated and recycled properly, a small –moderate portion of the raw materials that go into the making of these goods can be recovered like metals and precious metals. However, the portion of material that can be recovered is small, the process is potentially toxic and hazardous, and the balance of the material goes waste.
  4. Re-usable material – Due to rapid urbanisation, every city in India is now in the midst of a construction spree. All the construction debris that is generated (sand, cement, iron and steel girders bricks) if stored separately can be re-used in other construction activity.

Every country today has a problem of excess trash – we have run out of space to store our garbage, and cannot get rid of it in any safe, non-toxic way. Different countries depending on the composition of their solid waste have different strategies to tackle the problem.

A Comparison of Solid waste composition between the US & India:

The U.S. generates the highest volume of solid waste in the world and the highest per capita waste in the world. But because of the nature of waste they generate, they also have a  high level of efficiency in their waste reduction programmes.

The solid waste composition of each household is very high in recyclable waste like paper and plastic packaging. While U.S. per capita waste per year has increased, the recycling rate has also increased.

Handling food waste in the U.S. still remains an issue – a very small percent of it is currently being composted.

Urban India presents a very different picture:

The biggest portion of India’s waste is actually compostable material, followed by re-usable material.

The addition of food waste makes the solid waste we generate messy and problematic. Most food waste contains a lot of moisture, which makes other materials like paper and plastic less recyclable.

Composting does take place in India at the Municipal corporation level, but only 3% of the organic matter generated by us is composted formally.

Of this percentage which is composted, most of the organic matter had not been separated from the debris and recyclable material, bringing down the effectiveness of compost – As a result of lack of source segregation, of the 3% of the organic material that is composted, only 7%of this is converted into compost – which is a shockingly low 0.21% of all waste generated.

Further, this measly 0.21% compost, because of the lack of source segregation, it is often found to be high in heavy metals, making it unusable for agriculture.

So what happens, you may ask, to the waste now that it is not composted, or segregated?

Most of our urban waste goes to landfills such as these where it just sits there for eternity, or gets burned, leading to a high amount of pollution generated and lethal toxins released into the air.

In Chennai, every single person is responsible for nearly 200 Kg of solid waste per year, which in turn ends up in the landfills which use up 550 acres in Chennai. The Chennai Corporation estimates that if we do not change our ways, these 550 acres will get exhausted by 2015. To put this in perspective, this landfill is roughly the size of the IIT madras campus, piled high with waste!

The Solutions

At the end of this rather long discussion, it can be exhausting to contemplate the magnitude of the problem before us, but there is good news.

As mentioned earlier, In the US, the EPA has managed to take back nearly 34% of re-cyclable paper and plastic from their landfills. This requires diligent recycling of paper and plastic by the citizens.

We too can help make a solid difference in India, by examining and changing our behaviour.

A. Reducing organic waste : reduce what gets thrown out

The rather massive quantity of food waste that is getting thrown out in India today suggests two issues:

1) We seem to be buying more food / vegetables / fruits than we can consume and

2) We are throwing away the stuff that rots / what we cannot eat.

So the first step to reducing the landfill mess is to be careful about estimating and buying the food you need.

Having analysed my garbage, I have concluded that one of the big problems in our home is over buying and improper storage. Frequent power outages are causing the food in the fridge to rot faster and I am forced to throw away a portion of my fruits and vegetables without eating them.

Since we only buy organic fruits and vegetables, which are not so readily available, I buy them in bulk once a week. This sometimes leads to excess buying and I am now trying hard to estimate exactly what I need, and avoid wastage.

B. Reducing organic waste: over processing of fresh food

The other often ignored part in food waste over processing. When you eat food whole, no trimmings go to the landfill. For e.g.: the head of the tomato is often sliced out for aesthetic reasons and discarded – you lose out on both nutrition and contribute to a landfill. At my home, I eat the leaves of carrots and beets and most other vegetables too, stalk and all – brilliant nutrition and landfill saved.

Here are some examples of trimmings that you could eat instead of discarding: peels (carrots, potatoes, bottle gourd, cucumber), stalks and greens (carrots, beets), heads (tomatoes, bottle gourd) .

C.  Source Segregation :  Separating waste into compostable /recyclable / re-usable

The default option in Indian homes today is a single kitchen waste bin in which all biodegradable and non biodegradable waste get mixed together and thrown out.

Biodegradable waste like fruit and vegetable trimmings and other food scraps have high moisture content. When this is mixed with re-usable or recyclable waste like paper or plastic, it makes them wet and soggy, therefore unfit for reusing or recycling.

Paper and plastic must be sorted and kept aside either to be recycled along with your Municipal collector or can be given to the raddiwala. Every single piece of plastic that enters your home can be recycled or re-used. If the plastic that comes in contact with food or cosmetics should be rinsed and washed thoroughly and dried to ensure that they will be recycled.

D.  Home Composting

After source segregation, composting your organic waste yourself is a massive game changing step that you can take to make a serious dent on the landfill problem.

There are excellent organisations like daily Dump who have created easy to use, compact personal composters which can be used to create healthy plant food from all the previously discarded organic matter.

Here is a picture from Vani Murthy’s kambha at Bangalore, where she “makes” excellent, nutritious plant food, from organic waste which would have otherwise gone to a landfill.

This concludes Part 1 of this post. E-waste is another critical issue which is the subject of Part 2.

Sources, Resources,  & People who can help:

Thank you to:

  1. Ranjith Kharvel Annepu of Columbia University for the meticulous report on Solid waste management in India created as a result of 2 years of research, data collected through literature, expert consultations and extensive field visits covering 13 cities in India. Ranjith has been very generous in sharing his data and report with me.
  2. ExNoRa for the extensive photographic coverage of the solid waste issues that exist in Indian cities through their initiative www.garbo.in – do visit, it is an eye opener
  3. Archana Srinivas – wielder of the magic camera, discoverer of all things beautiful and aesthetic on her blog rang decor, and a committed composter and recycler for being generous with her pictures and information on composting and recycling. To view her complete set of pictures on home composting, please visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/archanasr_2000/sets/72157627556458791/
  4. Vani Murthy – the Composting Queen who inspires Malleswaram and everyone outside of it to segregate their waste and create wonderful plant food using the Kambha. It is rare to come across people like Vani who literally take to the street inspiring and educating people on solid waste management. Vani ,again, has been extraordinarily generous with her knowledge and her pictures for this post: To know more about how you can compost at home, please go through Vani’s step by step guide here: https://picasaweb.google.com/110138724722809258966/JourneyOfMyKitchenWaste and

https://picasaweb.google.com/106938949057966909183/LeafCompostingInMyBackYard

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Plastics Waste Management Rules 2011, and How You can Help

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

This is a guest post by Dr. Seetha Coleman-Kammula, Simply Sustain LLC (www.simplysustain.com)

Can we live without plastic packaging? “It is impractical and undesirable to impose a blanket ban on the use of plastic all over the country. The real challenge is to improve municipal solid waste management systems”, said Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Environment and Forests as he released new rules for the management of plastics waste. Here are my thoughts on why the new rules might be effective and what else is needed to make plastics waste management work well. Both are based on economic arguments.

The new rules require that manufacturers make plastic bags thicker and in white or only in colors set by the Bureau of Standards. You might wonder how this will prevent the blight of plastic bags everywhere. The thinner bags blow around, spread easily, cost very little so vendors give them away for nothing, and most importantly, people do not feel guilty about throwing them away and littering, because they weigh almost nothing. So making the bags thicker could improve their chances of a next life, maybe even a higher next life, instead of dying a very slow death on streets and in gutters. Thicker bags will fetch more per bag for the rag pickers, so there will be an incentive to collect them. Requiring that the plastic bags be white or a single color will increase their chances of being recycled into gizmos (or articles) of higher market value because a mix of multi-colored bags can only be made into lower value black gizmos. Consumers must understand that unlike with cotton, the colors in plastics can not be washed out. Recyclers have to add carbon black to mask all the colors and make a uniformly-colored article. Requiring that the bags be thicker and in one color constitutes what we call “design for next life” a principle that is good for the planet, for people and for the economy. There are plenty other such examples, if you do think of any, would love to hear back from you.

Now for what is missing. The rules hold municipalities responsible for setting up  waste management systems and for performing associated functions, such as collection, storage, segregation, transport, processing and disposal of plastic waste in a way that does not damage the environment. The rules also require the setting up of centers for the collection of plastic waste involving MNCs such as Hindustan Unilever, Coca Cola etc and ensuring channelization of waste to recyclers.

Even if municipalities want to do all these things, which many Indians do not believe, they will have a hard time to make the economics work. Our research shows that in countries where good solid waste management including recycling exists there are very high gate fees for disposal in landfills. This in turn raises the gate fees for other disposals such as cement kilns and incinerators. Waste that has no cost of disposal will never come down nor will it be sorted much for recycling. In the Netherlands where land is scarce, recycling rates – be it through mechanical recycling to other plastic articles or thermal recycling to energy and fuel are high. In Poland, where land is abundant and landfilling costs are low most waste goes to landfills. This pattern also applies to different states in the US. High gate fees force industry and communities to reduce, reuse and recycle and finance the building of infrastructure for collection, sorting, segregation etc.

Lastly, if there is one thing that you can do to help matters, that is segregate all plastics waste in dry waste bins separate from wet waste in your homes. This first step is essential for making the economics of the rest of the steps work. Whoever is collecting the waste can pick out the plastic articles that can be mechanically recycled meaning melted and re-shaped into other gizmos and sell these articles. If this stream is clean and dry, they will get a better price and their costs of sorting will be lower. The rest of the plastic packaging such as foil and film packaging used for potato chips, biscuits and sachets and thin plastic shopping bags can be thermally recycled, meaning converted into diesel or gasoline in pyrolysis units or used directly as fuel in cement kilns. Our Life Cycle Analysis work shows that for this particular plastics waste stream thermal recycling is the best option as it recovers its high calorific content and that mechanical recycling  is not environmentally prudent. . However, there is a caveat; to make the economics work, the plastics waste must not be contaminated with paper, food or vegetables as this lowers the average calorific value. Today cement kilns will not pay much for this stream, in fact they will charge for it to be fed into their plants as it adds costs to their processes. Most importantly, segregation makes rag-pickers’ work more hygienic and dignified and keeps the premises free of vermin. Lastly, dry and wet segregation followed by collection of the wet waste could lead  to production of good quality compost, a much-needed and highly-valued product

So embrace Yes In My Back Yard  – YIMBY and increase the value in your waste.

About the author

Dr. Seetha Coleman-Kammula is one of the founding partners of Simply Sustain, a management consulting company dedicated to making organizations profitable by strategic use of natural resources without leaving a legacy of waste. She has more than 25 years of experience first at Royal Dutch Shell, and later at Basell, a Shell BASF Joint Venture. Seetha currently sits on the Sustainability advisory board of Dow Chemical Company and has been actively engaged leading an end to end value chain collaboration geared toward conserving energy and materials.

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Extended Producer Responsibility : Part II

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

In the earlier post we introduced the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). From some of the reactions to the post, I am writing this follow-up post to expand on the idea.

In one line, EPR extends the responsibility of the manufacturer of a product from cradle to grave. This means even after the consumer disposes the product the manufacturer is responsible for the waste generated. The main idea is to ensure that this waste does not reach a landfill and instead gets recycled.

At this point EPR is not mandated by law in India. However many companies, especially the electronics manufacturers are addressing the e-waste generated by their products.

For a movement like EPR to succeed and create wide impact, everyone involved, in this case manufacturers and consumers, must do their part.

1. What can manufacturers do for EPR?

Minimize waste at the design stage. This is the most elegant way of reducing waste. At the design stage choosing safe, recyclable materials, removing unnecessary parts, choosing formats like solids over liquids all ways to reduce product waste.

Sponsor waste collection programs. I mentioned some examples in the earlier post and I came across another cool EPR program by a company that makes granola bars in the style of bear naked . They have two programs to ensure that their empty wrappers do not reach a landfill.

2. What can consumers do?

Handle waste correctly through source segregation

The default option is to throw waste into one all purpose dustbin. This is the very root of the problem at the consumer end. Wherever possible, source segregation should be practised. Bio-degradable food waste should be separated from other inert recyclable waste like paper, plastic, wood etc. The food waste should be composted and the other inert waste to be sent for recycling just the way newspapers are recycled.

Make a phone call for the special cases

Special cases like e-waste, say an old unused mobile phone to be disposed, could contain hazardous materials. There are companies that specialize in collecting and recycling e-waste. These companies will schedule a visit to your house to collect e-waste. While I haven’t used their services, an e-waste management company called attero has a doorstep collection service.

3. What will krya do?

The design stage

For our soon to be launched detergent, we have thought long and hard about the design of our packaging material and have written about it in an earlier post. We are quite thrilled with our design and at the same time realize that it is work in progress.

The post consumer use phase

All packaging waste generated by our product can be easily sent for recycling by the consumers. To take it to the next level we are talking to waste management and up-cycling companies to start an EPR pilot project. We are quite excited to see how that works out.

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Why bio-degradable is not enough

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

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

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

So to begin, what is bio-degradability?

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

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

Enter Landfills

Human activity generates waste. Daily.

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

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

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

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

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

A few numbers from our city

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

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

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

Solutions

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

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

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

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

3. Recycling

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

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

cartons for recycling

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

4. Composting

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

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

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

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

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