Dye another day

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

It almost always comes back to water. On the Krya blog we focus on sustainable urban living. We explore the many different ways in which urban living is stressing the environment and equally the many interesting ways in which we can return to a holistic, sustainable way of living.

 

And we are constantly amazed by the myriad ways in which water gets polluted. Ground water and water on the surface of the earth (both fresh and saline). While 70% of the planet is water, there is no good reason to go around trashing this precious resource. This is simply because it takes only a moment to pollute water but an eternity (and a ton of money) to clean it again and make it fit for consumption – by humans, plants and animals. This seems obvious yet the daily massacre of water that takes place compels me to point it out here.

 

The textile industry is a leading source of water pollution. World Bank estimates that 20% of all industrial water pollution comes from the dyeing of textiles. The textile mills release millions of gallons of wastewater containing pollutants like chlorine, formaldehyde, lead & mercury into our freshwater bodies. Some 72 toxic chemicals had been have linked to textile dyeing. A single T-shirt made from regular cotton requires 2700 litres of water and uses 150 grams of chemicals in the production process.

How did the textile industry sink to this state of affairs?

Dye

Dyeing is an ancient art, as old as humanity.

6. cuneiform tablet

The original dyes were mostly plant derived, from roots, berries, fruits and bark. They used simple methods like crushing or boiling to dye fabric. Dyeing was in fact a secretive subject and only a select few could access it, wearing dyed clothes as status symbol.

5. charlemagne's coronation

The medieval depiction above of Emperor Charlemagne’s coronation by the Pope, shows the Emperor wearing am indigo robe and the Pope wearing a  white robe. Indigo and purple in ancient times were worn only by royals. Similarly, in Indonesia, the batik process of dyeing used several symbols and certain symbols could only be worn by royals. People could be placed in the pecking order just by looking at the symbols on their batik clothes.

Some of the most famous ancient dyes were red madder, extracted from the roots of the Rubia Tinctorum and the blue indigo from the leaves of the Indigofera tinctoria.

Indigo, the original king of dyes

Apart from the glorious deep blue colour that the Indigo plant delivers, it was the king of dyes from ancient times for a number of reasons. Most dyes require a mordant like alum, common salt or salts of aluminum, chromium etc, to fix the dye to the fabric and ensure colour fastness. Indigo is unique in that it uses a fermentation process to release the coloring molecules and fabric can be directly dipped into the indigo and dried to get the desired blue colour.

7. dyeing wool

In ancient times, many households would mix the ingredients required into a vat, let the mix ferment for a week to get the dye and then dip the fabric into the vat to colour it. This indigo vat then can be maintained for many years on a continuous basis, adding some indigo as and when the dye dilutes. Some Indigo vats have been known to be used for over a hundred years continuously. It was common for many households to have their own indigo vat. This was a very local, DIY, contained process and very environmentally friendly.

4.badshahmiyan indigo

The picture above, shows Master Dyer Badshah Miyan of Jaipur following this traditional Indigo dyeing process today in Jaipur. Of course we cannot all wear Indigo and other colours are needed. The fundamental unit of living has also changed and we cannot all have an ancestral indigo vat running to meet our clothing needs. Further with the growth in demand for the dye, indigo cultivation started replacing other food crops which made it a precious commodity.

Around 1850 several organic chemists began research into synthesis of indigo from chemical sources. By 1897, BASF had developed a commercially viable chemical synthesis that eliminated the need for the leaves of the Indigo plant. In due course in the 20th century all natural dyes were replaced by their synthetic equivalents. Unfortunately what started off as an innocent quest to replace natural indigo with a cheaper chemically synthesized alternative ended up in an global industry that freshwater with toxic chemicals inexorably.

The T-Shirt Town in Tatters

Tirupur in Tamil Nadu is a leading textile center accounting for 80% of India’s knitwear exports. Tirupur textiles accounted for over $ 4 billion in revenues per year in recent times. It provides employment to over 6 lakh people.

This is really commendable from the economic point of view.

But the environmental costs of the past few decades have been terrible too.

According to one Tamil Nadu pollution control board report, each year the Tirupur textile industry generates 833,000 tonnes of toxic waste including bleach and sulfonic dyes, much of it directly dumped into the nearby Noyyal river. This untreated chemical effluent drains into the Kaveri river and then finally washes up in the Bay of Bengal. The textile industry in the past few decades has contaminated around 80,000 acres of cropland in this area ,mostly rice fields. The locals have in the past found that the red chemical dye from the Noyyal river water was absorbed by the coconut trees on the banks, dyeing the coconuts a deep red colour.

2.noyyal runs black

 

The Audubon magazine has this to say about the state of affairs in Tirupur

“The Noyyal is now essentially an open sewer. At Kasipalayam, where the river slows down and effluent accumulates, the water runs brown and smells unbearably of human waste. The banks are strewn with plastic bags, aluminum cans, and other garbage. Close inspection sometimes reveals a splash of unnatural green or purple from the upstream dye factories.”

The environmental risks are similarly severe at other Indian textile hubs like Tirupur.

The pollution is not new news

Since the 1990’s several groups have taken legal action against the polluting units near Noyyal  and a lot of legal back and forth has happened through supreme court orders. In the meantime effluent treatment technology has also improved. To manage the high costs of effluent treatment, common effluent treatment plants ( CETP) have been in vogue for some time now. In Tirupur some 18 CETPs handle the liquid waste of 350 dyeing units. However these CETPs still discharge varying levels of harmful matter into the rivers. With the further development of Zero liquid Discharge ( ZLD ) technology , it is possible to reuse all the waste water from the dyeing units.

Picture1

Treated  & Untreated Samples from Tirupur ZLD plant

 

This prompted the Supreme Court in January 2011 to order the Tamil Nadu government to close all polluting units that did not comply with zero liquid discharge norms. While the Tirupur exporters association claimed in December 2012 that they had achieved 100% ZLD levels, a February 2014 report in The Hindu states that pollution of the Noyyal river continues unabated.

 

What next?

At the start of this piece I noted that it takes only an instant to pollute water but an eternity ( and a ton of money) to undo the damage, which is why each act of pollution must be avoided.

So a number of questions arise.

Can the entire clothing of the planet be met through sustainable textiles, right now ? this year ? How do I know if my brand of clothing uses sustainable practices ?

I checked out the sustainability report of the first brand that popped into my head, Fabindia.

Now this is the information on the Fabindia website

“We use both vegetable dyes and commercial dyes with the goal of minimizing our impact on the environment while striving for the best color properties. For our bleaching process we use only hydrogen peroxide which is totally biodegradable.”

This information gives me 2 concerns straight away

  1. I am not comfortable with the vague term “commercial dyes”. So the next time we hit Fabindia , I need to ask the store staff for only the vegetable dyed items
  2. Hydrogen Peroxide is not inspiring me at all. I have many concerns about the biodegradability of hydrogen peroxide. My simple test is as follows : Can I pour a glass of peroxide into my plants ? I have serious doubts. While I still cannot rule out the safe use of hydrogen peroxide in bleaching textiles, I at least know that fabindia does not use Chlorine bleach in its process, which is considered to be far more toxic as an effluent.

However the more I try and find details about brands with global supply chains with extremely opaque information flows, I realize that it is easier to discover local brands that have clear picture of the entire process. It is my one person satyagraha.

For example, as I type this , I am wearing a shirt from Tula, a brand that creates clothes from rain fed organic cotton, which is hand dyed with vegetable dyes and hand woven.

3. Tula

The entire supply chain is contained within a 500 km radius of my home. It cannot not get more sustainable than this. I cannot get everything that I need from Tula, but I can certainly get a few fantastic shirts, which is a good start.

So how sustainable is the garment that you are wearing right now?

 

To read more about sustainable fabric start here:

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha

 

 

 

 

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Ruminations on Rice

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

Srini and I went to an organic fair this Saturday, organised by the Safe Food alliance. There was a stall in the mela by the Sirgazhi traditional farmers co-operative on the bio diversity of rice.

The information available at the stall was extremely thought provoking.

For instance, did you know that 4, 00,000 varieties of rice existed in India during the Vedic period?

Even today nearly half this number is found in India, which is staggering.

Unfortunately, despite having so many varieties of rice, ( even if you ate a new variety a day, it would take you 500 years to exhaust the whole list), our consumption of rice in India is limited to 10 varieties on the outside.

How did we end up consuming such a small variety of rice?

When the Green revolution started in India, a small number of paddy varieties were selected for their capacity to give high yields in response to high doses of fertilizer. As a result, the genetic base of the rice we eat today has narrowed down considerably.

Also, industrial agriculture, promotes plantation style monoculture cropping, which we had written about here.  Monoculture cropping produces high yields in the short term, but severely degrades the quality of the soil and the resultant strains of rice over time. Genetic uniformity of the crop also makes it susceptible to pest or virus attacks wiping out several years of crops in difficult times.

Why is it important to increase our base of rice consumption and support indigenous varieties of rice?

1. Indigenous rice is naturally hardy and pest resistant reducing the dependence on pesticides

  • A case in point: In the 1970s, a virus called the Grassy Stunt virus decimated rice cultivation from Indonesia to India. The rice cultivation at that time in Asia, had been sparked off by the Green revolution, supported by the efforts of the International Rice research Institute. The IRRI bred and developed the paddy varieties used across Asia during the Green revolution to give high yields.These paddy varieties were then called ‘miracle rice’.
  • None of these miracle rices could withstand the attack of the virus. After a 4 year search, researchers found one indigenous variety of Oryza nivara, growing near Gonda, in Uttar Pradesh that could resist the virus’ attack.  Today rice hybrids have been bred that contain this wild Indian gene; these hybrids are grown across Asia. Bred rice is vulnerable to pests; indigenous rice is not.

2. Indigenous rice is not needy; different varieties have adapted themselves to different land conditions from alkaline soil to saline soils, and in drought prone areas and water logged areas.

3. Growing Indigenous rice adds to our food security as a nation. If we used only commercial High yield Hybrids, we are vulnerable to a single pest wiping out our entire rice production.

  • A case in point: The Irish potato famine was a period of mass starvation and immigration from 1842 – 1845. This was caused by a potato disease called the potato blight.
  • Potato blight is caused by Phytopthora infestans which probably arrived in Ireland from the Andes through guano carried in ships. Guano was in demand as a fertilizer in Europe.
  • Nearly 1 million people died as a result of the famine, wiping out 25% of Ireland’s population, changing the course of Ireland for ever.

4. As indigenous rice has already adapted itself to grow in different local conditions, rice can be grown in non-traditional rice areas, reducing the pressure on ‘rice bowl areas’.

5. Indigenous varieties of rice are naturally suited for organic farming, as they need fewer inputs in the form of fertilizers or support in the form of pesticides and herbicides.

6. They are valuable in the agriculture eco system, as they yield straw that is valuable to farmers as cattle feed as well as roofing material.

7. They are inexpensive to cultivate and promote self sufficiency in the farming community

8.There is no need to buy seeds or inputs (fertilizers, pesticides) from anyone.  The farmer saves seeds from every year’s crop and uses it in the next season. Seeds are also swapped between farmers, giving everyone access to a larger gene pool.

Interesting varieties of indigenous rice found in Tamilnadu and their health benefits

1. Thanga Samba (Golden Samba)

  • The golden colour of the matured grains, gives this variety its name. This rice is extremely fine and long, and it is believed that long term consumption of this rice keeps you young and healthy.

2.Neelan Samba

  • A variety of rice suitable to areas that experience water logging as it can be cultivated in the vicinity of lakes. It is resistant to pests like the brown yield hopper and ear head bug and is recommended for lactating mothers to increase their milk yield. Also, as its straw is very long, it is well suited to use as roofing material.

3. Mapillai Samba (The Bridegroom’s Samba)

  • Many indigenous varieties are rice are known to increase the energy of the eater. In folklore, a bridegroom once had to display his strength by lifting a heavy stone called the Mapillai Kallu (The Bridegroom’s Stone). Eating the Mapillai Samba rice gave him enough energy to lift the stone and presumably win the fair maiden.

4. Kurangu Samba (Monkey samba)

  • The ear heads of the grain are very long, with 267 grains per ear head. It is a versatile variety that grows both in dry areas and areas prone to water logging. It is highly resistant to pests and diseases.

5. Kalarpalai

  • The 2004 Tsunami caused a lot of damage to the agricultural lands of the Nagapattinam coast. The land became unfit for cultivation because of the inflow of sea water. The Kalarpalai rice came to the rescue of the farmers as it was tolerant to salinity and could be grown in saline soil, unlike most modern varieties.

6. Seeraga samba (Jeera samba)

  • This rice resembles the shape of the Jeera or cumin seed. The rice is extremely fine and aromatic, and though it has a lower yield compared to modern varieties, it is prized in Tamilnadu to make aromatic rice dishes like biryani. This rice fetches a high price because of its aromatic quality.

7. Kullakar Rice

  • This rice is suitable to make idly, dosas and porridge. Its growing duration is short, and can therefore be grown throughout the year in all 3 seasons. Kullakar is also highly resistant to pests and disease.

8. Samba Mosanam rice

  • This rice is good for preparing dosa and poha (aval), and idly. As it is suitable for growing near the vicinity of lakes, it has been used successfully by farmers whose land gets waterlogged in the monsoon. The stalks of Samba Mosanam remain unaffected despite having nearly 4 ½ feet of water stagnation in the land. But stalks of high yield varieties like Ponni rice, germinate in this water, resulting in crop loss.

9. Thooyamalee rice (Pure Jasmine rice)

  • As the rice is white in colour, and as the ear heads of this rice look like flowers in the flowering stage, this rice is called the ‘Pure Jasmine’ in Tamil. It is a fine rice that is highly resistant to pests and disease.

10. Kalanamak (Black Basmati)

  • Kalanamak rice, is one of the most important scented rices of India, and gets its name from the black colour of its husk and its tolerance to saline soils. It is said to be better than Basmati in all aspects except grain length, and is considered the finest quality of rice in international trade.

11. Kouni Nel (For the baby in the womb)

  • Kouni Nel is used in ceremonies like the Seemantham, performed when a woman is pregnant. It is believed that consumption of this variety of rice provides specific nutrients required for during pregnancy.

Srini and I are committed to organic food, and have been eating organic for a year now. Visiting the Rice bio-diversity stall added another element to our food choices – look for local, indigenous crop wherever possible.

After some investigation, we have found that local grocers in Chennai stock indigenous varieties of rice like Jeeraga Samba, and Kitchli samba, which are available on request.

Consuming locally produced food has always been a carbon friendly habit because of the savings in transportation and storage of the food. It is great to explore it from another aspect and see how well it fits in with sustainability, self sufficiency and good health.

Sources:

  1. Seerkazhi Organic farmers association stall at Semmozhi Poonga, Chennai
  2. Material on Rice Bio-diversity – Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Systems: www.ciks.org

 

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Going Beyond Organic: Monoculture vs Polyculture

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

All the products we create at Krya, are made from plants and their parts: fruits, leaves, shoots, roots.

An important part of being a sustainable company is to make informed choices that are sustainable to the system as a whole.

In the set of organic farms that we had shortlisted for sourcing our plant based raw materials, we had two options:

  1. A plantation /monoculture farm
  2. A Polyculture farm

A monoculture farm is what I would call a ‘factory farm’. It typically has large tracts of land where just one species of plant is cultivated.  A monoculture farm is very efficient to run, as the plant cycle is the same. For example if there was a mango monoculture farm, devoted to the Banganapalli mango, the life cycle of each tree would follow the same timings. So if the fruits were ready to be picked in April, the farm could get in people to do the harvesting all at once. Monoculture farms use less labour to do the same job, harvesting for example.

A monoculture farm works really well in the short term. A monoculture farm brings in higher yields because planting, maintenance and harvesting can be standardised. Monoculture farms also give higher plant yields, as there is no competition for resources from rival species of plants.

However, in the long term, a monoculture farm ends up draining the soil of specific nutrients. Each plant species takes in certain nutrients into the soil, and gives back some other nutrients. If the farm had only one plant species grown in it continuously, over time, the soil in that farm loses nutrients specific to the plant grown there.

Also monoculture farms are under greater risk from diseases. A single pathogen can wipe out the entire cultivation, taking it years to get back to the same levels.

A polyculture farm plants multiple crops in the same space avoiding large belts of single crops. In the short term, polyculture farms seem to be more expensive because of needing more labour. In the long term, polyculture farms grow stronger crops , encouraging lesser use of pesticides, as there is higher resistance to disease. The variety of crops increases local biodiversity, improving pollination, and soil nutrients.

The soil gets richer as there is a symbiotic relationship between the different species that are planted on the crop, and the system works as a whole.

Krya’s experience on a polyculture farm

We source one of our key fruits from a beautiful, organic polyculture farm in Andhra Pradesh.

krya polyculture farm

The farm used to be an arid wasteland, which with a lot of hard work spread over 20 years, is now a verdant cool oasis spread over 1000 acres with 3 main complementary crops and several other plants and herbs. It is home to deer, rabbits, snakes, boars, mongoose, parrots and many other birds which helps complete the local ecosystem.

We’ve found after extensive testing that plants sourced from such sustainable & balanced polyculture farms work better, because they grow stronger in rich, nourished soil.

the fruit that is a ...

This approach helps us create products that work and leaves the land happier than before.

Which make Us Happy.

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