A little green goes a long way – a guest post by Rashmi Vittal

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Reading Time: 12 minutes

And we are off on a field visit. We are going to be spending this week visiting 2 organic farms in Karnataka and round it off with a visit to a hand loom weaving centre. In this trip we will be following an organic and Khadi trail of sorts. One of the organic farms we are going to be visiting is a passionate advocate of using indigenous cotton seeds, growing the cotton organically, hand spinning it and weaving it to make Khadi fabric. The weaving centre we are going to be visiting is the centre which weaves all of Tula’s magical rain fed cotton fabric.

Our blog posts this week will be filed from more exotic locations than our office in Chennai. We will be “reporting” live from the field and are excited about meeting these passionate custodians of the land who have been generous to offer to share their time and expertise with us.

Which brings me back to a basic question: why organic fabric? Most of us now understand the need to eat poison free food. Is choosing organic cotton an esoteric exercise? Isn’t it going to be un-findable? Is the expense worth it?

To answer these and many more questions, I’m happy to introduce you to Rashmi Vittal, founder of Little Green Kid. Rashmi’s passion for environmentally sustainable living led her to start Little Green Kid in the quest to help parents replace their current basket of toxic-full clothing for their children with safe, sustainable alternatives.

1. rashmi vittal founder

Started little over a year ago, Rashmi is building a strong team of designers at Little Green Kid along with resources from the export garment industry to create a company that is focused on great design and good quality.

Here is Rashmi Vittal talking about a subject very close to her heart, Organic cotton.

Why I prefer organic cotton over diamonds

Sometimes you use something every single day without much thought and then you suddenly learn something new about it and go, ‘Wow – I never knew that’.  Organic cotton was like that for me. It was paradigm shifting to learn that the humble cotton that you take for granted has a very interesting story.

Cotton, as we know it, is yet another crop – just like any other vegetable. But this one single crop uses 20% of entire world’s pesticide production. Yes, that’s right – that much of pesticide for just one crop.  The first time I read it, I had to re-read it to really understand the magnitude. ‘But why so much?’ Just because nobody eats cotton, there are no limits on the harshness or the amount of the pesticides used on it. While it is a proud fact that India is one the largest producers of cotton in the world and fluffy white cotton is made into garments and sent off across the world, the flip side is that all those harsh pesticides and chemicals remain behind on Indian soil and water.

1024px-CottonPlant

I don’t eat cotton, so why do I need Organic Cotton?

 When I tell people that we run Little Green Kid, an organic cotton clothing company focusing on kidswear, people often ask, ‘I don’t eat cotton, why should I bother if it is organic or not? I can understand that organic food grown without harsh pesticides and chemicals has direct benefits on my health. But how does wearing something made of organic cotton give me any benefits?’ A very good question.

When we look at a t-shirt or that cool kurta in a shop, we look at it in its singularity. As shoppers we do not want to be bothered with the comprehension of how that piece of garment came to be on that shelf.  We want to trust the store where we bought it at and let them worry about how it was made. But today we will ask you to join us take a peek behind the scenes and share a few secrets. If you think about it, cotton is everywhere – the dress that we are wearing at this moment, the sheets that we slept through last night, the diapers on our baby, the towels we used to wipe ourselves and more – all made from cotton. What we may not know is that sometimes even the food that we eat, like chips and other snacks, are fried in derivatives of cotton seed oil. Nothing from cotton goes a waste and is used in some form or the other that you may not explicitly be made aware of. So where does the journey of this omnipresent cotton begin? What are its dirty little secrets that we need to know as a consumer?

Lets zoom out a bit and start with the macro picture. The demand for cotton rises every year and to meet that demand, the worldwide production has been rapidly increasing as well. When there is high demand for a commodity, companies in that space come up with ways to rapidly increase the supply, often via unconventional means. So what did they do to cotton? How successful was their attempt?

Long time ago farmers in India used to set aside a small portion of their cotton flowers for seeds for the next season. Seeing the great potential for high yielding and pesticide resistant seeds, big companies poured money into research and came up with genetically modified (GM) seeds. In 2002, the Indian Government introduced Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) cotton trying to encourage farmers to grow more. The farmer abandoned the natural seeds and bought the GM seeds with dreamy eyes. The yield in the first year of adoption was good, but the crop was highly susceptible to damage due to variation in climatic conditions. As well intentioned as it seemed, the seeds did more harm than good in the long run for cotton. Remember those automobile pamphlets that tell you X kms/liter mileage but only run X-y kms in real conditions? It was and is the same with these seeds. In Indian agricultural conditions the seeds did not thrive and created controversies instead because it was not just the yield that was disappointing. These genetically modified seeds are four and half times more expensive than the traditional seeds. Specially formulated chemical pesticides and fertilizers were recommended whose expense constitutes almost 60% of the cost of growing cotton. What was worse was that not all promised were warded off.

While the GM seed companies made money, on the other side, with low yield, dropping cotton prices in the market, huge debts and a land that is ripped off all fertility (due to the use of super harsh chemical fertilizers and pesticides) the farmers entered what is called a ‘Death Spiral’ – a few years of which lead the farmer to commit suicide. Today the so-called ‘Cotton Belt’ of India has become a ‘Suicide belt’. In 2012 alone 13,754 farmers committed suicides in India. Suicide is only the tip of the problem iceberg.

8. vidharbha farmer suicide

As of 2014, Bt Cotton has taken over more than 93% of the seed distribution and original seeds are very hard to find, making it immensely difficult for farmers to go back to original seeds even if they want to.

If you think, ‘Well, the Government needs to take care of the farmers as I am paying my taxes and how does organic cotton have anything to do with me?’. Well, lets now dive right in. The customized harsh synthetic pesticide and fertilizer concoctions that were developed to go hand in hand with the genetically modified crops do not vanish after the cotton is harvested. They are left behind in the soil, are carried through water and dispersed through air – pretty much as expected. It is the magnitude of this toxicity that is worrisome. The land is so toxic that it requires three years of pesticide-free cultivation just to detox the land. Give this a thought – if it takes three years with three seasons a year to get rid of those harsh chemicals, do you think that a few washes during manufacturing would have gotten rid of all of those harsh chemicals on the cotton fabric? Laboratory tests reveal that they don’t. Have we stopped to ask why do we see more incidences of skin disorders in children today – irritations and issues that we as children did not face?

7 of the top 15 pesticides used on cotton contain “likely” or “known” human carcinogens (cancer causing). Almost half of the pesticides sprayed on cotton is classified as ‘hazardous’ by the WHO even today. Aldicarb is a toxic nerve agent developed in WWII and termed as ‘extremely hazardous’ by WHO. US$112 million worth of this chemical is applied on cotton crops alone. Endosulfan was used in huge amounts in India until banned recently. The damage that it has done to a generation of farmers in India is beyond anything we could agree as humane. Even in the United States DDT and Toxaphene were banned recently, but continues to be used in India, China and other countries. Insecticides like Parathion is 60 times more toxic that DDT! . Carbofuran, one insecticide kills one-two million birds annually and whole colonies of honeybees have been wiped out. We, the human race, continue to grow cotton at all costs – environment, animals and ourselves. I suppose you remember that your favorite crispies may have been fried in derivatives of cottonseed oil – the same, which comes from these pesticide sprayed farms and may not even know about it.

The GM cottonseed manufacturers argue that they have a seed formulation for fewer pesticides. What they conveniently do not tell you is that the pests grow pesticide-resistant with every passing year and they have to make harsher and harsher pesticides every single year. It is like drug abuse. It only gets worse. Ironically, for all the effort that these GM companies invested in it is estimated that less than 10% of the chemicals applied to cotton accomplish their task, the rest are absorbed into the plant, air, soil, water and eventually, our bodies. While these companies started with a good intention of creating a win-win situation for themselves and the farmer, their product has gone horribly wrong. It is as if they opened the Pandora’s Box. To continue on the same path is being both ignorant and stupid.

What we should really ask ourselves about the Bt Cotton seeds is that – can we have dinner made from the veggies grown on the same field that Bt Cotton is being grown with the toxic pesticides? Before toxic pesticides and before Bt Cotton the answer would have been an undoubted ‘yes’. That is how our grandfathers cultivated their land – which we now call ‘Organic farming’. While Organic cotton might seem like a respite there is more than that which completes the picture today – lets hold on to that thought a bit longer and see what else is in store on the journey of cotton once it has left the pesticide ridden field today.

I died dyeing

Once the cotton is harvested, it is washed and spun into yarn and then made into fabric. To keep the costs low, conventional methods use harsh bleach chemicals. While that does not sound good, they are not the monsters yet. The big bad ugly monster is the chemical used in dyeing. Dyeing is the act of adding color to fabric. As simple as it sounds, it harbors another dirty little secret of this industry.

2.noyyal runs black

Tirupur in Tamil Nadu, which is dubbed as the t-shirt hub of the world, houses a very large amount of dyeing units all of whom got there because of easy access to the Noyyal River. The dyeing chemicals are harsh and again fall in the ‘carcinogenic’ category. Noyyal River, downstream from Tiruppur, found blackish water in their tender coconuts, as hard it is to believe. They fought a case against the dyeing units in Tirupur, which was finally presented at the Supreme Court of India. Dyeing units are now required to filter their waste. During inspection the effluents were found to be so toxic that 20,000 acres of land downstream had to be declared unfit for cultivation. The locals are still working with the government to enforce laws to ensure filtration of water before it is let into the river. The effort is still in progress.

 Organic Cotton clothes: A good way forward

 World over farmers and consumers have woken up to realize that the current way of cultivating cotton with pesticides or GM seeds has been a recipe for disaster as tricking nature is not so easy. What can the solutions be? What started as a small experiment about going back to basics with natural farming methods and scientific ways of bio pest management is going very well today. It is called Organic Cotton. The farmers are happy, the environment is not compromised and the customers are happy. Today, 30% of the babywear in the European market is made of organic cotton. India produces 70% of the world’s organic cotton today. But organic cotton is still merely 0.7% of the entire world’s cotton production and but is a growing phenomenon. We have a long way to go, but meanwhile people are striving to do the right thing and learn from the mistakes.

 Why is organic cotton better?

When you buy organic cotton clothing today – it is more than just non-GM seeds or using fertilizers available in nature or using biological methods of pest control.

Organic cotton clothing is about  ‘Sustainability’ – creating clothing with a 360-degree approach to ensure that all involved parties including the environment, the consumer and future generations are kept in mind. It’s a philosophy of ‘Sarve sukhino bhavantu’ (May everyone live happily).

An organic cotton garment means that

1 – The farmer is looking beyond immediate yield and is willing to detoxify his land of harsh chemicals and fertilizers by making it a pesticide-free zone for three years at a minimum

2 – Various third party certifying agencies such as SA Certification (Soil Association) help test and evaluate the authenticity of the land during these three years. Some of these certification agencies are NGOs themselves that initially started working in this field to prevent farmer suicides and have now progressed to do more. Various NGOs also help the farmer with tools and training during this period.

3- Seeds used are heirloom/natural seeds, which help preserve the diversity of cotton. This stops seed or company monopoly as well

4 – Various bio PMTs (Pest Management Techniques) that are scientifically proven are used to maintain yield

5 – Better irrigation techniques are practiced for better yield among other seasonal techniques to ensure better yield

6 – Dyes are either natural dyes (which are yet to be widely available and gain popularity) or certified eco-friendly dyes, which upon using a purifier will not release any chemicals harmful to the flora and fauna of a water ecosystem

7 – Every little detail like – the threads used during the stitching of the garment, the water used during ironing just before packing, etc – are all checked for eco-friendly measures

8 – Some of the standards even include additional check points – if the garment factory workers were paid fairly, if they have adequate sanitation, if their children are attending school, so on and so forth. Pretty cool, isn’t it?

9 – Last, but not the least, surprise checks are made at any point in the lifecycle by picking a random shirt of the rack at any step to check for prohibited chemicals.

Buying organic cotton clothing

Organic cotton is new to a lot of people and just catching up. As a shopper try and look for an established organic cotton certification. Since this is still a developing category, all organic cotton may not be certified as yet.  So we encourage you, as a shopper, to always ask your shop for the source of organic cotton if the certification label is not available. Companies like Disney who support organic cotton on some of their collection even let you track the farm where the cotton was organically grown.

Little Green Kid

At Little Green Kid, we thought that it would be a shame to leave behind a polluted earth for our children. We started this company in 2013 because of our interest in creating ecofriendly products that will help people make better choices. We believe in a better tomorrow!

2. safe organic clothing

Little Green Kid offers cute organic cotton clothes for children of ages 0 to 5. Our mission is to give parents a choice of great looking clothes that were made without harming any one or any thing.

We are on this journey and we are more than happy to share our knowledge or vice versa. Please write in to us. Our favorite question in the world is ‘What is organic cotton?’ . That lights up our faces. We hope that answering this question is a short lived excitement as we look forward to the day, sooner than later, when all cotton is organic cotton – cotton that is grown responsibly without resulting in any harmful side effects to people or the environment.

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End Notes:

Thank you Rashmi for that educative and inspirational piece on organic cotton. You can find out more about Little Green Kid either by looking up their facebook page or writing to them at thelittlegreenkid@gmail.com. Do consider supporting their work by buying their well designed, and comfortable clothing for children.

Our organic cotton and Khadi trail series continues tomorrow from the field.

This post is a part of our continuing series on Sustainable fabric and India’s textile traditions. The rest of our series can be read here: 

  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.
  11. Our post on the Sustainable Fabric Workshop conducted at the Green Bazaar exploring natural dyes is here.
  12. Our post with notes on Kalakshetra’s Natural dyeing workshop and a guest post by Kavita Rayirath of Indian by design on inspiring Handloom appreciation is here.

 

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Green Bazaar update and conversations on sustainable fabric & menstruation

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

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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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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The One Person Satyagraha

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

2001

In 2001, in the first month of my first job, after wading through knee-deep rain water and slush, I boarded a rather random, crowded bus to Motihari, in the Champaran district of Bihar and famously, the birthplace of George Orwell. As weird as that was, I found it even more surreal that the purpose of this trip was to learn the art of selling a wide variety of consumer goods for an American company. It was not that I found my situation particularly repellant or devoid of glamour compared to say my friends working in a bank in Wall Street. What bothered me was the fact that in a million years I could not have imagined myself doing this at the culmination of 21 years of formal education.

Motihari is a very small town and in my very first visit I learnt that George Orwell was born here in 1903 , courtesy of a bust and plaque in a prominent part of the local geography.

George_Orwell_press_photo

 

 

George Orwell’s Press photo above

In fact there is rather proprietary air in which the local people refer to Orwell & you could be forgiven for thinking that he wrote 1984 sitting in a tea shop in Meena Bazaar. In actual fact Orwell left Motihari as a one year old baby in 1904 and that was about it.

 

It was only in my third or fourth visit to Motihari that the very real and very important connection to Mahatma Gandhi dawned on me. While I could vaguely sense the spirit of Gandhi in street names and the memorial pillar in the town center, it was only when a distributor reminded me of the Indigo movement that I realized that this was the the Karmabhoomi of Gandhiji. In a sense after South Africa, the indigo movement and the related Satyagraha was a seminal event in Gandhi’s life helping him on the way to becoming the Mahatma. I was happy to be making monthly trips to that sacred land.

 

The First Indian Satyagraha

In 1916, Gandhi inspired the very first Indian Satyagraha, in Champaran. The local farmers were forced to grow the Indigo plant, a natural blue dye, for the British textile industry instead of food crops of their choice.

The development of a cheaper chemical substitute, lead to a crash in the prices of the natural Indigo dye. The production of natural Indigo worldwide fell from 19,000 tons in 1897 to 1,000 tons by 1914. The British planters started paying ridiculously low prices for the Indigo leading to a very desperate situation for the farmers. They also tried to recoup their losses in many ways through farmers who had leased their land from them. They increased the lease rents, seized their cattle, looted their homes and imposed several new illegal “taxes” on various aspects of life. The planters beat the peasants and put those who resisted in prison.

One of the Indigo cultivators called Rajkumar Shukla, persuaded Gandhi to travel to Motihari, to study the situation first hand and to provide a solution. On his arrival at Motihari, the local district magistrate ordered Gandhi to leave immediately. Gandhi politely refused this order and proceeded to make Champaran his home for the Satyagraha. Since the farmers had no legal recourse, Gandhi assembled a team of lawyers including Jawaharlal Nehru & Rajendra Prasad, who worked with him to build the case.

3. Champaran satyagraha

The team under Gandhi surveyed 2841 villages and recorded the statements of 8000 indigo farmers to understand the problem in depth. They also realized that apart from the economic struggles due to forced indigo cultivation, there was a deeper problem of education and health. They helped set up Schools and improved local sanitation. Gandhi and team published a detailed report to government which favored the farmers unanimously. The government was forced to accept this report and lead to the formation of the Champaran Agrarian Bill which provided the relief to the Indigo farmers.

The Champaran Satyagraha was the very first of its kind and was the first major milestone in what eventually became the grand Indian Independence movement.

Remains of the day

Natural indigo cultivation is on the decline today and is replaced in large part by synthetic Indigo. It is continues to be used in small amounts in natural textile and tie and dye art like Shibori. However , the largest use of Indigo dye is now synthetic Indigo dye, as is used in your favorite pair of mass market jeans.

5. indigo dyed shibori

Perhaps there is not much Indigo cultivation happening in Champaran despite the major historic associations. However to me what remains from that period , the philosophy of Satyagraha, is of vital importance.

Gandhi coined this term from Satya (Truth ) & Agraha ( holding firmly to) and over his life perfected the philosophy of Satyagraha as a powerful , non-violent opposition by the oppressed in any situation.

I believe that anyone finding themselves in an uncomfortable life situation can start a Satyagraha. Even if it is a one person Satyagraha.

 

So, If you are bored by globalization of fashion and find yourself and every third person wearing cookie –cutter clothes , find yourself a local handloom to suit your needs.

India is one of the largest producers of cotton worldwide. The rampant spread of genetically (GM) modified cotton, which now accounts for 93% of cotton in India, is a cause for concern. The correlation between the growth of GM cotton and farmer suicides is a debate which cannot be ignored any longer. We will write in depth about this later this month. However you can start your one person satyagraha today by choosing organic cotton.

If you are constantly bothered by reports of the Ganga turning black due to the effluents from chemical dyes meant for textile mills polluting it, you can look for textile which is naturally dyed like Malkha , or Tula or other designers like Bindu of Chakra Design.

2. effluent discharge

If you are hot and sweaty in a size 40, blue colour ,button down office shirt, go a to nearby Khadi Bhavan outlet and experience the joys of breathable fabric , that keeps cool even in an Indian summer.

Looking back at my monthly trips to Motihari in 2001, I wish I had taken the train instead of the Bus. The railway station is appropriately named “Bapudham Motihari” and rightly reminds all visitors about the man and his very important Satyagraha. George Orwell does merit a footnote in the history of the town but should not be the first thing that hits you.

So if you find yourself worrying about a 1984 like situation, don’t wait, Start your One person Satyagraha today.

 

 

 

 

 

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From Arikamedu to Abercrombie – the sustainable fabric series

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’m not sure if my fascination with fabric is more or less than my fascination for washing fabric. But I have always loved Indian fabric and traditional textile crafts.

In school, I learned about the spice trade of India and how it helped many regions within India grow rich as they traded flavourful and hard to find nutmeg, pepper and cardamom which then found their way to kitchens across the world. Romila Thapar’s book on Early India, details this fascinating trade. Muziri located near Kodanganallur Village near Kochi was linked to the pepper, spices and beryl trade. A second century Ad Greek papyrus documents a contract between an Alexandrian merchant importer and a cargo financier of pepper and spices from Muziri, giving us an idea of the large volume of this trade.

6. Arikamedu

Excavations at Arikamedu tell us about a large settlement that used to be in trade contact with ships and merchants from the eastern Mediterranean. Apart from shipping locally available goods, Arikamedu has also been a place where certain kinds of textiles were manufactured locally to roman specifications and then shipped there.

5. Shakuntala

The Roman historian Pliny complained that trade with the East caused a serious drain on Roman income of which atleast 110 million sesterces went to India’s luxury goods. Roman records indicate that the Roman Senate actually banned the import of Indian Muslin for some time to stop the roman gold drain.

Apart from Rome, Indian textiles found their way to Egypt – scraps of Indigo dyed cotton Ikat textiles were found in a Pharaoh’s tomb. Excavations at Mohenjo-Daro unearthed scraps of Rose madder cloth along with spindles.Herodotus, the ancient greek historian, described India’s cotton as “a wool exceeding in beauty and goodness that of sheep”

Nothing symbolises the freedom and Swadeshi movement as much as the charkha does, and as does Khadi, the quintessentially Indian fabric.Khadi is not just a piece of fabric – it represents an ideology and the beginning of a movement that was founded on self reliance. This said that India could spin her own fabric and clothe herself, thus helping her own economy grow forward.

2. Gandhi spinning the Charkha

Khadi was promoted by Mahatma Gandhi as a fabric that would help promote rural self employment and self reliance, and made it an integral part of the freedom movement. But the Swadeshi movement then did not come cheap. Khadi was much more expensive compared to British made fabric. So when people started to complain to Gandhi about the cost of Khadi, he stopped wearing an upper garment and started wearing only a Khadi dhoti as a subtle, or perhaps not so subtle message: that it was better to wear as much or as little Khadi as possible instead of clothing yourself with something that was not made in India by an Indian.

 

Our choices today are multifold. We are a much more global economy, and we have free movement of products, and fabrics from different parts of the world into our country. Globalisation comes with its own unique sets of opportunities. And perhaps we have come back full circle to our days of yore, when enterprising merchants and financiers helped ensure the spread of Indian textiles.

 

With one key difference. The merchants of Arikamedu in ancient times, continued to grow, spin and wear their own cloth, and continued to hold onto their cultural and craft traditions. In fact they grew better and better at it until they had so much to offer, that they could not just make products for themselves but for everyone else as well. The textile crafts and traditions of India are fast disappearing today. They have morphed fast, have taken on several unwholesome aspects and are no longer bountiful or available in plenty.

3.sambalpuri ikat weaving loom
There are many reasons for this. And many hidden reasons when you start examining this. There are also several unhealthy consequences to this.

 

In this month when we celebrate the 67th year of our Independence, won by an extremely unique civil disobedience and non violent movement, we will focus on the equally unique Fabrics of India. This month, on the Krya blog, We will examine in great depth the history of Indian textiles while focussing on certain textile crafts. We will examine their environmental sustainability, explore how well they work for us in our tropical weather & speak to practitioners of the craft and designers who work with traditional fabrics.

1. Girl in pochampally

We will also explore Khadi in depth and study in detail the current issues we grapple with in textiles namely the spread of Bt cotton, the cotton farmer suicides, the environmental issues presented by the textile dyeing industry and the nascent but growing organic cotton industry. All along we will interview and present to you the works of young entrepreneurs and designers who have firmly waded into the fabric tradition of India and are working hard to provide us access again to our famed textile past rooted in the principle of being indigenous, local and environmentally sustainable.

 

Our previous series on reusable menstrual products was an eye opener to us and provided us with a lot of perspective and inspiration. We have no doubt this series on the fabrics of India will be even better. We look forward to bringing you lots of depth, fresh perspective and inspiring reasons to choose a more sustainable and earth friendly wardrobe. Keep reading this blog.

 

 

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And one wash to care for them all – a guide to maintaining your cloth napkins

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

And we come to the end of our series on sustainable menstruation. And as promised, we end this series with a helpful eBook on how to wash and care for your cloth napkins.

Eco femme’s beautifully designed cloth napkins come with a 75 wash guarantee, so their pads will last you atleast 6 years or more. Kathy Walking tells me that she still has cloth napkins which are about 10 years old in her stash, which are soldiering on. So the bottomline, as we promised was that cloth napkins will last you for a long time. Which means that your EQ (environmental quotient) is large and strong everytime you choose a sustainable menstrual product.
Which brings me to the part that we get the most queries about. The washing. And the underlying fear of handling a lot of blood.

Menstrual blood as our high school biology texts taught us are the blood and endometrial lining of an unfertilised egg. So the menstrual blood you handle was created to sustain and nourish another living being. It is not waste. And it is not gross. And is a deep part of our sacred feminine. Many of the users who we spoke to for our switch pieces, echo this as they tell us that using a reusable product helps them connect back to their body and really see their menstrual flow.

But you might still feel suspicious about the work involved around caring for your napkins. As someone who has made the switch successfully and has used only cloth napkins for more than 2 years, I can testify that the hardest part about caring for your napkins is the mindset that it is unpleasant and difficult.

 

I estimate I spend anywhere between 5 – 10 minutes extra everyday I have my period to manage my napkins. But this extra time seems like a very small investment towards keeping tree gobbling and gas guzzling disposables out of our landfills, away from innocent animals and away from ragpickers who are otherwise forced to sort through it. Click here for a neat infographic explaining this.

And this extra 10 minutes means that I get to wear soft, fragrance free napkins that work just as well as my disposables, feel much more comfortable and are healthier for me.

In my book ,this makes these 10 minutes completely worth it.

Click here to download our guide to caring for your cloth napkins with the Krya detergent. And click here to buy the aforementioned Krya detergent.

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.

 

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.
  11. Here is Sruti Hari of Goli Soda chronicling her switch to reusable cloth pads and sharing why she decided to start selling reusable menstrual products at her store, Goli Soda.
  12. Here is an interview of Tracy Puhl, the young, inspiring business owner behind GladRags reusable cloth pads.

 

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It doesn’t go away – conversations with Swach Co-op

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

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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Red is the warmest colour

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

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

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

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

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

The future was here: or so I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy thursday to you!

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Mosquito Monogatari.

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

I live in mosquito land.

Every monsoon evening, clouds of DDT swirl around the air sprayed diligently by the corporation workers to stem the mosquito population. Every store I go to has a new product being launched that guarantees a reduction in mosquitoes. Electric bats are used by the security folks in every apartment complex, to nuke the mosquitoes which bite them in their lonely sojourn at night.

It does not surprise me that one of the most popular queries received at Krya is a fervent demand for a natural mosquito repellent product. I get this from both consumers and retailers who are alarmed and appalled by the toxic load around their homes, especially of an insecticide nature.

And alarmed we should be.

DDT and DEET are the 2 primary chemical weapons of choice in our war against mosquitoes. DDT is used by city corporations in India, especially in Chennai as a mass fumigant to spray over large dense urban settlements and on stagnant urban water bodies with a hope to kill mosquitoes. It is not used inside homes or applied on the skin.

DEET is used inside homes in synthetic mosquito repellent products like coils and mats.

1.      DDT ( Dangerous, Don’t Touch)

DDT is an insecticide, first synthesized in 1874 was used to control malaria and typhus during the Second World War, after its insecticidal properties were discovered by Pauly Mueller, the Swiss chemist who received a Nobel Prize for this work.

After the world war ended companies that manufactured DDT were forced to find a use for it in peacetime. DDT was re-purposed as an broad spectrum insecticide with two main applications

1) Agriculture and

2) Mosquito control.

DDT usage skyrocketed. Shortly however, scientists in the U.S started expressing concerns about the possible problems associated with the use of DDT.

In 1962, Rachael Carson’s seminal environmental book, “the Silent Spring”, which documented evidence against the indiscriminate use of pesticides, especially DDT, sounded the death knell for DDT

The overwhelming public reaction to the “Silent spring”, led to the beginning of the environmental movement and a widespread outcry which finally led to the U.S government banning the use of DDT in 1972. However, by this time the U.S had already used close to 1.3 million pounds of DDT.

Why are we talking about DDT today, if it was banned in the U.S in 1972?

Continue reading “Mosquito Monogatari.”

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