Mindful manufacturing & maximum nutrition

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Reading Time: 11 minutes

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

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

4. einkorn wheat at the fertile cresecent

 

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

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

2, syrian quern stone3. egyptian grain grinding

 

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

 

1. barbegal mill

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

How fast does it spin? 

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

8. RPM - how fast does it spin

 

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

 

High speed milling machines: devolution?

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. all powders are not the same

Turmeric grinding:

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

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

Ayurvedic medicine processing:

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

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

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

Active ingredients and how to release them:

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

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

6. saponin extraction at krya

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. krya bodywash for kids with lemongrass

 

The Just right level:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Information:

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

About the Series:

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

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

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

 

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Try this instead – the new series on toxic free living

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

One of my most memorable trips was a visit to Officina Profumo Farmaceutica of the  Santa Maria Novella Church in Florence. Listed as one of the world’s oldest pharmacies, this apothecary & pharmacy was founded in 1221 A.D. by the Dominican Friars who started making herbal remedies and potions for use in the monastery. With a growing reputation that crossed borders, the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy finally opened its doors to the general public in 1612, sponsored by the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

When I visited the Pharmacy in 2009, I was in awe of the nearly 400 year old heritage of creating creams, lotions, soaps and scents. This acute sense of history was heightened as we had just visited the church next door where we took in works by Botticelli, Vasari & Brunelleschi among others. The products continued to be plant based, many of their best sellers were recipes crafted hundreds of years ago by the Dominican Friars, and they continued to be made in small batches, by hand using locally available plant based ingredients.

4. SMN apothecary jars

In the medieval time Western homes, beauty and household care products were the realm of the Women of the home. A “still room” was an essential part of a home’s building plans, and it would be carefully constructed in a cold, dry part of the home, often in the basement, to store the medicines, potions, remedies and special food that were concocted in the home.

The cleaning products for the home like the concoction used to clean the silver, the special shaving soap used by the gentlemen of the home, the healing tisanes and teas, and the many many remedies for taking care of both large and small aches, pains and diseases were created in the “Still Room”. The recipes were carefully handed down the generations and were often a closely guarded, secret.

2. Still room at Harewood House

The Indian tradition was somewhat different from the western tradition especially in the plains. Because of the large bounty of plants across seasons with specific properties tailored for the seasons, our basket of remedies was very wide and varied. Given the hot and humid climate in our plains, our method of preparing our remedies and mixtures was also different from the western herbalism – we preferred tinctures or decoctions to tisanes. Apart from standardised products and medicines for hair and skin care and to cure ailments that were used from the Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani texts, we also had an Indian system of herbalism that was used for treating small ailments and personal care routines. This system of herbalism differed by geography and depended upon the local flora peculiar to the region.

So someone living in the South of India may have made hibiscus flower hair oil to prevent hair fall and other problems. Whereas, someone living in Chattisgarh, might have used the locally available dried Safflower in coconut oil to prevent hair fall and related problems.

As I continue to research India’s intricate connection with plants and nature and how we depended on the banquet offered by nature to clean, care for and maintain our homes and ourselves, I also realise that this connection is now becoming very tenuous.

Surveys done among several tribal groups across India reveal that the younger generation prefer to buy OTC or prescription capsules or pills to treat their ailments. And far from taking the trouble to pick a safflower and boil it in oil, they prefer to resort to an advertised cure for hair fall or a hair treatment product.

The columns in popular magazines and newspapers on beauty reveal our fascination with natural remedies – despite the onslaught of advertising and claims of superiority, we continue to faintly remember our tradition of the power of plants to take care of our hair, skin and bodies. But when it comes to taking care of our homes or treating our ailments, we have nearly forgotten the wealth of plants that we have around us.

As we like to say at Krya, Man (and Woman) has thrived for thousands of years before the arrival synthetic, industrially manufactured products. The chemical consumer product industry is about 150 years old and really started coming into its own during the First World War with shortages in basic commodities forcing inventions.

The first archaeological proof of the existence of soap in the Western world was in ancient Babylon, 4800 years ago. A ancient soap vat was found with inscriptions detailing how animal fat was to be boiled with ash to produce soap. The Ebers Medical Papyrus dated from 1500 BCE in ancient Egypt describes creating soap like material by mixing animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts like, Natron, a naturally occurring mixture of different sodium salts.

Natron was a panacea in Ancient Egypt. It was harvested from dried lake beds, typically in Wadi El Natrun, a valley in the Beheira govern ate in Egypt, and was used for thousands of years in ancient Egypt to clean both the home and the body. Blended with oil, it formed an early form of soap which softens water and helps remove oil and grease. Undiluted it helped clean teeth and was made into a simple mouthwash. It was used variously in the home from an antiseptic for minor cuts and wounds, to helping preserve and dry fish and meat. Natron was also used in Egyptian mummification procedures to absorb water and ensure dry conditions.

5. Natural natron

Since India was blessed with an abundance of plant life, different parts of India developed combinations of plants, with some minerals and ashes as cosmetic aids and to maintain clean homes.

The Soapberry tree has long been revered in Indian tradition and in Ayurveda as being an excellent cleanser for skin and hair. Sapindus trifoliatus, the south Indian soapberry, which we use extensively in our formulations at Krya, has been noted as a healing cleansing ingredient and has been recommended in Ayurveda to cure specific skin conditions like psoriasis.

Different species of Acacia form the soap pod or the Shikakai bush. It continues to be grown as a hedge plant in remote villages where its extensive set of thorns protects homes from the entry of wild animals like wild pigs. The soap pod is again extensively documented in both Ayurveda and Siddha. With its mild cleansing action and a varied set of saponins, Shikakai is used in hair and skin cleaning formulations, as a wound healer and bactericidal agent in infusions for oral care.

3. Acacia concinna flowers

Our research at Krya aims to create new and interesting formulations to help you care safely and sustainably, have thrown up many more natural soap substitutes. These include different kinds of wild tubers, other fruits, and sometimes even ashes of particular plants that have long been used inventively by the communities that have access to them. And all of these plant soaps are used to variously wash woollens, as a safe shampoo, to clean dishes, and to bathe the delicate skin of babies.

We are facing a crisis of great proportion today. And this crisis has to do with the choices we have made collectively as a race. By voting to put our faith and money behind products that have been manufactured inside a chemical facility without a long-term understanding of their safety, we have given away control of our life, our health and our planet. This lack of control has led to several alarming consequences for us and the planet.

Researchers from the U.S studied a small sample of 6 cleaning products used in a typical home and found that this group emitted 133 Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Each of the 6 cleaning products tested emitted between 1 to 8 chemicals that are classified as toxic or hazardous under US Federal Laws.

Ammonia

Ammonia is a common substance found in homes, emitted from synthetics like toilet cleaners, drain cleaners, window cleaners and specialised oven & stainless steel cleaners. These vapours may irritate the skin, throat, eyes, and lungs and can irritate people with asthma.

Coal tar dyes, are commonly found in almost all cleaning products giving them the bright, shiny, metallic colours that we seem to like. Your bright green dishwash or shampoo derives its colour from petrochemicals which can be contaminated with traces of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and cadmium. There is a concern that these synthetic dyes may be carcinogenic and the heavy metal contamination in them can harm the nervous system. These dyes can be absorbed through your skin or even worse, ingested as residue when your dishes or plates are not rinsed thoroughly. Worse still, from the point of view of the effectiveness, these dyes are completely unnecessary and have no relevance to how well a product cleans.

1. allura red in cosmetics

2-Butoxyethanol (or 2-BE, also known as Butyl Cellosolve)

This is a skin and eye irritant that is associated with blood disorders and has caused reproductive problems in lab animal experiments. This chemical is listed as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection act as it is harmful to human health. The main way it enters our system is by inhaling the air inside our homes (which are contaminated by the use of the products that contain this chemical) and by direct skin contact with the leaning products we use. In Canada, 2-BE concentration is limited to 6%, but certain products like laundry stain digesters and stain removers can carry this chemical upto 22%.

Consumer product industry in India – still poorly regulated

The consumer product Industry in India continues to be under regulated. While the manufacturing of certain household products like detergents are classified by the ministry of Environments and Forests as a polluting industry with the symbol “Red” (highly polluting), there is still a lot of work to be done before we can reach the safety and human health standards set by countries like Canada.

Cleaning and consumer products do not require any ingredient listing. Safety standards have not taken into account the continuing research and environmental implications of using the multitude of chemicals that go into the products we use today. Companies are penalised only when they fail to follow basic hygiene standards, such as a bacterial count that exceeds permissible limits or the presence of a foreign object inside the product to be used.

Environmental activists continue to wage a war to get companies to follow decent standards of formulation that are followed as a matter of course all over the world. For example, phosphates which have been banned in many developed countries as their excessive use in cleaning products leads to water pollution and eutrophication are used in excess in India. Regulations in U.S and Canada limit the use of phosphates in foaming cleaning products like detergents and dishwash products to fewer than 2.5%. In India the phosphate levels in these products routinely exceeds 40% – Phosphate is used as a cheap builder and water softener to productive large amounts of lather in a cleaning product. Of course, as with the example of coal tar dyes, this lather is unnecessary and does not signify better cleaning.

The Krya “Try this instead” series has 3 aims: Information, Hope & Inspiration

1. To inform you about the dicey and nasty chemicals used many of the products that enter our homes today. We believe that this information will empower you to make better choices. So we aim to arm you with information, facts and research to help you navigate your way through the Chemical wasteland of products when you next navigate your supermarket.

2. To give hope (and safe alternatives) – Sometimes when confronted with information like the above, we tend to fall into an abyss of despair. Are we to no more have fun and use shiny fragrant products we ask ourselves? Will I never have a sweet, gel-based toothpaste again? How are we supposed to now clean ourselves and our homes?  This series hopes to give you good workable alternatives: in the form of ingredients, hacks or products that you can use in multiple ways across your home. For example, we use the Krya detergent like a swiss army knife in various combinations to clean our clothes, dishes, floor, bathrooms, hair and teeth by adding simple herbs for each of these functions. We will be writing about simple ideas and recipes such as the above.

3. Most importantly, to inspire you. The true Wealth of India, its plants, herbs and trees, have been variously catalogued by the British in their time and several ethno botanists and anthropologists today as its rich biodiversity of plants and the rich native knowledge of how these herbs can be used to lead a healthy, happy and clean life. In our quest to create Krya and lead a more natural and clean life, we have been amazed and inspired by this true Wealth of India – we celebrate this wealth every day, and hope to inspire you with this series to do the same.

We hope you will enjoy and appreciate this new series as you have with our past writings. Please do write to us and let us know if there are any particular areas you would like us to cover within the scope of the subject and we will be happy to do so. A happy, organic, natural, safe and clean day to you too.

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Khadi Chronicles – at Krac-a-dawna farm

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

We work only with organic plant based materials to create our formulations at Krya. So we take the process of sourcing and building relationships with our farms very seriously. Every single raw material we source is traceable. And we have a name and a face to match this source.

Traceability is important for many reasons. For one, natural materials have glorious variations depending upon the rain, soil conditions etc. Traceability helps us understand how the final Krya formulation performs.

A direct relationship with the farmers helps us practise fair trade, as we bypass middlemen and traders, and pay the farmer directly.

Because of the perishable nature of the materials we use, a direct relationship with the farm enables us to process them in a precise and timely manner to ensure optimal performance. For example, Fruit peels, especially those sourced from organic farms are extremely rich in aromatic essential oils. But if they are not shade dried carefully under low temperatures, these essential oils can evaporate removing all the aroma. And if they are not dried carefully, the peels can catch mildew and fungus before they reach our factory in Chennai.

Of course, an important, unstated reason for our farm trips is the inspiration it gives us. The beautiful environs of an organic farm or a plantation inspires us and reminds us of the reason why we do our work at Krya. To help keep these beautiful patches of land clean, and green, and perhaps lead a similar change in our crowded, not so green urban spaces.

The icing on the cake is the wonderful, like minded people we get to meet. The organic farmers we meet are committed to their vision, and have stuck to poison free farming through the lows and highs of the agricultural cycle. None of the challenges they continue to face, dampen their spirit and they continue to inspire us with their enthusiasm, positivity and reverence for the land.

Our farm and plantation trail had us exploring sources of organic cotton fabric and medicinal herbs. And took us to Krac-a-dawna farm, started by its custodians, Juli and Vivek Cariappa.

Krack-a-dawna Farm

Vivek and Juli met as students at the Delhi University. Juli tells me that she always wanted to be a farmer, and so in 1986 the two of them at ages 20, and 21, decided to live off the land in their own piece of land just off Mysore.

3. juli cariappa krac a dawna

A loan helped them purchase a barren piece of land with four trees, a cow, a dilapidated hut and a stream. Today this humble beginning has grown into a beautiful, verdant, 30 acre farm which produces 30 kinds of crops including organic cotton and the farm produce includes value added products like organic cotton garments which have been designed by the family, and dyed in house using natural plant based dyes, organic food products like jams jellies, butters, marmalades and pickles and personal care products like soap and bathing aids.

1. dyeing shed at krac a dawna

Vivek is a Krishi Pandit awardee, and Juli has played a central role in the initial years in drafting the Organic standards document to help certify farms for the OFAI.

Sathya Khadi

Krac-a-dawna’s organic cotton is especially relevant to our continuing series on sustainable fabric. Juli and Vivek grow their own cotton which is a hybrid of Indian and Caribbean cotton which is grown because it is long stapled, soft cotton.

2. Non Gmo Organic cotton at Krac a dawna

The feel of this fabric is outstanding, and Juli and Vivek get this cotton woven into many finishes including honeycomb waffle for towels and airy, light voile that gets made into flowing skirts.

 

The mechanised handloom & the master weaver

A conversation with Vivek and Juli leaves us feeling edgy and unsettled when we discuss the state of textiles and organic food produce in India. Krac-a-dawna’s organic cotton is sent to weavers to be woven in a powered handloom, which is a modified, “slightly mechanised” version of a handloom. This is easier on the weaver compared to a pure handloom, and allows each weaver to run 2 – 3 looms at a time, improving their wage earning capacity and productivity. Most importantly for the Cariappas, this frees the weaver from the master weaver, who is the first middleman we encounter in the textile world. Typically, a master weaver controls the output of several weaver families and often pays them a fixed wage and controls their output.

In many villages, master weavers are moneylenders, into whose debt weavers are trapped in exchange for funds to procure raw material or improve their looms. As a result, their output is forever tied to the moneylender who in this case acts as the master weaver, sourcing fabric at low rates from the indebted craftsmen.

We have spoken about the problems around powerloom and availability of hank yarn at length in India. Our conversation with Juli reveals another unknown fact about powerloom weaving.

Beef tallow and yarn sizing

Handloom weavers strengthen the yarn by dipping it into a mixture of starch derived from plant material like arrowroot and tapioca. This process, called sizing, helps give a protective coating to the yarn as it is woven, and helps keep in place during the weaving process.

The speed of powerloom weaving is so high that sizing the fabric is not enough. Instead, mutton fat or beef tallow is used to grease the machine and sizing is done using imported starch, typically from GM corn.

Powerloom sizing of fabric is not an organic process, as it is in handloom weaving. In handloom weaving, sizing is done from left over starch which comes from the rice or tubers that the weavers eat. In contrast, powerloom sizing uses nearly 1.6 Kg of firewood to heat and prepare the starch for every kilo of cotton.

Juli and Vivek call this whole value chain of conventional textile fabric, “violent”. It is harmful to our environment and eco system, and robs us of our seed sovereignty.

5.satyakhadi

Say NO to GMO

The war against GMOs is active and all over Krac-a-dawna. The labels which I help Juli stick onto the jam bottles reminds us to “say no to GMOs”. Vivek and Juli’s bookshelves and work apart from stewarding their farm include monitoring and being a part of several action committees to recommend next steps in suicide belts like Vidharba.

This activism is not restricted to GMOs alone. Juli is a licensed homeopath, and has eschewed vaccinations for her children. The farm animals are treated by Juli and her second son Azad using only gentle homeopathic medicines. Her bookshelves are filled with treatises on nutrition, making bread ,tofu and soaps, and have helped the residents of Krac a dawna stay completely self sufficient.

As we sit down to eat a fresh nutritious lunch made from scratch from the produce grown on the farm, Vivek proudly tells us that everything except the salt in our meal was grown and prepared on their farm.

The quest for self sufficiency

In a strange way, our series on sustainable fabric mirrors our quest for self sufficiency as well. Our nation once clothed the world, and was responsible for providing fabric for the entire world, exquisitely made, tailored and dyed. Our weavers were master craftsmen who occupied an important place in society. The sophistication of our textile produce was vast. The germplasm of our cotton was vast and varied and different parts of India produced different types of cotton. The linkages in our textile world were strong and every part of the textile producing chain was linked to both upstream and downstream. We used every single resource available to us from the dung produced by our cattle to the leaves, fruits and seeds to colour, strengthen and polish our fabric.

2. natural dye colour palette

And yet here we are today. 93% of India’s cotton is now genetically modified BT cotton. Vivek and Juli Cariappa maintain that the cotton germplasm across our country has been contaminated by BT, so much of the balance 7% cotton is also suspect. They tell us that UAS –Dharwad is the only source for uncontaminated cotton germplasm today. The path of Bt Cotton is violent and unsustainable. The cotton belt in India is marked in red by waves of farmer suicides. The handloom industry which would weave this cotton into fine fabric is languishing, underpaid and under supported. The dyeing industry has morphed into a chemically derived industry polluting our water, soil and air.

Krac-a-dawna’s model is a beacon of hope for us as we walk along the cotton trail. It tells us that it is possible to wear sustainable fabric. And that there is passion, joy and science in its production, as much there is in its wearing.

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End notes:

Krac-a-dawna’s sustainable cotton garments & farm produce can be bought from Elements, Cochin and Casablanca, Pondicherry. Vivek and Juli also sell directly to groups of families who can guarantee a bulk order of atleast Rs.10,000 and above – in this case, you could also buy their organic rice, pulses, jaggery and fresh produce. Juli Cariappa also makes a great range of jams, jellies, marmalades, pickles and soaps.

The minimum bulk purchase quoted above depends upon where you stay in relation to their farm. The farm is in a remote location off Mysore, with little connectivity, so sending small parcels is not an option for Krac-a-dawna.

Vivek and Juli Cariappa may be contacted at krac_a_dawna@yahoo.com .

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.
  13. Rashmi Vittal of Little Green Kid’s guest post on why organic cotton is so essential for everyone can be found here.
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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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Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

International tidyman logo
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The “tidy man“ logo can be found somewhere in the nether regions of many consumer product labels, especially food products. It places a responsibility on me to dispose the packaging material in a trash can after using the product inside. This idea and the tidy man logo was created to keep the streets in U.K. litter free by a British charity called “keep Britain tidy” in the ‘70s. It is now commonly used across the world on all types of products.

Now this idea has been around for nearly 40 years and I am not sure if there has been any measurable impact in the way consumers dispose packaging material. Certainly the fact that this logo is now a footnote on most labels gives an indication of its impact.

It is one thing not to litter

It is entirely another thing to recycle

Along came recycling

Around the same time in the ‘70s came the recycling logo. Depending on material type, consumer product manufacturers started using an array of recycling symbols, all based on the classic 3-arrow logo.  (For more on the symbols, refer to our earlier post on this).

recycled logo

Again the responsibility of recycling was handed over by the manufacturer to me when I paid for the product. It is up to me to figure out the meanings of the different symbols and dispose accordingly. This is really is a shot in the dark and the odds of it getting done are desperately low.

This brings us to the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility.

EPR

When does the manufacturer’s responsibility end?

In the dark ages, I paid money and received a product and that was it. The manufacturer’s role ended.

The next stage obviously was the concept of customer care. So the manufacturer had to account for the product’s performance as long as I was consuming it. I had some recourse in case I was not happy with the product’s performance.

In this equation we now have a third variable, the environment.

The struggle (if any) has been to decide who really is responsible for the environment. As a result manufacturers took the trouble of putting the “tidy man” and “recycling” logos on their product. Unlike customer care there is no legal sanction for this and till date there is no clear mandate for manufacturers to account for proper disposal of every part of their products.

Extended Producer Responsibility means that the manufacturer is responsible for the product from design, consumer use to disposal. It covers the entire product life cycle.

This is a whole new idea and a whole new responsibility. It forces designers think about products in an entirely new way.

All over the world, local civic bodies are alarmed at rate at which landfills are getting used up, especially with toxic e-waste. E-waste especially from mobile phones has given cause for this alarm and even the Indian government has a draft proposal for Extended Producer Responsibility for electronics manufacturers.

This has lead to some companies like Nokia putting up a recycling bin at their stores to collect old phones and prevent them from ending up in a landfill.

In the case of consumer product companies, metallised plastic is one material that is extremely difficult to recycle or dispose correctly. It is widely used for convenience foods like chips and biscuits and due to the high volumes, is as much a concern as toxic e-waste. It is a material that sorely needs some EPR.

The EPR concept gives the manufacturer 2 options

  1. Pay for disposal of their product waste in the form of a tax.
  2. Create a reverse logistics chain to collect their product waste.

Obviously the cost of Extended Producer Responsibility depends on the type of waste the product generates.

The bright side of EPR

The key for manufacturers is to look at EPR as a way to innovate. For example, ASUS has created a bamboo laptop. That is just awesome.

Another bright star in the EPR movement is a company that we love called Teracycle. They have created a breakthrough business model where consumers get paid to send product waste to teracycle collection points. They then create cool products from the waste to make the whole chain financially viable.

Terracycle has created a terrific platform for manufacturers to participate in and take extended producer responsibility.

EPR in India

There are several companies in India that have created a business model by collecting e-waste and extracting useful metals from it. What we don’t have is a Terracycle that addresses the waste from consumer products.

I am sure it is just a matter of time.

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The R4 philosophy

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Do I have to work hard to be sustainable? This is the question that people have been asking since the dawn of time or in my case for the last few years.

The short answer: it depends

The long answer: it depends on your frame of mind. With the right frame of mind, clearly fixed on the big picture, sustainability is effortless. The right frame is like the difference between the special theory of relativity and the general theory of relativity.

The 3 Rs of sustainability

When I use the word sustainability, I am trying to compress a massive amount of meaning into one word. One frame to define sustainability is: use resources thoughtfully in the present moment in order to have an endless supply cycle of high quality resources.

The holy grail of sustainability is the 3 R framework, to wit

  1. Reduce
  2. Reuse
  3. Recycle

The order of the 3-Rs are very important, they are in the descending order of preference. The most important goal is to Reduce; think carefully about our consumption of resources and reduce sensibly.

The next R is Reuse, which means once something has been produced, it is a resource when reused, reduces the load on further production.

If all else fails, recycling is also a noble option. When we recycle, for example an old cell phone, we can extract a fraction of the original resource. That is better than just trashing the old cell phone to a landfill.

The 4th R : Replace

This brings me back to my original question: Is sustainability hard work?

Not if one takes care of the basics; which is having fun and enjoying the process. As things stand today, sustainability is vaguely about the environment and about saving the planet in some distant future. There is no accounting for individuals having sustainable fun right here right now.

This is an important reason why it is difficult for most of us to start taking any action on the 3 R framework however well we may understand it in theory.

Which brings me to my 4th R: Replace

Start with replacing things that are important to you on an immediate daily basis with more sustainable choices which surprisingly are also more fun & the other 3-Rs will soon fall into place.

For example I have known for some time now that regular coffee is grown on unsustainable plantations with absurd pesticide levels and often dubious labour practices. I have replaced that with fantastic shade grown, organic, fair trade coffee from a farm close to my city. And it has made all the difference. I have a unique coffee experience everyday & I know that my coffee is great for me, the environment and the coffee growers.

All I did was replace the old product with a sustainable alternative to make an immediate, direct contribution. And I am quite happy to pay about 4x the cost of regular coffee.

This single act of replace is a great starting place to start thinking about the other 3-Rs. Suddenly remembering to carry a bag every time you step out to the store (Reuse) is not so much a bother, nor is it about some vague benefit in the distant future.

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Keeping the fruit that’s a detergent dry

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Our fruit that is a detergent loves water – the geek term for that is that it is hygroscopic.

When it comes in contact with water, it starts to release saponins (the stuff that makes it foam). This is great in the machine or during a wash, because it means that with a little bit of agitation in the water, you get creamy foam that makes your clothes clean.

But it is not great if water enters the pack while transporting it to you. Because water tends to cake the powder.

Over the last year we have done several experiments with our product to keep it safe from water

We realised that we could prevent atmospheric water from entering the powder in 3 ways

By:

  1. Creating a physical barrier through the packaging
  2. Adding a drying material in the powder (called desiccant)
  3. Both of the above

Creating a barrier in the packaging

Aluminium foil is used extensively in food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. It acts as a complete barrier to light and oxygen, bacteria and moisture.

Aluminium was a no-no for us at Krya for many reasons:

  1. It is strip mined from the soil leading to top soil erosion and deforestation
  2. Mining aluminium consumes vast amounts of fossil fuel. The process of extracting aluminium from is estimated to be responsible for 1% of global human induces greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. While it is extremely recyclable, it often ends up in landfills where it can sit around for 400 years.
  4. Aluminium creates occupational health hazards for those who mine it and is a suspected health hazard for those who use it.

This of course left us with plastic as the alternative for creating a moisture barrier layer

We thought long and hard before adding a plastic layer to the fruit’s packaging. We spoke to experts from the R&D department of plastics manufacturers, and NGOs in the business of recycling, and decided to use HDPE as a barrier layer. If you saw our quick guide to recycling you would notice that HDPE is one of the better plastics that can be used today. It recycles very well, and becomes more re-usable the higher the thickness of the material used.

We have used 400 gauge HDPE as the primary package for the fruit that’s a detergent – it keeps moisture away from the fruit, and is very recycle-friendly.

We also have a layer of corrugated paper over the HDPE – it acts as a second barrier, and helps us print necessaries – like how to use the fruit that’s a detergent, and where we work, in case you want to drop in and say hello.

Adding a desiccant to the powder

We added a small amount of Calcium Carbonate (3%) to the fruit that’s a detergent. This absorbs moisture and keeps the fruit that’s a detergent dry. This is helpful because once the fruit that’s a detergent reaches you, the HDPE will be cut open and the detergent transferred to a container. So it is necessary to have the calcium carbonate working hard to absorb moisture.

We are working on alternatives to Calcium Carbonate, because it is also mined. While it is not as resource intensive or harmful to people and the environment as aluminium, we would prefer to tread as lightly on earth as possible.

We are looking for ways to make the fruit that is a detergent even more awesome.

Do you have any other ideas or experiences that could help us reduce / replace our plastic and Calcium carbonate with?

All ideas are welcome – and every one, however kooky, will be explored.

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Trendspotting 2011.

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

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

My top picks from the presentation

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

krya.in QR code

This is the QR code for www.krya.in

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

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

Here is the original presentation from JWT.

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Sustainable by Design – To liquid or not to liquid

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

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

At Krya we think about sustainable design at 6 stages

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

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

Product format: To liquid or not to liquid?

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

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

Here’s why:

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

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

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

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

All it needs is an open mind.

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Sapindus Trifoliatus: or how the fruit became a detergent – Part 2

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Ministry of Environment & Forest classifies industries as Red, Orange and Green, depending on how polluting they can be to the environment. Red industries are defined as heavily polluting industries, whose clearances are renewed every year.

Synthetic detergents and soaps fall into the Red classification.

Detergent manufacturing is usually a resource intensive, potentially heavy polluting activity.

How Krya manufactures the fruit that’s a detergent

We ‘manufacture’ our detergent by getting the friendly neighbourhood village ladies to pluck the ripe Sapindus trifoliatus from the tree at Harvest time.

The magic lies in deciding when a fruit is ripe enough to become a detergent – The experienced eyes of Mr.Anki Reddy, our resident soapnut & all things organic expert, help us decide that.

After removing the seed (the seed is stored carefully for re-planting), our friendly crew take the fruit or the pericarps to a giant stone platform which has been specially built on the farm.

The farm is in a dry, fiercely hot part of Andhra Pradesh, perfect to dry a water loving fruit like the Sapindus trifoliatus. The fruits dry slowly under the sun for 3 days in the sun until they become brittle.

We then collect them from the stone platform, clean them and take them into our ‘factory’ where they are powdered in a large mill (similar to the flour mill that makes the atta ,though much much cleaner).

We put a lot of thought into how fine the fruit gets powdered in a mill.

Powder them too fine, & they absorb too much moisture; Powder them too large, & you would need to use a lot more of them to wash.

We powder them just right – so that they don’t absorb too much moisture, and give you a perfect wash every time.

Once our Sapindus Trifoliatus has been powdered, we mix natural, organic Calcium Carbonate to the powder. Calcium Carbonate, also called Limestone, helps keep our dried fruit powder dry, so that it remains a powder, and easy to use.

And that completes our manufacturing.

We don’t use heavy machines that are energy intensive. The process also does not release harmful vapours.

We don’t use water in our ‘manufacturing, so no river or fishes or tadpoles are harmed during the making of our detergent.

We use just 2 ingredients and 97% of the ingredients are available in the farm right next to the factory. Normal manufacturing would require several ingredients, which would need to transported to the factory using fossil fuels.

It is a fruit, so all those 100+ litres of water that your washing machine used to wash clothes can be sent to your garden. The remaining detergent can be composted in the earth.

Your garden thanks you and so does the municipality whose load you’ve just lightened by reducing the load on the city’s sewage system.

That’s what we call being sustainable – from the farm, to your home, and back to mother earth.

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