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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Green Bazaar update and conversations on sustainable fabric & menstruation

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

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

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

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

6.Krya at the green bazaar

Conversations on Sustainable Menstruation

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

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

5. eco femme

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

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

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

The Sustainable Fabric workshop

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

7. the Krya Chakra workshop on fabric

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

2. natural dye colour palette

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The aftermath of chemical dyeing

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

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

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

2.noyyal runs black

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

8. Bindu and I at the workshop final

Chemical dyeing related illnesses

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

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

Krya Talk

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

9. How does this work final

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

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

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

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

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

3.team sharan

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. lavender at bazaar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

In the meantime, our series on sustainable fabric continues. Our series on sustainable fabric has the following posts: 

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here
  6. The second part of the textile traditions of India that suit Monsoons and Winter is here.
  7. Our post interviewing Lata Ganapathy-Ravikiran on Handloom love and why she chooses to support this industry is here.
  8. Our post on the warped state of Handlooms in India and what ails the sector is here.
  9. Our post on the dangers and all pervasiveness of Bt Cotton is here .
  10. Our post on Onam, the Mundum neriyathum and wearing your culture is here.
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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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A cup of happiness – conversations with Preethi Raghav

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

2, preethi with no harm charm

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

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

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

Here is Preethi sharing the story of her switch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some additional links to get you started:

More green period information:

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

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

 

Krya giveaway:

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

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

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How I switched : Anita B on reusable sanitary napkins

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two facts that affected me most about disposable napkins:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

nidhi_yukti_allsmiles1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is Anita’s story of the Switch.

How I shifted to cloth pads: the beginning:

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

 

I found cloth pads very exciting:

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

 

My experiment began:

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

 

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

 

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

 

Why reusables and handling our waste scares us :

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

 

My transition into reusable pads

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

 

Find your path

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

 

Thank you Anita !

 

Begin your quest here:

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

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

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

 

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On the importance of being hypoallergenic

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

The prefix “hypo” means low, below or less of. So when the prefix hypo is applied to allergens, we get hypoallergenic, a substance that is less allergic than normal. In other words a hypoallergenic substance is supposed to cause lesser allergies. Hypoallergenic is a useful term for anything that comes in contact with the skin, like personal care products or clothes.

The question is: lesser allergies than what?

An industry standard with no definition

Cosmetic companies started the usage of the term “hypoallergenic “in the 1950’s and it is now a commonly used term to describe household products, textiles and apparently pets.

Most commonly used standards in the industry, have systems for validation and certification. (For eg: Organic produce is widely regulated with many certification systems)

But there is no apparent definition or well regulated standard for hypoallergenic. This is all the more surprising since hypoallergenic sounds like a formal medical term (which it isn’t, because the medical fraternity does not recognize it). For example the Harvard medical dictionary chapter on allergies does not define hypoallergenic.

So when a product says it is ‘hypoallergenic’ what does it really mean?

  1. It does not contain allergic additives – A number of chemical additives are well documented as allergens and excluding them is an indication of hypoallergenicity. Examples of allergic additives are fragrances, bleaching agents, colour dyes
  2. It had no allergic reactions when a group of humans / animals tested it – A “patch” test is conducted on volunteers / test animals to check for allergies.  The product is applied on the volunteers’ skin and abnormal reactions like itching, irritation or redness are monitored for 12-24 hours. If no significant numbers of abnormal reactions are reported, then a hypoallergenic claim is made. Of course, the volunteer sample must be statistically valid in numbers, and in the case of human volunteers there should be a representation of different skin types to get a robust claim.

Note: We do not test on animals nor do we use animal derived ingredients at Krya.

Krya hypoallergenic standard

The Krya detergent is hypoallergenic. It is an important benefit in a detergent because clothes come into intimate, extensive contact with the skin. We have used several methods to arrive at the claim

  1. Extensive product use research for over a year
  2. It is the only detergent We use
  3. It is made from a gentle , organic fruit
  4. The fruit has been widely used as a skin and hair cleanser with use documented for hundreds of years
  5. Absolutely no dyes, bleaching agents or fragrances added. (We have added just 1 ingredient, Calcium Carbonate as a desiccant, which is a natural, edible , widely used, and well-researched ingredient )

And this is our contribution to the Hypoallergenic Hall of Fame.

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Trendspotting 2011.

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Reading Time: 1 minute

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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Year in Review – What we ‘shipped’ in 2010

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This is a riff inspired by Seth Godin’s post today, on what we ‘shipped’ in 2010.

  1. Incorporated 2 new companies to start shipping products in 2011.
  2. Created and designed the Krya brand
  3. Built the first prototype of a D.I.Y Film Appreciation product
  4. Decided that it needs more work
  5. Turned vegan after 2 attempts
  6. Started writing consistently through the Krya blog, and our film journal.
  7. Started many gedankenexperiments including an ongoing, complete break from newspapers and news channels
  8. Moved heaven & earth to find and eat organic produce – we now eat only organic vegetables and grains, but are still looking for organic fruits & organic restaurants.
  9. Continue to push the boundary on new artistic experiences especially in expanding our cinema oeuvre . (Of course, this meant a lot of hard work in sourcing this movies and other books on film.) Some examples include :
    1. The Legend of the Suram Fortress – Sergei Parajanov
    2. The Housemaid – Kim Ki Young
    3. The American Soldier – Rainer Werner Fassbinder
    4. The Rules of the Game – Jean Renoir
    5. Coffee & Cigarettes – Jim Jarmusch
  10. Started a garage start-up in the true spirit of the word – there is a garage in front of our office
  11. Successfully resisted buying a car and bought 2 cycles instead – our carbon footprint continues to be enviably low
  12. Consciously worked on our positivity and mental fortitude this year. (All you need to be a successful entrepreneur is wake up and think positive). Many thanks to Esther, Jerry & Abraham for all their support.

Happy New Year!  We wish you lots of joy, health and abundance in this coming year.

Preethi & Srinivas

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