I am a product designer, working in a Delhi-based firm, developing a range of products with recycled paper. I wanted to know if terracotta products were eco- friendly. How sure can we be about using clay as an environment- friendly material and why?
Rajinder, Via Email
Terracotta products are made from fired clay. But clay is a more eco-friendly material since it a natural resource. Clay controls most of the properties of soil. It has a very high capacity to retain water and several nutrients in the soil. Rich in minerals like silicon, aluminium and phosphates, it is a major force behind binding earth’s topsoil. Besides its nutrient value, it also has high plasticity level and is resistant to heat.
It takes form with very little effort, and its fragility allows it to be constantly renewable. Clay has thus been the perfect vehicle for Indian creativity through the ages – from a toy horse to a real house. A fistful of clay means a lot for artisans, like the ones of the famous Kumartoli in Kolkata.
The potters here eke out a living by making pots, toys, ritual figures, craft and cooking utensils, from clay; and this tradition has existed since the seventeenth century. The terracotta Bankura horse of Bengal among these is the most famous one moulded from the rich alluvial clay found in the state’s rivers.
But clay art is threatened today, as the raw material is depleting. Despite the limited supply of clay, its demand is very high, specially in making bricks. Their indiscriminate extraction of clay without taking an effort to conserve the topsoil has a huge environmental cost. Clay bricks are made in kilns. The kilns burn clay on lands, whose process not only diminishes the topsoil (that supports plant life) but also its nutrient quality.
And it would take about 100-400 years to form 10 millimetres of topsoil and over 3,000 to 12000 years for 30 mm. You would lose about 34,104 hectares of prime agricultural land in, when the total agricultural land in India is 187 million hectares of land. A better option for making eco-friendly products is mud.
It is inspiring to go through the ‘Muck Mail’ section in GT. On my way to school every morning, I pass by a huge open land. It is dumped with all sorts of trash and junk. It is nauseating to see such a sight early in the morning.
I have tried to create awareness among neighbours and friends in my locality by telling them to recycle the biodegradable waste into manure. I’ve also tried telling them how unhygienic it is to live amidst filth in one’s own neighbourhood. It worked for a week or two after I asked them to watch a Hindi documentary film, Chaka Chak. Our school encourages us to take up such initiatives and we took them to watch the movie in a film festival organised here, in Nepal.
However, the condition hasn’t changed yet. All are also acquainted with the fact that waste is hazardous to our health and the environment. But no one is willing to do anything about it. I strongly feel that if we work together we can work out this problem through a simple solution.
Alina Pokhrel, Kathmandu, Nepal
The GT issue on railways, was of great interest. On the poster page, under the heading ‘Gauges: Curious yardstick’, the origins of the railway gauge of 4’8” was highlighted. However, while this was the gauge adopted in Britain in the early days of railways, in India the main railway gauges are the broad gauge and metre gauge. It would be fascinating to know why the British in India adopted the two rail gauges, both different from the British ones.
Also, on page 63, you have said: “A round ticket from London to Manchester would cost L3 and 10 cents by the stagecoach – the most popular form till then. By 1851, the train fare for the same journey cost only five cents...” The currency in Britain until decimalisation in 1971 was pounds, shillings and pence. (12 pence=1 shilling; 20 shillings=1 pound) Cents never had a place in Britain!
David Hopkins, Kausani, Uttaranchal
Sure enough the issues raised by Gobar Times and Down to Earth are really pertinent. Keep up the good work! One problem which I feel has largely been ignored by those responsible for it, is the use of electricity in the government offices. Almost all of them use tube lights to illuminate their workplaces throughout the day. Even where the natural light is available, the windows are never opened.
This is because the buildings and bhawans are designed to shut off the natural light completely. The computerised environment has further dictated that the rooms should be air-conditioned and bright light be shut. What a colossal waste of electricity and the natural resources used to produce it! Think it over.
Sunil Khatwani, Via Email
You have regular features about the effects of chemicals in agriculture. As a company manufacturing ecofriendly microbial products, and as a regular exporter, we focus on organic farming technologies and sustainable agriculture. It would be nice if you could address issues about microbial inputs in agriculture.
Sandeepa Kanitkar, Krishimitra, Via Email
I am a teacher at Pallikoodam, a school in Kottayam, Kerala, which has an ongoing programme on environmental consciousness. In the last ten years, we have been studying the patterns of waste management in residential and commercial areas. Unsegregated waste is disposed of in plastic bags in dumpyards. The problem of unsegregated waste is aggravated more than 50 times over, since all the municipality and panchayat wards use the dump yards.
Aerobic composting can be an effective means to manage organic waste. But the storage and disposal of inorganic waste, specially plastic, is mind-boggling. And plastic seems to be here to stay. We are trying to juggle options for a solution. We have been asking companies to recycle plastic. The plastic manufacturers claim ‘minimum microbe’ safety and manage to thwart any legal action against them. People are willing to cooperate but the infrastructure of the municipality and panchayat defeats every effort.
There is also no penalty for littering and no action taken for compulsory segregation. Waste is looked at as someone else’s problem — mostly the government’s. The government can perhaps give tax incentives to those who comply with environmental norms. I hope you can shed some light on this issue.
Susan Varghese, Via Email