Traditional clay teacups called kulhads will be making an impactful comeback in 7,000 railway stations across India. Kulhads are 100 percent environment-friendly, unpainted, and unglazed. The clay’s natural, earthy fragrance is said to enhance the flavor of the tea, while evoking memories of India’s rich provincial past. The government hopes that the widespread use of these completely biodegradable cups will be a big step towards their objective of making India free of single-use plastic.
Serving tea in kulhads has the added benefit of creating employment for a great many local potters as well as keeping India’s rich tradition of pottery alive. Before the pandemic, around 23 million people a day traveled by train in India, which means that a significant number of kulhads will need to be produced. Politician and handicrafts expert Jaya Jaitly says that this initiative has the potential to generate and increase income for 2 million potters. But switching plastic cups for kulhads is easier said than done.
Firstly, railways will have to let go of their expectation for kulhads to be standardized in their shape and size. They will be handmade by potters all over the country who have access to different types of clay based on their region, deeming it impossible to produce identical kulhads. The government will also need to ensure that clay is accessible to potters, especially in prime areas such as rivers, irrigation channels, and water bodies, where clay is often in short supply. On top of these two issues, the general organization of India’s village potters presents a challenge. Production facilities with electricity near railway stations will need to be provided for potters to work in, while local transport will have to be arranged to distribute the kulhads to the railway stations.
Luckily, The Khadi and Village Industries Commission has already started equipping more than 100,000 potters with electric potting wheels and tools. With the help of electric equipment, the average income of a potter will skyrocket from 2,500 rupees a month (a meager $34) to 10,000 rupees a month.
The end goal is to make kulhads a universal staple for hot beverages on trains and platforms. Considering that we are still in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, an especially important advantage of these kiln-fired kulhads is that they are inherently hygienic. On top of this, even though they are hardly reused, they do not add to the heaps of single-use plastic waste in India as they are perfectly biodegradable.