The humble kulhad, a traditional clay teacup, is making a comeback back to India’s railways as the country aims to tackle plastic pollution created by the nation’s passion for tea.
Kulhads were once an ever-present fixture on India’s railway platforms and trains, but over the last two decades they began to disappear as cheaper plastic options came onto the market. Now the government wants to bring back the earthen cups, also called shikora, as part of ongoing efforts to free the country of single-use plastic.
“Kulhads will not only help reduce the use of toxic plastic and save the environment, they will give employment and income to hundreds of thousands of potters,” India’s railways minister Piyush Goyal said in a statement.
“This will be the contribution of the Railways towards a plastic-free India.”
Tea is India’s most popular beverage and viewed by many as an integral part of daily life, with the country consuming over 837,000 tonnes each and every year. Tea vendors or chai wallahs boil it with spices, sugar and milk according to their own signature recipes, and are an omnipresent fixture at markets, on street corners and on the country’s railway network.
The beverage was once always served in the traditional clay cups, but as single-use plastics became more widely available vendors began to turn to them for the cheaper prices. This has created a significant waste issue and with the country’s tea habit going nowhere, the government has turned to the kulhad as a sustainable alternative.
The cups are simple, handle-less, unpainted and unglazed and designed to be disposable. Made by firing in a kiln, they are naturally sterile and hygienic - an important factor in the post-COVID era. In contrast to their plastic counterparts they are readily biodegradable and environmentally friendly. With over 23 million people travelling on India’s trains daily, the government expects the move to significantly reduce plastic waste generated on the railways.
The move is one of the first tangible actions taken under the government’s ambitious commitment to become single-use plastic free by 2022.