6 eco-friendly traditional practices for sustainable environment

Covid19 pandemic boosts demand for disposable products


October 13, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

6 eco-friendly traditional practices for sustainable environment

Many restaurants have been actively opting for leaf plates and bowls instead of plastic

Reviving a few traditional practices from different regions in India can go a long way in reducing plastic usage. While covid19 saw an increase in the use of plastics, a few people & companies have turned to traditional alternatives.

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At a time when the fight against single-use plastic items was slowly gaining momentum with restaurants opting for paper cutlery and straws, the lockdown due to Covid-19, not only halted this progress but also led to the growing use of plastic items for layers of protective coverings, single-use bottle, cutleries, packaged edibles and other such items.

A study estimates that national capital Delhi alone generates 690 tonnes of plastic each day, with just 20 pc of it being recycled. However, there is a silver lining amid the dark clouds of plastic pollution, that gradually, companies themselves have opted for an eco-friendlier alternative than plastic to serve their customers and packaging goods.

Here is a list of five products that have cultural value as well as is an alternative to single-use plastic.

Sal leaves plates

Sal leaves plate

Sal leaves plate are made by stitching six to eight leaves with tiny wooden sticks

Sal leaves plates or popularly known as Patravali or Pattal are plates or trencher made with broad dried leaves. It is mainly made from Sal leaves and Banyan leaves. Mostly circular in shape, it is made by stitching six to eight leaves with tiny wooden sticks.

Serving food in Sal leaves plates and bowls was a widely popular cultural practice in rural India, about a decade ago, at any gathering from birthday celebrations and religious gatherings to wedding feasts. Traditionally believed to have antibacterial properties and thanks to their sustainability, these plates are becoming popular in most unexpected places. Only a couple of years back, in 2018, a group of tribals in Odisha had won a deal to supply 1 million plates and bowls to Leaf Republic Limited, an German importer of plant products as they are in high demand at luxury restaurants in many European countries.

Banana leaves

banana leaves

Using banana leaves instead of plates is a popular tradition in southern India

Eating a hot sumptuous meal on a banana leaf is a joy like none other. In southern India, eating on a banana leaf is a cultural practice and the tradition is also followed during festivities or weddings. Besides the fact that banana leaves are easily available, they also add a definitive flavour and aroma to the food. Even in some parts of West Bengal, banana leaves are used to cook and serve food.

Banana leaves are used as a serving plate or tray in many other parts of the world including Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and Ecuador. One of the most inexpensive alternatives to plastics and papers, historically, banana leaves were also used as writing surfaces in many South-East Asian countries. Early on during the outbreak of Covid-190 pandemic in India, in April, chairman of Mahindra Group, a conglomerate, decided to introduce banana leaves plates in all canteens of the group, boosting the demand sharply. Several companies have also begun to produce disposable facemasks made of banana leaves.


Kulhar cup

Kulhar cup is estimated to be in use since the last 5,000 years in north India

Tiny clay cups or pots are the most environment-friendly items that have often been sidelined due to the easy availability of cheap plastic cups. Drinking beverages, especially tea, in these clay cups, also known as bhars or shikoras, has been a tradition since centuries. Traditionally made from the clay dug out of the Ganges river, the kulhars are shaped with hands on a wheel and can easily be crushed after use.

A bigger variety of these clay pots are also used to make and serve the mishti doi (sweet curd) in Bengal, ice creams, hot milk and various other edibles. The traditional vessel, mainly from north India, is estimated to be in use since the last 5,000 years.

While restaurants and food chains have started advertising earthen pots and clay vessels like kulhars for attracting new customers, Indian Railway has also decided to reintroduce clay cups in order to reduce plastic usage and help domestic potter communities.


jhaal muri

Thongas are popularly used to serve jhaal muri (a spicy mixture of puffed rice) in West Bengal

The newspaper and brown paper bags, fondly called thongas have been in use for very long. Used to serve and fill popular jhaal muri (a spicy mixture of puffed rice) till the brim in West Bengal or stuffed with khakhars (flour or bean crackers) in Gujarat, the humble thongas are till date a far better sustainable substitute to plastic bags. Papers rolled into thin cones filled with warm grams and peanuts were a symbol of funfairs a few years back.

Even today, one can spot several tourists and visitors whisking at the beaches, holding a paper thonga and snacking on various items from popcorn to dry sweets. Though paper is not the best alternative to single-use plastic, the rate of decomposition and recycle value makes paper thongas a sustainable option in comparison to disposable plastic cutleries.

Thaila or jute bags

Jute sacks

Jute thailas or sacks are known for their strength and carry heavy loads during transportation

Jute bags or sacks are called thailas colloquially. They come in varying sizes and are used for carrying groceries or other essential items. In fact, the large sized jute thailas are also used by businesses to transport their products across destinations. Made by weaving jute ropes together, these sacks are known for its strength and ability to accommodate and safeguard items packed during transportation.

Over the years, the jute bags have had various makeovers and new fashionable designs make them as good as any other choice of accessory. The long lasting jute sacks can still be spotted in granaries and big godowns.

A fun fact about these thailas is that due to its strength, many schools and organisations across the country have included jute sacks’ race as a part of competitions. As a part of the popular game, a player gets inside a sack and hops till the finishing line, holding the sack by its edges.

Bamboo utensils

While bamboo chopsticks and straws are extremely popular, other bamboo utensils are also catching up to good business

Bamboo vessels such as bowls, plates, forks, chopsticks, spoons and straws have not only proved to be an effective replacement over plastic and paper but are also better economically, environmentally, functionally and aesthetically. If sterilized after each use and stored in a dry place, bamboo straws can be reused up to a hundred times and easily decompose in landfills.

While bamboo chopsticks and straws are extremely popular, other bamboo utensils are also catching up to good business. Crafted and exported from bamboo producing northeastern states of India, countries such as China, Costa Rica and South Africa also produce and consume large quantities of bamboo straws.



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