A Significant Logistical Challenge

Traditional Indian Khulads - earthenware cups for tea drinking.
They are going to need a lot of cups.

The Indian railways network is big and they have decided to stop serving tea in plastic cups. This is a momentous decision. They intend to revert to kulhads, earthenware cups that are traditionally made in village potteries. This is part of a campaign to reduce the use of single use plastic in India. The railways minister commented “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,” and then added that tea in kulhads tastes better.

There is a long tradition of pottery in India. Each village has its own potter who creates the large earthenware pots of water that stand outside each house, to allow thirsty travelers to help themselves.

It is going to be a logistical trial though, as before the virus 23 million people traveled on India’s trains every day. That is a lot of small earthenware cups. It also gives a clear indication of the volume of plastic that is being used and thrown away daily. This was attempted in the 1990’s but failed. One of the reasons for this was that they tried to standardise the size and shape of the individual cups. They are not going to make the same mistake again as clay varies in different areas, and these are not being made by industrialised process, but by hand. Another problem was transporting the cups and this time they are putting their manufacture close to the stations. There are 7,000 stations on the Indian rail network and the ministry is proposing to provide 20,000 electric potters wheels to over 100,000 potters. There will be feeder centres close by where potters can work and local transport will be used to transport the cups to the stations. It is estimated that they will be able to create 2m cups a day. The cups are fired at relatively low temperatures, but not glazed and so give the tea an earthy aroma. 

Writing this, it seems like it is an impossible task, but if the will is there, the skill of the local artisan potters along with resources provided centrally, give it a good chance of working. It also shows a great willingness on the part of the Indian Railways to address a major environmental problem in a creative and sustainable way while providing a significant increase in revenue for many local potters.

Finally and I think I should have mentioned this last week but I past the milestone of 200 posts with last week’s piece on my Jay drawing. I’m not to sure how or if I should celebrate it but will just plod on and keep going. I like the discipline of frequent posting and have given myself permission to expand from my initial theme of knitting and books. So it’s knitting, drawing and anything that happens to take my fancy – like Indian Railway cups.


  1. Hello Lisa. Firstly, well done for your 200th post!!! Do keep on and with whatever takes your fancy, because it’s all very interesting! As is this latest article on the earthernware cups. It’s a great idea, I hope they can do it. Here in Spain it is a common occurrence to have a clay ‘botijo’ in the house or in the workplace — you drink the water by tilting the spout towards your mouth, but not actually letting it touch your lips. The water tastes lovely and earthy and stays cool in summer.


    • Thank you Gilly. I love that idea of a way to share a simple drink of water with no cross contamination. I too hope that the Indian Railways manage to actually to make this change. It’s so nice to have a potentialy good news story.


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