Are earthen pots biodegradable? (3 uses of earthen pots)

In this article, the biodegradability of earthen pots will be discussed. Other aspects covered will be: 

  • What are earthen pots?
  • How are earthen pots made?
  • What is the history of earthen pots?
  • What are earthen pots used for?
  • What is biodegradability?
  • Are earthen pots biodegradable?
  • Are earthen pots eco-friendly?
  • FAQs

Are earthen pots biodegradable?

Yes, earthen pots are biodegradable because they are made from natural materials (two types of clay). The use of earthen pots dates back to ancient times and is mostly considered obsolete and outdated these days. 

Earthen pots are also eco-friendly except for the last part of the production process which involves burning pots in a kiln for many days. This releases greenhouse gases causing pollution and global warming. 

What are earthen pots?

Earthen pots are commonly referred to as ‘Matka’ in the local language. These earthen pots are primarily used for the storage of water. Earthen pots are mostly used in the subcontinent. 

Do you remember the last time there was a power outage in your city for a very long time? You must have wished for a way to keep your room chilled and also your drinks and beverages. 

It may be to your surprise that there is actually a way to keep water and other beverages chilled without the use of electricity or any source of power. 

This is done by the use of earthen pots. Earthen pots are used in under-developed and tribal areas of the subcontinent where there is little or no electricity at all. Native people store water in earthen pots to keep it cool without any input in terms of power or electricity. 

You may wonder that this method of keeping water or beverages cool is pretty novel but it is rather an ancient method and has been used for many centuries by various civilisations. 

The existence of earthen pots existed before the advent of actual science and added more value and comfort to people’s lives. 

The use of earthen pots is unarguably eco-friendly because not only is it made from natural materials, but it also does not consume any power. However, the last part of the earthen pots making process can not be considered as eco-friendly because it involves the use of kilns.  

What usually happens is that our fridges and freezers run on electricity which is sourced from fossil fuels. The consumption of fossil fuels is a nonrenewable act and also is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. 

The use of contemporary fridges and freezers also leads to the addition of harmful gases to the environment which may cause numerous environmental issues. 

How are earthen pots made?

Earthen pots are made from naturally occurring materials. Earthen pots are made from two types of mud clay. One is extracted from the surface of the earth whereas, the other is taken after digging about 10 feet into the ground. 

These two types of mud clays are then mixed with water and enter the matka shaping process. This process is time and energy consumptive. It may take more than 3-4 days for this part of the process to be completed. 

Lastly, the making of earthen pots is finalised by baking them in a kiln for 5 days. Therefore, It can be concluded that the making of earthen pots may take more than 8 days depending upon factors. However, once they are made, they can be used for several years provided they are not broken by external forces. 

As you may have guessed, the making of earthen pots is rather an ancient approach and takes a lot of time and energy. This process can not meet the consumer demands of today’s marketplace and hence is considered obsolete and inefficient. 

Most of the process used to make earthen pots is environmentally safe and considerate except for the last part which involves the baking of earthen pots in a kiln. This process is harmful to the environment because it releases harmful gases to the environment which may cause several negative impacts like pollution or global warming. 

What is the history of pottery?

As mentioned in the previous section, the history of earthen pots dates back to ancient times. It was discovered in prehistoric times that if pottery is hardened, it can be made into containers to transport food and water while also making sure they remain safe and unharmed. 

The history of pottery dates back to 400 BC. Many ancient civilisations are linked with the use of earthen pots for the said purposes back then. For example, the Egyptians, and Greeks all made use of earthen pots for the storage and transportation of food and water. 

As depicted by Egyptian arts, the Egyptians made kilns in which pots could be baked. With time, Egyptians and Greeks became better acquainted with the material that was used to make earthen pots to optimise the utilitarian value of those earthen pots. 

It was excavated by these civilisations that clay with higher quartz content was a better option to make earthen pots. They also learnt that these earthen pots can be made non-porous by coating these earthen pots. 

Later developments inculcated the use of arts and drawing to create an aesthetic sense of earthen pots. The Greeks were famous for this intervention. 

What are earthen pots used for? (3 uses of earthen pots) 

Earthen pots are primarily used for the storage of water. Back then in ancient times, earthen pots were also used for the storage and transport of water and food. 

The use of earthen pots in the current age is mostly restricted to tribal and underdeveloped areas where there is negligible access to modern facilities such as electricity and as a result, people have to resort to their centuries-old customs and traditions.

It is also claimed that the water from earthen pots is better for consumption because it also contains minerals found in the soil that have benefits for the human body. Water from earthen pots is also linked to animal welfare. 

It is a scientific curiosity that water remains cool in earthen pots. The answer lies in a simple, one-word natural process: ‘evaporation’. 

Evaporation is a process that is used by every living being to have a cooling effect. When we do an exhaustive exercise, we perspire. In simple words, water gets out of our bodies through sweat glands to provide a cooling effect. 

The same is the case in plants. Plants also transpire in hot temperatures to provide a cooling effect. This is because, when water evaporates, it leaves a cooling effect. 

The same is the case for earthen pots. When water molecules evaporate out of the pores of earthen pots, it leaves a cooling effect that leaves the water cool. 

What is biodegradability?

Biodegradability is a process through which complex waste is converted to simpler substances by the action of microbes. These microbes can be bacteria, decomposers, yeast, algae, and protozoa.

Biodegradability can be termed as a natural way of dealing with waste. If there is no biodegradability, there will be waste accumulation which may cause many detrimental impacts on the environment and human health. 

Regarding biodegradability, it is usually perceived that natural substances are more prone to the process of biodegradation, whereas man-made substances like polymers, e-waste or nuclear waste can not be degraded. This is because microbes are unable to break down the structure of these substances. 

The non-biodegradable waste has a plethora of negative impacts on human health and the environment. These include: 

  • Loss of life
  • Pollution (air, water and land) 
  • Depletion of oxygen availability in water bodies 
  • Species endangerment 
  • Change in soil characteristics 
  • Toxification of plants
  • Infiltration in food webs 
  • Global warming 
  • Ozone layer damage 

These are some of the few environmental impacts caused by non-biodegradable waste. Non-biodegradable waste also causes harm to the animal and human life. The various health risks associated with non-biodegradable waste can be:

  • Lungs infection 
  • Liver infection 
  • Damage to foetus 
  • Neurological impairment 
  • Cancer 
  • Genetic mutations 
  • Behavioural changes 
  • Eye diseases
  • Skin infections 

Are earthen pots biodegradable?

It has been established that for a substance to be biodegradable, it must be made from natural materials. That is because natural materials can be degraded by the action of microbes. Examples of these biodegradable waste include:

  • Food waste
  • Human waste 
  • Manure Sewage 
  • Hospital waste 
  • Dead animals & Plants 
  • Waste from slaughterhouse 
  • Toilet paper

It also has been seen that earthen pots are made from natural materials like two types of clay. On the basis of these inferences, it can be claimed that earthen pots are biodegradable. 

Earthen pots hence can degrade in a very short span of time and would not take hundreds of years as is the case for non-biodegradable products. 

In regard to biodegradability, earthen pots cause no harm to the environment and may be utilised for several other uses as well. 

Are earthen pots eco-friendly?

It is usually perceived that if a substance is biodegradable it must also be eco-friendly. Consider the case of drywall mud. Drywall mud is a biodegradable product but its degradation releases harmful gases into the environment. 

These gases such as hydrogen sulphide or sulphur dioxide may cause numerous health and environmental issues. Therefore, despite being biodegradable, drywall mud is not eco-friendly. 

Rather it is how a product is produced, consumed and disposed of that determines if a product is eco-friendly or not. 

In the case of earthen pots, we notice that it is made from natural materials. There is no harm to the environment there. However, as far as the process is concerned, it does involve the burning of pots in a kiln. 

This part of the process is not eco-friendly but the remaining aspects of earthen pots can be termed as eco-friendly. 

Conclusion

It is concluded that earthen pots are biodegradable because they are made from natural materials (two types of clay). The use of earthen pots dates back to ancient times and is mostly considered obsolete and outdated these days. 

Earthen pots are also eco-friendly except for the last part of the production process which involves burning pots in a kiln for many days. This releases greenhouse gases causing pollution and global warming. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Are earthen pots biodegradable?

What is the local name for earthen pots?

Matka is the local name for earthen pots. It is a Hindi language word. 

Can you recycle earthen pots?

Yes, you can recycle earthen pots with a recyclability rate of 95%. 

References 

  • De, K., Kumar, D., Sharma, S., Kumawat, P., Mohapatra, A., & Sahoo, A. (2020). Effect of drinking earthen pot water on physiological response and behavior of sheep under heat stress. Journal of Thermal Biology, 87, 102476.
  • Rajasekar, R., Prasannaa, P., & Ramkumar, R. (2021). Efficiency of solar PV panel by the application of coconut fibres saturated by earthen clay pot water. Environmental Technology, 42(3), 358-365.
  • Agasthya, Lokahith. (September 2, 2017). Earthen pots. Retrieved from: https://researchmatters.in/sciqs/earthen-pots

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