Innovation Research and Strategy



# Sustainability Strategy  # Circular Economy  # Recyclability  # Reusability # Material Experiments  # Product Design

Sustainable Bhar

The outcome of this design project is an inclusive design approach to consolidate an intentionally sustainable but incomplete attempt at preventing plastic waste in India. The focus lies on a development of a sustainability strategy for the disposable tea cup made from terracotta.

Bhar [baːɐ̯]

Bhar is the disposable teacup made of terracotta and a traditional item from India. The cup is at the centre of centuries-old traditions.

Terracotta cups have gradually given way to polystyrene and coated paper cups in the last decades due to their higher convenience, such as the ability to carry them in big stacks, and the lower prices of purchase.




Project achievements:

Step 1: Product and material analysis

Step 2: Development of a recycling process for terracotta cups

Step 3: Strategy applying a circular economy to a traditional tea culture

Step 4: Material and design opportunities


Sustainable attempt by Indian minister


Make India plastic free


Minister Piyush Goyal stated in 2019 that he attempts to avoid large masses of plastic waste and choses to replace tea cups made of synthetic materials with traditional terracotta.

He introduces Bhar as the “environment-friendly” alternative to disposable plastic cups and argues that this strategy will “help in environmental protection and will positively affect the domestic pottery industry”. He additionally highlights the importance of the cup for the Indian heritage.


No plastic waste to terracotta waste ...

Design initiative


Make India waste free


The motivation behind the design project is the evaluation of the arguable sustainable deal between “no plastic” and “zero waste”, made by the Indian minister in 2019.

Sustainable Bhar takes the initiative to complement the politician’s concept and analyses the opportunity of a circular economy to make Bhar a viable and sustainable solution for plastic tea cups.

The challenge is to avoid waste of material globally.

Step 1

Product and material analysis



Diameter: 57 –– 59 mm

Height: 43 mm

Weight: 34 gramm

Capacity: 44 ml


Material: terracotta

Colours: reddish-brown to yellowish to orange with greyish to purple discolourations

Ethnographic research in Kolkata, West Bengal, in 2019

The research question “how sustainable is Bhar?'' explores the ability of the terracotta cup to be a valuable alternative to plastic cups in India. The ethnographic research reveals the socio-cultural influence of the cup.


Kolkata is a location in India where the tradition has been maintained and represented with pride. The integration of the cup into everyday life and the potteries that still exist in the district are features that distinguish Kolkata from other cities in India.

Traditional pottery families make Bhars by turning the natural material clay into the small tea cups.

Vendors and tea drinkers celebrate the traditions and enjoy the earthen flavour that is added through wet terracotta.

Bhar is manufactured within two days and daily distributed to local tea vendors. The average tea drinker empties / uses the cup within 15 minutes.

Raw clay

Raw clay is wet, plastic, malleable, and muddy. The resource is originally dug up from rivers and wetlands. Some is mined from the holy river Ganges which highlights the belief in a spiritual material and a stronger symbol of Indian heritage.


Pottery clay

To prepare the raw clay for turning, the potter vigorously kneads clay with his feet to make it smooth and sort out organic inclusions.



The terracotta's structure is porous, menaing it absorbs liquids within about 10 minutes and stores those liquids until they evaporate.

Life cycle

The product life cycle of Bhar includes the 4 stages: source, execution, utilisation, and discard. The assessment diagram show 12 steps and starts with mining the raw clay. It visualises the material processing, manufacture, distribution, use, and disposal.


The supply chain of the cup is simple and transparent: each potter family distributes the cups to the nearby vendors and street sweepers take the cups to the local landfill after use.


Terracotta is generally seen as a biodegradable material, which leads to the understanding that its life cycle is closed and ends with the decomposition into sandy soil.

Tradition believes that the clay returns into soil and shows a perfect ecological model.” But from a neutral perspective of a material scientist, Bhar loses its plasticity and possibility to biodegrade back into mud during the firing process. The characteristics of clay impart a change in the material’s structure when firing above a temperature of 200 degrees Celsius. Clay changes into a ceramic material.


Therefore, it is possible for terracotta to decay into sandy soil after two years. The cups first break into shards. These shards continue to break down into smaller shards and rough sand until they have become fine sand. This sandy soil mixes with water and natural earth, which gives the appearance that the cup has completely changed back into mud.

Materials are the basis of product innovations and drive the development of cultures.

Step 2

Development of a recycling process for terracotta cups

Recycling terracotta

Terracotta is a porous material which can be easily ground by hand.

Ground terracotta is a red powder (clay flour) which can be combined with ceramic materials like slip or raw clay.


The processed material is professionally used as a support material for ceramics. With the addition of the ground, low-fired clay, the behaviour of the ceramics during firing, the quantity, colours or the texture are possible to adjust.


Step 3

Strategy applying a circular economy to a traditional tea culture

Complementing Piyush Goyal’s concept, replacing plastic tea cups with Bhar, means to manage the cup’s resources and to communicate the need of a developed user behaviour that is reliant on disposing of Bhar after use.

Recycling and reusing process in a local supply chain


India faces the difficulties of low water quality, for which Bhar has been used as a disposable product.

Director of the Indian Museum Kolkata, Rajes Purohit, explained, “Bhar will always have to remain disposable as a teacup which should speak for the awareness about the harm caused by terracotta shards.”


Most of the discarded cups don't break due to the strong structure of terracotta. Therefore, it is scientifically possible to reuse the cups after cleaning. At a temperature of 100 degrees Celsius all organic materials are burned off and the lower temperature assures that the terracotta keeps its ceramic structure.


The ground terracotta can be returned to the potters who can blend the new resource into the raw clay to increase the quantity and improve the quality. For example, the consistency of the clay changes during the rainy season and this makes the raw material more difficult to work with.


Another possibility would be to use the processed material by local ceramic designers.

Step 4

Material and design opportunities

Combining the recycled terracotta cups with raw ceramics and firing at different temperatures, create unique material combinations, textures and pattern.

There are different possibilities of applying the resource and types of processing such as casting, turning or glazing.

Economic opportunity


The politician’s demand is to produce a daily amount of 5,000,000 Bhars to replace plastic tea cups in India.


5,000,000 cups (34 gramm per cup) = ~ 170 tonnes of terracotta.


Recycling terracotta and selling it as red clay flour on the German market for the current price of approximately 69 € per 100 kilogramm would raise:


117,300,000 € per day or 42.814.500.000 € per year

Design opportunity


The new gained material offers great opportunities for designers to recycle the cups and close its material cycle, to pick up the Indian heritage of Bhar and its aesthetics, while co-designing a sustainable future.

Design no.1

A reusable tea cup made of recycled Bhars and porcelain.


The new designed cup builds a homage to the original and has the potential to be sold on the Indian as well as global market.

The design approach imparts extending the cup's life cycle by designing out waste, enhancing the symbolic and market values of Bhar, and motivating users to responsibly appreciate waste as valuable resource.

Responsibility Sustainability


Sustainability builds on participation and enthusiasm.

Systematic Cooperation


Introducing Bhar as sustainable solution for plastic waste depends on collaborating services and institutions. Each stakeholder understands the cup and its qualities to become a sustainable solution differently.


Introducing a new policy or deciding on an innovative change requires the recognition of the opinions of all stakeholders. Who is involved and what are their opinions?

Ecological, social and economic possibilities are only realisable in a collaborative and participatory way.

Terracotta is one of the most applied material in the entire world and each region and nation show specific material characteristics. An international community of designers who recycle terracotta would stand for sustainability in a sense of supporting local crafts, preventing waste of material, and communicating the need of an adjusted user behaviour.


A social initiative could guide the design collaboration and could take care of, amongst others, global equality, preservation of heritage, and eco management.

Sustainable Bhar is a design project derived from the findings of the research project: How Sustainable Is Bhar »


Research on a recent approach to preventing plastic waste in India replacing plastic tea cups with the traditional cups made from terracotta:

Ethnographic research in Kolkata based on interviews, user surveys and observations.

Product and material evaluation of the traditional tea cup based on product analysis, life cycle assessment, ecological footprint and material flow analysis.

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