Innovation Research and Design



Global Innovation Research and Product Development

How sustainable is Bhar?

A concept to support no single-use plastic and to prevent alternative single-use terracotta waste in India.

Railway Minister Piyush Goyal stated Nov. 2020 to reintroduce the "environment-friendly clay cup in place of plastic cups at all railway stations in the country". BUT replacing waste with waste is not the solution.


"Cleaning-up the environment doesn't mean to changing the kind of waste."



Design task: sustainably exchanging disposable chai cups made of plastic with Bhar

How sustainable is Bhar is a research project which examines the traditional clay teacup from India called Bhar for its sustainability values and proposes a circular design concept to be able to sustainably launch the teacup as alternative to disposable plastic cups. The life-centred approach focuses on the strategy to create a circular economy by extending the cup's life cycle through recycling of the discarded material. The strategy enables human-centred design opportunities like an intervention in the user waste behaviour, a new perspective on the wasted material terracotta and of course new ceramic products made out of the recycled material. Reusable teacups are designed as homage to the original and communicate the concept in a tangible way.



Bhar is a traditional product made of a natural material but if produced in higher quantities the global quality of the cup falls.

In combination with the developed concept, the cup is able to:

→ protect nature

→ establish a value of the wasted terracotta

→ create a sustainable relationship between consumer product and user

→ enhance the understanding of responsibility for own actions

→ fulfil the need for knowing about the own heritage

Research question: how sustainable is Bhar?

The teacup is manufactured since many generations and has a long history in the Indian culture. It is made of the native material terracotta, fired in an open fire at a low temperature up to 800 degrees Celsius, and can contain 30 or 50 ml of chai. The national common used name is Kulhad and Bhar [baːɐ̯] in the region of West Bengal. The project started in Kolkata, where the teacup has not been replaced and many potters still craft and live in the city.

→ Improving Bhar's life cycle.

→ Stating sustainability standards.

Approach: improving the cup's life cycle through introducing a circular economy

Bhar's material terracotta has a great impact on the Indian product culture since over 5,000 years. The clay cup got mainly replaced by plastic during industrialisation and has been exchanged for more convenience but a strong negative influence on nature. Reintroducing Bhar helps to retrieve Indian heritage but it needs further adjustments to meet a certain sustainability standard.

Life cylce of Bhar: from resource mining until decaying to sandy soil

Extending the life cycle of Bhar can mean cleaning and reusing the cup or processing its material into a new resource. Recycled low-fired terracotta can be returned to the production of clay cups or used for innovative design projects and opportunities.

Approach: stating sustainability standards

The culture around the Indian clay cup developed over several hundred years. In the National Museum Kolkata, Bhar as it is today is exhibited with the tag 2nd century. Such an old product can lose its cultural presence.

To guarantee a circular economy Collection Bhar needs to have a special focus on reconciling user's responsibilities and to appreciate customer's needs.

Reusing or recycling the tea cups include hygienic challenges but impact the current behaviour of the users and their relationship to waste.

Besides an advanced circular economy it needs joint forces to implement the idea in India. An elaborated service map visualises the necessity of creating a team of guiding institutions like political authorities to introduce Bhar as a sustainable solution but focussing on preserving the cup's traditional craftsmanship.

All graphics are developed and designed by Hanne Viehmann. All rights reserved.

Feedback Loop and Service Map are developed according to methods by The Circular Design Guide,

Solution: a new material that enables inspiring design opportunities

A new material is made from waste, and the designed item is a homage to the strong character of Bhar. Users of the disposable teacup are united with users of the recycling and reusable one. The concept builds a connection between tea cultures and tea drinkers.

Experiments with the ceramic powder revealed unique patterns and textures which embrace a beautiful element of chance. Each item includes an individual character according to the clay’s features, the grinding degree and the ratio of the mixed materials.

As a glaze or as a blend, fired at a 1240 degrees Celsius, created these fortuitous gradients.

The solutions put Bhar in a new light and showcase the clay cup as a traditional basis for trend-oriented products.


Research: general information about Bhar led to the current plan of the politicians to exchange back the tradition. The first attempts failed, so I started to research further. I went to Kolkata to do surveys, interviews and observations in a place where the cup still has strong meaning.

Artistic approach: cooperation with photographer Armitava Saha to capture the status quo of the cup and all its characteristics

Craft and material: interviews with local potters who are part of the families producing Bhar. Conversation and collaboration with Swapan Jana, professor at the Government College of Arts in the ceramics department. I specialist in ceramics, slip casting, in my Bachelor programmes and brought already an understanding of the material and its properties. Material experiments with Bhars from Kolkata in the ceramic workshop of Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Design of a tea cup and a tumbler made of the ceramic composite 60 per cent white slip and 40 per cent powdered cups / 100 per cent white slip with a 100 per cent powdered cup engobe (fired at a temperature of 1240 degrees Celsius).

Product culture: surveys and conversations with tea drinkers from Kolkata and international. Workshop with a sommelier to recognise the specialty of the cup's unique taste. The design of the reusable cup and tumbler are based on the shape of the original. The final designs are made according the needs of the Western market and related to the current trends in India.

Strategic approach: visualising the current state of the cup's life cycle as well its impact on People, Planet, Technology and the Product itself in comparison to sustainable alternatives like reusing, recycling, exchanging or globally exporting Bhar. A new developed diagram that characterises the cup in the four areas and shows five levels from an unsustainable to a sustainable product according to the requirements by the SDGs. Comparing the concepts presented a clear strategy to focus on recycling the waste material.

© All rights reserved, Hanne Viehmann 2021, Impressum