THE CROAK is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial.

Valuing impermanence

A rainbow and a ripple have one more thing in common besides their beauty- their transience. Our fascination with endurance has led human innovation to create some amazing materials from concrete to several metals and these have shaped human habitation for centuries. 

But footprints are also meant to dissolve into the earth. The human ecological footprint has become so solid in recent times that it has all but snuffed out life for so many species. Materials like plastics create a massive amount of waste when they are combined with a single use habit. The inability of living organisms to break down and absorb plastics are now creating cancers even  in human embryos!

What will it take for us to reinvent our material sciences with a higher respect for the process of degradation and dissolution? What is the optimal balance between durability and degradability? 


Bentonite clay mines in Gujarat Source : Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation Ltd

Photo by Jeremy Zero on Unsplash

Materials design

Matter and material is the fundamental element of the physicality of our world. Nature is full of all kinds of material - whether they are seemingly inert or whether they contain organic matter and life within them. Taking clues from the materials in the Natural world, humanity has been experimenting with materials, designing them for specific applications. 

To study a material one must understand its physical, chemical and biological properties. Usually the field of materials design is driven by APPLICATION - to see how these new materials could be applied to human use. However the study of natural materials reveals so much to us about how nature achieves what seems humanly impossible. 

Read about some magical new man made materials
Respect for life

In its efforts to design better materials for applications, unfortunately man has also ignored a basic principle - RESPECT FOR ALL LIFE. The materials we have designed may have improved the survival of our own species but have irrevocably damaged our natural environment and compromised the survival of other living beings. In this aspect, we have failed as designers, as materials such as plastic have triggered deep threats to all of life, including human. 

To achieve this goal, one must ensure that no living beings are harmed in the production of materials , in our use of them and also in the way we dispose them off. Materials design needs to close the loop, the way Nature does, to ensure that each products becomes raw material for another product after its lifespan is completed. 


One of the most important factors in ensuring that the design cycle is complete is to make sure that the material dissolves and merges completely into the natural ecosystem once the product has completed it purpose. This is a tricky problem, because for the material to be useful it has to have a level of durability as well. The purpose of application of each material can help gauge the optimal balance between durability and degradability. 

For a material to reenter the eco system it needs to be broken down into its original substances as much as possible so it may be reabsorbed easily. The manner in which the material is designed may or may not be possible for it to be broken down easily. 

Humans break down their waste either using fire (incineration) , water (dissolution) or by burying it ( landfill) - when a substance is buried the microorganisms in the soil help to degrade the material and this can take varying amounts of time. The process of waste disposal also releases toxic substances into the air in the form of fumes or into the ground and water by leaching chemicals. 

The purity of Visarjan

At eCoexist we have been trying to address the issues caused by the immersion of Ganesh idols, in our Eco Ganesh campaign for the past 14 years. The particular materials we have been trying to replace are Plaster of Paris which does not dissolve in water and chemical paints, which , when they do dissolve release heavy metals like mercury and lead into the water bodies.

The original idea of Visarjan is to return what was taken from the Earth back to the Earth - imbued with the blessings and prayers of the Ganesh rituals. When we use natural and biodegradable materials, this can be done without any harm to the marine eco systems where the visarjan is taking place. 

Ideally, we encourage people to stay away from natural water bodies and do the visarjan at home - where they can use a bucket of clean water to immerse their idols which should be made of biodegradable materials. When the idols quickly dissolve the sludge can then be put back into the soil and will be easily reabsorbed. 

Worshipping the soil

Of all the soils used for making the Ganesh idol we worship, the best is the soil that is close to your home, because originally, it is the soil that we are worshipping. The earth provides us with the food we live on, and therefore the soil is worthy of worship. Soil is the habitat of many a living organism and it is their presence in the soil that make it fertile and vibrant.

Lord Ganesha is considered to be the diety that presides over the element of Earth and in this worship we are offering thanks to the soil that nurtures us. When we take handful of soil close to us, worship it and then return it to where we took it from, we are minimising the damage we cause to it. Many Ganesh devotees in South India still continue this tradition of sculpting the soil themselves. 

Click on the image below to watch a video of how to make a small Ganesh idol yourself. 

Cow dung and Red Earth

If you are not in a position to make your own Ganesh idol, choose the idol you buy carefully with full thought about where it is coming from and where will the material go after visarjan. Two of the materials that eCoexist is offerring this year are Cow Dung idols and Red Earth Idols .

Cow dung is a byproduct from the cows which has been used in Indian culture for millenia as a fuel as well as a plaster to walls and floors. Its insect repellant properties and its thick fibre content make it useful in many ways to villagers. Cow dung also is a natural fertilizer to plants and is widely used in gardening and agriculture . 

Red Earth is taken from the top soil of farms and retains its fertility even when sculpted into an idol because it is not fired in any way. Red earth dissolves easily when immersed into water and the sludge can easily be used to pot a plant in at home. Ideally red earth should be returned to the farms it is taken from so that it merges back into the same soil. 

Click on image below to watch a video of how easily cow dung and red earth idols dissolve in water. 

Book Online
GCD7: Eco Ganesh Idol - Gorakshak - 6"
GCD7: Eco Ganesh Idol - Gorakshak - 6"
The Gorakshak idol reminds us of the need to protect our cow populations which are so essential to an agricultural country. Made of cow dung this idol has a humble…
View product
GLM10:Eco Ganesh Idol: Laal Maati -8"
GLM10:Eco Ganesh Idol: Laal Maati -8"
This idol is made using red earth from the farms of Goa and has reinforcement with jute. The earth dissolves easily in water and can be put back into the…
View product


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The Croak is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial. Satirical, urgent and wise the newsletter brings to your attention, topics of global environmental relevance as well as emerging encouraging alternatives. Put together by a team of passionate Nature lovers, The Croak hopes to look at the environmental crisis in its face. It is a tool to reconnect readers to Nature, through questioning and self reflection. To understand the outer environment as a reflection of our own inner state, individually and as a species. And to take responsibility for enabling change.
If you would like to contribute articles on ecology consciousness and sustainability please get in touch with us.

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