Thousands of devotees everyday visit temples and offer flowers and garlands to deities. As these devotees move on, the flowers offered just keep on piling up and are soon thrown away no matter how devoutly they were offered just hours ago.
A large number of people offering flowers sometimes leads to heaps of flowers lying dumped surrounded by flies, even as humans and animals walk by trampling them.
As the day progress, a lot of them are thrown in rivers or other stagnant water bodies.
Though these flowers are biodegradable, they can create havoc for the eco-system as Karan Rastogi, co-founder, HelpUsGreen points out:
“Sadly, these sacred flowers rot in rivers – killing fishes and creating havoc in the fragile ecosphere of the water body and cause enormous pollution.”
Sadly, these flowers are a symbol of devotion in India and it is believed that they should be discarded into water bodies to respect their sanctity.
As per an estimate, approximately 80, 00,000 tons of waste flowers is being dumped into rivers every year.
Looking at this sad plight, two Kanpur-based friends Ankit Agarwal and Karan Rastogi decided to start a social enterprise HelpUsGreen which would help improve this situation.
HelpUsGreen started to collect these dumped flowers and convert them into things that can not only be re-used, but also create less amount of waste.
With help of women self-help groups in a city, HelpUsGreen started to convert these dumped flowers into bio-fertilizer and lifestyle products like incense and bathing soaps.
The duo took the enterprise to the fourth edition of the Tata Social Enterprise Challenge (TSEC) 2015-16 for the innovative idea that was held this month and were recently declared winners.
— Tata Group (@TataCompanies) January 18, 2016
Tata Social Enterprise Challenge (TSEC), is a joint initiative of the Tata Group and Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (IIMC), and celebrates India’s most promising early-stage social enterprises which can create a huge impact on India’s social problems.
Ecstatic about the win, Ankit Agarwal, co-founder, HelpUsGreen said it was like winning ‘the Filmfare of social entrepreneurship,’ and thus have huge hope for the company’s future.
The two had initially experimented with vermicomposting these flowers, but were unsuccessful. They then decided to try something else and studied how to convert discarded flowers into bio fertilisers, bathing soaps, and even incense sticks.
Their hard work soon paid off and now with joint efforts of 80 women across 6 Self Help Groups (SHGs), HelpUsGreen has grown in a big way.
The initiative, also gave these SHGs a source of employment and a method to get rid of the waste without harming the environment.
To make the products 100 per cent environment friendly, the incense sticks, which are traditionally made from charcoal, with fragrance added to it just before they are packed, the duo decided to use powders from dried flowers to make them.
Since it was a challenge to collect the discarded flowers from the streets (local municipal authorities have the right to pick up flowers that are thrown on public streets), the duo decided to directly approach small temples and ask them for help.
They now have the support of 13 temples and three mosques which help them collect these discarded flowers ( almost one ton a day) and transport them to their home’s backyard.
The SHGs women then collect it from there, sort them out into two piles- one that can be used and one that cannot be used.
The flowers that cannot be used are then used for vermicomposting.
These women then make the products and ship the final products for processing after they are made.
The money that is collected from this is then used to educate the children of these women volunteers. The company is now planning to set up a centre for vocational training so that children are skilled to take up other jobs, too.