Two friends in Kanpur were shocked by the amount of flowers that are dumped into the Ganges every single day, choking the river with pesticides and chemical fertilisers. They started collecting the flowers from temples and mosques in the city, and turned them into some brilliant eco-friendly products.
Enter a temple, mosque, gurudwara or church in India and the first thing you’ll probably notice is the abundance of flowers at the place of worship. There are flower sellers at the entrance, flowers strewn all over the shrine’s floor, devotees receiving flowers in the form of blessings – there seems to be no limit. Ever wonder what happens to those sacred flowers once we are done with our prayers?
According to many religious beliefs, flowers that are offered during prayers are sacrosanct and cannot be dumped into the garbage once they’ve wilted. This is one of the reasons why people prefer to discard them in rivers, lakes and other water bodies. But not many of us think about the fertilizers and pesticides that might have been used to grow these flowers, which then mix with the water and pollute it.
Ankit Agrawal and Karan Rastogi, two friends from Kanpur, had often thought of this issue. While growing up, the river Ganges had been an important part of their lives and it pained them to see it become increasingly polluted as the years went by.
“Karan and I have been friends since childhood and some of our friends live abroad as well. Whenever all of us meet in Kanpur, there isn’t much to show them in the city. And when our friends see the river, their first reaction always has to do with how polluted it is. That was the starting point for our idea. Karan used to go to the temple every day and he would see the waste flowers being collected to be dumped in the river. So we thought of doing something to treat these flowers,” says 27-year-old Ankit.
According to him, every year, approximately 80, 00,000 tons of waste flowers are dumped into Indian rivers.
So, Ankit and Karan started thinking of a way to convert these flowers into an eco-friendly business venture. They started research in 2012 and a brilliant idea had taken shape by 2014 after several experiments. In May 2015, they founded Helpusgreen with the aim of utilizing the disposed flowers and turning them into bio-fertilisers and lifestyle products.
The duo picks up flowers from different places of worship every day – approximately 500 kg of them. Since they don’t have a factory, they divide the amount equally between themselves and take the flowers to their respective homes.
The flowers are then mixed with organic cow dung and treated with about 17 natural components like coffee residue, corn cobs, etc. These help increase the nitrogen content in the end-product. After a few days, earthworms are added to the mix. These worms consume the mixture and lead to the formation of vermicompost after 60 days. In this process, earthworms ingest the organic waste and then excrete it in a digested form. The excreta, called worm cast, is a dark, odourless and nutrient rich material that works as a great soil conditioner. Worm casts or vermicompost is a ready-to-use fertilizer.
Karan and Ankit have named this product Mitti and it helps improve soil texture for the better growth of plants.
While 80% of the flowers are used to make vermicompost, the rest are crushed and made into incense sticks and yajna/havan items.
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For manufacturing these items, the duo has employed 85 women from different self-help groups in villages around Kanpur, thus providing them with a source of income.
“The women take the flower dough home and work for about four hours a day. We don’t use any chemical fragrances to make these products. Everything is natural,” says Ankit.
Most temples and mosques in Kanpur have management committees that collect the flowers inside the shrines and put them in bins. From here they are sent to be thrown into the river. Helpusgreen collects the flowers directly from the places of worship. According to Ankit, 2400 kg flowers are discarded in Kanpur on a daily basis. But Helpusgreen is only in a position to treat about 500 kg flowers a day, collected from 13 temples and three mosques.
Another great feature of Helpusgreen products is that they use recycled packaging, made from discarded cartons from a liquor factory in Kanpur.
Additionally, because they know people usually don’t throw away packets that have pictures of gods and goddesses on them, Ankit and Karan pack the havan/yajna items in seed paper that is embedded with tulsi seeds.
The discarded packets will grow into beautiful plants when they come into contact with soil.
Currently, they are exporting most of their products to Switzerland and Germany. And they are also making them available on e-commerce websites like Amazon, Flipkart, etc.
“We have produced 1.5 lakh kg flower compost till now. My mom was the target customer for us in the beginning. We had decided to keep working on the products till she approved of them. And the best feedback came from her. She loves it,” says Ankit laughing.
While most of us leave it to the gods to take care of the flowers we offer up in places of worship, kudos to Ankit and Karan for turning at least a part of the offerings into such amazing and environment-friendly products.