Recycled Flowers have a Story to Tell

by October 8, 2018 0 comments

HelpUsGreen is green startup by Ankit Agrawal and Karan Rastogi, where they recycle organic waste and flowers from temples.

What caught the attention of Ridhima Modi was not the qualifications of her to-be-husband or that he had a patent in his name, but his innovative thought-process. Ridhima, a post graduate in finance from the Xavier Institute of Social Service, Ranchi, got a proposal from Ankit Agrawal, who had started a new venture and was also contributing towards the mammoth task of cleaning the gigantic river Ganga.

To understand the importance of what Agrawal was doing, a look at the most sacred river of India which is also a lifeline of the millions living along its course, is essential. The 2,525 km long river, despite being holy has become highly polluted over the years. One such factor adding to the mulch are the flowers offered on its banks at different places of worship which get immersed in the water. The flowers come in contact with the water, release toxic compounds, reduce the oxygen level and eventually threaten human and marine life.

Flowers are a symbol of devotion and reverence. When used for religious purposes, they become sacred and cannot be dumped in the bin and are eventually immersed in the Ganga. So a need was felt to recycle these flowers to solve the problem of monumental waste being generated. A mission began on the Ganga ghats in Kanpur which gave birth to what is called HelpUsGreen today. Started in May 2015 by two friends, Ankit Agrawal (29) and Karan Rastogi (29), HelpUsGreen based in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, is a mission to clean the Ganga which employs the local women particularly from the marginalised section of the society and provides them with livelihood. HelpUsGreen has pioneered the technology of recycling these flowers.

However, it was not an easy road that the duo traversed. Convincing the temple authorities to hand over their floral waste was the first hurdles that they faced. Recalling a visit to a temple, Karan said, “People go to a temple for peace of mind but seeing a heap of sacred flowers collected as garbage on the temple premises is hardly conducive to that. Since I was regular at this temple, it was difficult but not impossible to convince them. Incidentally, that was the biggest temple in Kanpur.”

Starting with one temple, the initiative now collects flowers from 23 places of worship in the city on a regular basis. The quantity of flowers has increased manifold from 1.5 to two tons to seven to eight tons of flowers everyday. Once collected, these flowers are sorted to remove unwanted products like plastic and garland threads. The flower heaps are then sprayed with a biological culture which removes insecticides and pesticides. Cleaned and washed, these flowers are then hand-crafted into charcoal free incense sticks, cones, plant fertilizer and florafoam. Launched under the FMCG brand ‘Phool’, these products are absolutely organic and chemical-free. It has incense sticks, cones and vermicompost. Another product called ‘Florafoam’ is a 100 per cent bio-degradable alternative to thermacol. Made from flowers, florafoam is customisable to any shape and size and is a much cheaper alternative to thermacol. “To make the model really scalable, we needed a business-to-business product for mass volume. The radical idea of making thermacol- packaging material gave us the mass volume as we expanded pan-India,” said Ankit.

The duo is not just set out to bring about an environmental change but is also making a huge social impact by employing 79 women, who earlier worked as manual scavengers. They now have full-time employment and get fair wages, insurance, provident fund and a bus service to commute. Ranjana who has been working with them for a year now said, “My life has changed a lot for the better.”

Karan, who completed his Bachelors from Delhi University and Masters from Warwick Business School, UK, comes from a joint family and said that his parents were not keen on him taking this up as they felt that “this is no work to do.”

His partner too faced opposition. When Ankit, who has 17 research papers and a patent in his name, told his parents that he wanted to quit his job and start HelpUsGreen, his mother said, “Ab tum job chodke mandiron ka kachra saaf karoge (now you will leave your job and clean the garbage in temples).”

Three years down the line, their parents are very proud of them and also ask their friends and neighbourers to send the flowers to the organisation rather than to disposing them in the water.

HelpUsGreen recently won the United Nation young leader for SDG 2018, Bill and Melinda Gates Goalkeeper award and the United Nation Momentum of Change Award 2018. They were also listed in Forbes 30 under 30 class of 2018. “We never thought we could achieve this. In the coming years, I hope we will be able to impact more cities and change the lives of not less than 500 women”, Rastogi said. Ridhima who manages their finances said, “Five years from now I want to see us listed on the NSE as a public company.”

Writer: Divya Modi

Source: The Pioneer

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