[VoxSpace Life] HelpUsGreen : The Kanpur Youths Who Put Temple Floral Waste To Use

The Disgrace Discarded Flowers Carry

Religious sites in India are among the busiest places in the country. Hundreds and thousands of devotees throng at the temples, gurudwaras and mosques to pray to their respective gods and goddesses every day – expressing their needs and desires in various ways. However, the most common picture that you may envisage on entering any religious shrine or site in India is that of heaps of flowers offered to the deities, with unscrupulous amount waste flowers lying about carelessly at some corner of the religious premises.

While flowers are arguably the most wonderful creations of nature, the sight of decomposed flowers being trampled over by human beings, and fed upon by animals and bees is definitely not one to behold. Apart from being irritating to look at, it also has adverse effects on the health of people living in the temples and also causes environmental hazards when discarded in nearby water bodies or drains. Every time you enter a temple or a mosque, you would find many people grumbling over the fact, but never coming up with anything concrete to resolve this issue.

Two Friends Mustered The Courage To Give Shape To Their Innate Thoughts

Like everyone else, two friends from Kanpur often pondered on the issue. They were Ankit Agarwal and Karan Rastogi. The river Ganga had been intrinsic to their lives since childhood and it really pained them to see the mighty river being turned into a dumping ground for all sorts of floral waste. Thus, they worked really hard and left their individual ventures to transform the wastes into something useful.

According to Ankit, nearly 80,000 tonnes of floral waste is dumped into rivers every year in India. This concern led the duo to think of various ways to convert these flowers into an eco-friendly medium that can prove to be profitable to them as businessmen and to everyone else. They started with their research in 2012 and, after various failed attempts, their venture – Help Us Green – took shape. Help Us Green would collect disposed flowers from the temples and the river banks, and transform the same into bio-fertilizers and lifestyle products.

The Path To Success Is Never Easy

In the initial days of Help Us Green, Karan and Ankit rarely found anyone or could hire someone to help them in their noble endeavour. The duo would pick up about 500kg of flowers every day from various religious shrines. Neither did they have much money to establish a factory for their work. So, every day they would collect trash (flowers) and divide the amount equally among themselves to take home.

Thereafter, the waste flowers would be mixed with cow dung before they could be treated with 17 natural components, including corn cobs, coffee residue, etc. This was done to increase the nitrogen content of the end product. The mixture would be kept like this for a few days after which earthworms were added and left further for about two months in order to lead to the formation of vericompost.

Not Just Compost, They Have Other Products Too!

Not just compost, the friend-turned-business partners also worked on a strategy to turn around 20% of the discarded flowers into various other herbal items, such as incense sticks, bathing soap and also various items used for havan. Soon, their endeavour caught notice of premium groups and NGOs, and they were declared the winner of the fourth edition of the Tata Social Enterprise Challenge 2015-16 held at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (IIMC).

Ecstatic of the major win, Ankit said later, “We have won many competitions before but Tata Social Enterprise Challenge is like the Filmfare of social entrepreneurship.”

The social entrepreneurs claim that this initiative was not started as a profit-making engine. Rather, it has taken shape to preserve the rivers of our country from meeting a hazardous end, which might have proved detrimental to not just the environment of the country, but also its people. Evidently, around 8 million tonnes of decomposed flowers are dumped into the rivers on a yearly basis, choking the wonders of nature to a gruesome death.

“Sadly, these sacred flowers rot in rivers killing fishes, creating havoc in the fragile ecosphere of the water body and cause enormous pollution,” says Help Us Green co-founder Karan Rastogi while enlighting us about their profound initiative. Furthermore, as he points out rightly, the pesticides and other chemical fertilizers used to grow the flowers mix with the rivers, making it highly toxic.

Practice Made Them Perfect Their Art

During their initial days, when they were trying out various means to put the flowers into environment-friendly use, they found out that the harsh Kanpur winters made vericompost impossible. This led both the friends to inculcate the science of transforming the discarded flowers and recycling them into biofertilizers, bathing soaps, etc. at the prestigious Centre of Aromatic Plants in Uttarakhand.

After a rigorous training period, they launched their own enterprise with an initial investment of Rs 5 lakh, which came as an aid from their parents.

Their vericompost is sold under the name, ‘Mitti’, on their website helpusgreen.com. Their incense stick is yet another item from their kitty which has won accolades from everyone who has used it even once. Besides, there are the yagna sticks, which – instead of being made of bamboo sticks – are made of tree barks, flowers and herbs.

Not Just Businessmen, Karan And Ankit Are Revolutionaries

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Perhaps the best part of Help Us Green is that they are not just envisaging a personal gain through this business but a social change as well. With time, they found that their venture could provide immense support to the rural women. So, with the aim to provide employment opportunities to the downtrodden women, they set up Self Help Groups (SHG) in order to engage with women in need of a job. Today, Help Us Green is managing five SHGs, comprising of sixteen women each.

Furthermore, they are also utilizing a part of their funds to educate children of the women who work for them. Karan and Ankit are also aiming to set up a vocational training centre for the children so that they are skilled enough to take other jobs as well. Providing a perfect platform for women to work and showcase their skills is also on the duo’s list.