Hindu temples: general issues
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Flowers offered at temples
Outside Delhi’s Jhandewalan temple are hawkers selling mata ki chunnis (ceremonial red and gold cloth) and garlands. With 5,000-10,000 devotees visiting every day, and most of them offering flowers, the temple generates about 200kg of floral waste daily. On Tuesdays and Sundays, it’s upwards of 500kg, and during Navratri it can touch a tonne a day. Over the last year, though, the temple has been composting its flower waste, making sure it doesn’t end up as an unsightly mass on riverbanks or in landfills.
Surendra Kumar, who has worked at the temple for 24 years, was trained to use the machine that was installed last year. “I put the flowers in the shredder with sawdust and bacteria, run the machine, and out comes compost,” he says. He runs the machine every 15 days and gets about 30kg of compost every day. The surprisingly odourless result is in high demand with farmers from Haryana, local schools and a temple in Mandoli.
Religious sites around India are looking for ways to re-use or recycle floral waste, and startups and companies are lending a hand either with resources or technology. In Delhi, eight religious places have installed machines to turn flower waste into compost, as part of an initiative by Angelique Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of Delhi-based construction company Angelique International, and Lok Sabha MP Meenakshi Lekhi.
India’s many places of worship generate close to 20 lakh tonnes of flower waste daily. Much of it ends up in landfills, where it doesn’t decompose as it would naturally because it’s mixed with other non-biodegradable waste.
Ankit Agarwal and Karan Rastogi work with 49 temples in Kanpur and neighbouring areas to collect flowers, which they use to produce handrolled incense sticks. They founded Help Us Green in 2015 to cut the waste reaching the Ganga everyday as well as employ locals. They collect 4.2 tonnes of floral waste a day, and have hired 73 women to hand-roll incense sticks. “Our packaging is also designed to keep people from throwing it away easily because of the religious imagery on it. It contains tulsi seeds, so you can plant it,” says Rastogi. In Mumbai, Nikhil and Preetham Gampa have set up Green Wave, a social enterprise that also turns floral waste into incense sticks. They’ve partnered with 15 temples in Mumbai, Lucknow and Hyderabad, and collect 300kg of waste daily. “The idea came when I was doing fieldwork in a remote part of Madhya Pradesh. We lived in a temple, because it was the only place in the village that had electricity. I caught malaria and realised the floral waste in a local pond we bathed in led to breeding of mosquitoes. Coming from a biotechnology background, I wanted to do something about this problem,” says Nikhil, 27.
Green Wave employs 40-50 women. One kilogram of floral waste creates 800-1,000 incense sticks.
Most of the temples partnered with Green Wave used to dump their flower waste in nearby water bodies or leave it in plastic bags under trees.
Dumping flowers in the water isn’t a good solution. “Floral waste uses the dissolved oxygen in rivers and lakes to decompose. This causes oxygen deficiency for marine life,” says PhD student and chemical engineer Parimala Shivaprasad. She has found a way to use discarded flowers to make essential oils. “I use a simple extraction method to get essential oils from 2kg of flowers in my lab daily. The remaining biomass is turned into compost. Next year, I am setting up a pilot plant in a temple in Bengaluru,” she says.
Turning waste into compost is also cost-effective. Jhandewalan temple spends an additional Rs 500 a month to run the composting machine, which is cheaper than paying Rs 3,000 to transport the waste to the local dump. Composting on site saves the municipal corporation and taxpayers the cost of transporting waste to a landfill, says Jaishree Goyal, head of Angelique Foundation’s CSR.
“The flowers come from the soil, and go back as compost,”says Goyal. “That’s what religious spaces are all about — to remind us of the cycle of life,” she says.
Hindu temples: general issues