Turning floral waste into incense to protect the Ganges

Entrepreneur Ankit Agarwal is taking tons of floral waste and turning it into incense to protect India’s holiest river, the Ganges.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) FOUNDER AND CEO OF FLORAL WASTE RECYCLING COMPANY "PHOOL", ANKIT AGARWAL, SAYING: "Every year, more than half-a-billion Hindus go to temples to worship and we offer flowers to our gods, flowers, as the mode of offering the best that humanity can offer. But hardly does anyone thinks that what happens to these flowers afterwards. Sadly, these sacred flowers are dumped into water bodies like the River Ganges to respect their sanctity. Every year, we Indians put in about eight million tons of flowers in the Ganges. All the pesticides and insecticides that were used to grow these flowers mixes with the river water, making it highly toxic, which is one of the leading causes of hepatitis, cholera across India and Bangladesh, affecting lives of more than 420 million people.”

Agarwal was inspired to act several years ago when he noticed bubbles bursting and water reacting to a dump of floral waste being unloaded by a truck as people bathed.

He founded his company Phool, which means flower in Hindi, in 2017.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) FOUNDER AND CEO OF FLORAL WASTE RECYCLING COMPANY "PHOOL", ANKIT AGARWAL, SAYING: "The sheer volume of flowers is overriding the bio-physical stability of our River Ganges. So, what we do is, we collect these flowers from the temples directly, bring them to our facility, wash off all the pesticides, and convert these flowers into incense sticks, 'gulal'."

Agarwal said he was also working on creating other biodegradable materials from floral waste – one of them being a green alternative to styrofoam that decomposes in less than a month, and a form of leather that he calls "fleather".

Phool now employs over 100 workers, mostly women, at its factory in Kanpur.

(SOUNDBITE) (Hindi) WORKER AT PHOOL'S INCENSE FACTORY, PREETI, SAYING: "We take pride in the fact that while people throw floral waste, spread wastage, we clean it and recycle it."