Even a delicate flower can wreck the environment when it bulks up, and post-use, is disposed of as waste into the water bodies or landfills. Many organisations in India are handling this pressing issue and creating the best out of the trash.
A flower is refreshing to the eyes. But the beauty takes a back seat when tons of flowers end up as floral waste and get dumped into water mass. According to a study done for the International Journal for Research in Applied Science & Engineering Technology by Pradip Kumar Maity, approximately eight million tonnes of floral waste torments the water bodies annually in India. It is no brainer to comprehend the disastrous consequences on our lakes, ponds, rivers and seas and on the entire ecosystem in the long run.
On the one hand, India has initiated cleanliness drives such as Swachh Bharat, nudging everyone to maintain sanitation and hygiene, and aggressive campaigns are carried on by each state government. While, on the other, waste management, including floral waste, continues to be a serious concern.
Apart from places of worship, a substantial amount of flower waste is generated from various social, cultural and political events. Not just flowers, even leaves such as basil and betel are a part of this waste. However, instead of lamenting the issue, various organisations and independent environment enthusiasts have taken up the challenging task to curb the distressing situation and save our water bodies and marine life.
Set up at the end of 2019, Project Palaash by Enactus Aryabhatta (Aryabhatta College, University of Delhi) is now a name to reckon with. It collects flower waste from religious places and recycles them into various sustainable products, including candles, organic dyes and essential oils. This project has also given employment to hundreds of women. In Hyderabad, Holy Waste, a start-up by Maya Vivek and Minal Dalmia, recycles used flowers to produce organic incense sticks, soap, dyes, and gulal (dry color powder) during the Hindu festival of Holi.
Though it might appear trivial, the disposal of flowers in rivers, oceans, etc., generates water pollution. Meanwhile, it also affects aquatic life and the ecosystem. The way forward is responsible management of floral waste by solid-state fermentation, converting it into environment-friendly consumable and value-added products, including natural compost and manure. This is how debris is salvaged into wealth. In the past couple of years, India has witnessed the rise of several organisations handling flower waste and its disposal sustainably.
Not just the metropolitan cities of India, even the Tier II cities have joined the bandwagon. P. Anil Chowdary, Managing Director, Green Waves Environmental Solutions (GWES), has taken up the task in major cities of Andhra Pradesh, including Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada. According to him, creating awareness among the consumers plays a crucial role in the responsible disposal of flower waste. His organisation keeps sensitising people at various religious places, social functions and forums of event planners. Such efforts are showing results. Many have come forward to give away the flowers after use to GWES. A few others opt to learn how to dry and store flowers at home instead of leaving them in a wet state. Similarly, many have come forward to give away the flowers to GWES after any kind of social soirees.
“In Vijayawada, we have tied up with the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation (VMC). It has issued instructions for the safe disposal of flower waste. Several women working in waste management mechanisms for the municipal body and different NGOs are trained by us. And later, they are employed, making it a women-empowered project devised as a PPP model (GWES partnered with VMC). From collecting the flower waste to processing and production of by-products (consisting of handmade organic soaps, natural dyes, dhoop, essential oils etc.), these women are engaged at every stage. Apart from our website, we have tied up with the Sustain Cart (e-commerce site for sustainability). Interested people can buy such eco-friendly merchandise and reduce their carbon footprint,” apprises Anil.
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As per research, flowers contain carbon. It helps in manufacturing incense sticks naturally. Also, the emission of carbon dioxide from the burning of regular incense sticks decreases significantly due to this change in the raw material. Thus, incense sticks made from floral waste are more energy-efficient. They often come with natural essentials such as margosa, Indian basil and lemongrass extracts.