By Devaki Bhooshan
Indian social enterprise, HelpUsGreen, is turning the country’s 80,00,000 tonne-per year religious waste into organic products, with its certified organic vermicompost, ‘Mitti’, fast becoming the toast of the export circuit
Seas of Marigolds with their petals torn out. Rivers of Rose petals bathed in raw milk—pink, red, white. Pools of Jasmines, their fragrance long gone. Streams of Red Hibiscus coagulated into a bloody red pulp. Not the remnants of a flower show but the botanical cadavers of India’s religious waste.
A melting pot of various religions, India is home to approximately 2,398,650 places of worship, most of which generate religious waste, ie, decomposed flowers. Not surprisingly, the country’s multicrore rupee religion industry generates a whopping 80,00,000 tonne of floral waste every year. Flowers begin their journey as sacred offerings to deities in the countless temples and mosques of India, but sadly find their way to rivers and other water bodies, polluting them and wreaking havoc on the delicate aquatic ecosystem. Social entrepreneurs, Ankit Agarwal and Karan Rastogi, decided to tackle this issue when they observed mountains of wasted flowers at a temple in Kanpur that they knew would eventually end up clogging the holy River Ganges. Their unique and innovative solution to this pressing environmental problem is ‘Flowercycling’—recycling flowers to produce an assortment of organic and handmade products.
With the mission of ridding the country of its religious waste, the duo established Helpusgreen in May 2015 in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, with a modest corpus of Rs 8 lac (approx USD 11,932/EUR 10,681) but was able to break even within the first few months on inception. Its flagship product is ‘Mitti’ (meaning ‘soil’ in English), a certified organic vermicompost certified by Ecocert, which is currently awaiting its patent. Other products include an incense sticks (agarbatti) and stones (dhoop) brand, ‘Sticks and Stones’, available in refreshing natural fragrances such as Vetiver, Basil, Lemongrass, Lavender, Strawberry, patchouli, Eucalyptus, Cedar wood, Green apple and Citronella. Helpusgreen also promotes ‘Yagya’, a vedic bamboo less incense stick made from 39 herbs, flowers, tree barks, roots, spices, fruits, cow dung, divine worship flowers, ghee and resins.
Although a modestly sized enterprise, Helpusgreen’s products boast a zero carbon footprint, and it uses recycled paper for packaging besides using plantable papers as packaging material, which has tulsi (holy basil) seeds embedded in it. So, when one is done using Yagya sticks, the package they came in can be used to grow holy basil.
The Export Market Beckons
Currently, Helpusgreen collects floral waste from 13 temples and three mosques in Kanpur. These are cleaned by removing unwanted excesses such as thread, empty milk sachets, paper, etc, and sorted manually. The flowers then evolve into various products. The operations are managed by a small core team of five, including the founders. Composting is done at Helpusgreen’s production unit in Sarsaul town on the outskirts of Kanpur, which is equipped to produce 500 kg of vermicompost a day. On a typical day, the firm flowercycles 500 kg of flowers with the help of self help groups (SHGs) comprising underprivileged women from Kanpur, who form the backbone of Helpusgreen’s production process. Besides providing them thus with a means of livelihood, Helpusgreen ensures education for their offspring and vocational training for young adults.
The company is predominantly export oriented, with Germany and Switzerland as the principal markets for Mitti. While they do sell in India through major e-commerce sites, the domestic segment constitutes a small percentage of their sales. However, they do invite business to business queries are current Indian clients include Indo Gulf Fertilisers, a unit of Aditya Birla Nuvo Ltd (for the vermicompost).
In the offing for Helpusgreen is the unveiling of a showroom in Milan, Italy. The company is also actively involved in establishing markets in Dubai and Turkey, and has formed a number of strategic partnerships with institutions such as the Oikos Foundation and Wormup.ch, Zurich, Switzerland. Currently exporting to the tune of 2,000 kg a month, the company has received phenomenal response in the export market, the demand for their product far outweighing their capacity to supply. Hence, Helpusgreen is in the midst of a rapid expansion to cater to the burgeoning demand for Mitti, and is currently trying to generate funds through venture capital. Helpusgreen is also in the process of identifying a facility for storage of flowers.
As part of its expansion plan, Helpusgreen proposes to add more flowercycling units in other cities along the Ganges, beginning with Varanasi and Allahabad. The next few months will see the outfit procure its Fairtrade license. It is also trying to widen its flower collection base and is tying up with local vendors to collect flowers from hundreds of apartment complexes. Commenting on the positive response the company has received overseas, Rastogi says, “Growth in the organic sector in Europe is very high and they are also early adopters of new concepts such as ours. The response to our products has been overwhelming in the export market as this is the first time flowers are being composted to make certified organic products. In fact, currently we are overbooked and have no surplus stock. We are now looking to scale up production to meet the volume of demand.”
Besides flowercycling, Helpusgreen is developing an eco friendly strain of polystyrene foam that will degrade faster, and is fostering its own organic farm in the hinterlands of Kanpur, nourishing it organically with ‘Mitti’.
Company: Helpusgreen, Kanpur, India
Year of establishment: 2015
Promoters: Ankit Agarwal, Karan Rastogi
Products: ‘Mitti’ vermicompost, ‘Sticks & Stones’ incense sticks and stones, ‘Yagya’ vedic bamboo less incense sticks, natural bathing bars
Export: 2,000 kg a month (‘Mitti’ vermicompost)
Export Market: Germany, Switzerland
This article was published in the April 2016 issue of Pure & Eco India