Going Green in The Ganges | HelpUsGreen, EO
Updated: Apr 7
The River Ganges is a great body of water that runs through parts of India and Bangladesh. To the Hindus and residents of the holy city of Varanasi in particular, the river is so much more. Many view the river as the personification of the goddess Gaṅgā, placing religious and cultural significance there. Given the length and breadth of the river, millions converge in Varanasi to access these sacred waters through any of the 88 stone embankments known as Ghats. These Ghats are cultural touchpoints where all kinds of religious activities take place, from purification baths to floral offerings are practiced daily. Two ghats in particular are held in high reverence, as they are used exclusively as crematory sites. These religious practices have been going on almost unchanged for hundreds of years, but the river is nowhere close to being as pure as it may have been in the past. The rituals may remain the same, but modern problems have led to the Ganges becoming the second most polluted river in the world.
Untreated sewage waste, disposed garbage, and industrial chemicals are all contributing to toxicity in the water, threatening the ecosystem of marine life in the river, and poisoning those who rely on it to live. It is ironic that the ornate flower offerings are actually behind so much of the damage to the river's ecosystem. Due to the sheer volume of offerings, mixed with the cocktail of pesticides & chemical additives found in the flowers, the mulch formed was responsible for much of the damage. Saving the river was not something one person could do alone. It was however a challenge that Angkit Agarwal, one of the founders of HelpUsGreen, knew he wanted to tackle head on. Together with Karan Rastorgi, their mission to repurpose flower waste into something more useful began. What followed was some innovative R&D, socially empowering employment, and a sustainable final product through what they call flowercycling. The process begins with the daily collection of flower waste, all 2.4 tons of flower waste generated by more than 20 temples and mosques along the river. This work is done manually by women who are considered "untouchables" in Indian's caste-based society. The women that HelpUsGreen relies on are some of the most marginalized, and discriminated members of society. Though their work may be manual in nature, it has provided them a fair wage with insurance and benefits which is something that some of their almost 80 flower collectors have not experienced in any of their other jobs.
The collected flower mulch is processed, refined, and developed into a range of products that have sustainability in mind. HelpUsGreen has managed to turn the refuse into organic fertilizer, charcoal-free incense, and Florafoam® a biodegradable styrofoam alternative, with even the packaging coming from the upcycled materials. Their work has also lead to the initial phase development of a bioleather material, continuing the expanding product line of HelpUsGreen. The impact has become more evident through the change that this upcycling endeavor has brought about. HelpUsGreen’s work has translated this into real world results, with 2 temples refusing floral offerings outright and scaled up efforts are planned in Nepal and Bangladesh. Changing these long standing, and traditionally rooted practices in favor of rehabilitating the river for good is a fine step towards course correction. Through genuine concern for the environment and for their fellow men, HelpUsGreen has started the movement towards a revitalized River Ganges, and a first step towards change. As their work in flowercycling continues, HelpUsGreen will continue their river rehabilitation efforts. We can look to their work as one of the biggest picture approaches to a multi-phased challenge, even one as big as the Ganges herself.
For their game changing efforts, particularly in upcycling and conservation, women equality, alleviating poverty, and creating impactful change in their corner of the world, HelpUsGreen was recently recognized as this year's MyEO Engage Social Impact Business Awards Grand Winner.