In India, people like to show their religious devotion with flowers. Lots and lots flowers. Every year, some 800 million tons of blossoms–red roses, yellow marigolds, prickly xanthiums–are deposited at the nation’s temples, mosques and sikh gurudwaras, creating a colorful, but tricky waste problem.
Because the flowers have been used for worship, they’re sacred, and therefore can’t be just sent to landfill, explains Ankit Agarwal, an Indian entrepreneur. Hindu temples often throw the spent flowers into the River Ganges, a venerated waterway. But this just exacerbates the Ganges’s legendary pollution: The flowers are sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals that leach into the environment.
When Agarwal and his partner and childhood friend Karan Rastogi first proposed finding alternative uses for the waste, they met a lot of resistance. The temples thought the young men wouldn’t treat the flowers with the required reverence, or that there couldn’t possibly be a business in flower recycling. Two years on, they’ve proved the naysayers wrong. Agarwal and Rastogi have a thriving company called Helpusgreen, which produces a range of products from the flowers, including incense sticks, enriched compost (735 tons so far) and bathing soaps.
“When we began in May 2015, everyone thought we were mad,”…