River Ganges, or Ma Ganga (Mother Ganges in Hindi), has nurtured the rise of Indian civilization. A lifeline to 420 million people who live along its banks, it provides them with water and drainage facilities, and serves as a sacred space for Hindus to bathe and worship the Goddess Ganga. But Ma Ganga is slowly dying, and the sad irony floating beneath her toxic waters is that the very same celebratory rituals that praise Ganga also involve poisoning her.
“It is often respect for Ganga the god that leads to disrespect for The Ganges River,” writes Cameron Conaway in Newsweek. And one way to demonstrate religious devotion to Ganga is with lots of flowers—800 million tons each year to be exact. Indian farmers are able to produce the vast quantities of beautiful blossoms annually with the help of some not-so-pretty friends: chemical pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers.
Distributed to thousands of temples across the nation, these petals are used in worship and are therefore deemed sacred. In Hindu custom sanctified flowers cannot be sent to a landfill—thus, each colorful, yet toxic flower possesses the same dismal fate: to be dumped in the Ganges River where they rot and leach harmful chemicals into the water.
Indian entrepreneurs and childhood friends Ankit Agarwal and Karan Rastogi have set out to address flower pollution. Reviving the Ganges through livelihoods, their company, HelpUsGreen, seamlessly integrates social and environmental responsibility in the form of handmade and flowercycled products. When they “first proposed finding alternative uses for the [flower] 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,” reports Fast Company.
Two years later HelpUsGreen continues to thrive, and Agarwal and Rastogi realize their prosperous endeavor could not be a reality without the help of flower waste collectors. These waste pickers are mostly women of lower castes who help “sort the flowers in their different types while taking out unwanted cup holders and garland strings.” HelpUsGreen has been able to touch the lives of those at the bottom of the pyramid while simultaneously cleaning Ma Ganga. From incense sticks, to bathing soaps, to enriched compost, HelpUsGreen products are a testament to the power human ingenuity holds to transform problems into solutions.
Read more about this green business initiative at Fast Company.
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