The Birth of Idea
It was the day of Makara Sankranti, an ancient Indian festival marking the end of the winter solstice, celebrated by bathing in the sacred waters of river Ganges. On that cold winter morning in 2015, a friend, who was visiting me at my home in Kanpur expressed an interest to see the Ghats of the River Ganges. We sat by the Ghats and amidst people performing Suryanamaskaras, we were aghast spectators to devotees drinking and bottling up the river water despite the evidently visible muck. In spite of being one of the most revered water bodies in India, we started wondering why was this river turning carcinogenic and if it was us, the worshippers, who had turned against the river.
It was easy at first to place blame on the tanneries, factories, and sewers that were indiscriminately dumping their refuse into the river. While explaining the complexity of the problem to my friend Jakub, I shrugged it away telling him nothing really can be done about it. While we gazed at the dirty water in culpable silence, we saw the colorful flowers being dumped from the temples nearby turn into mulch as they accumulated and their colors faded away into the murky waters.
Something had to be done about this. Looking for the right opportunity, research revealed to us that most of these flowers that end up at the temples are loaded full of pesticides and insecticides. Once they reach the waters of the river, the chemicals wash off, mixing with the water, making toxic compounds, suppressing the oxygen level and thereby gravely threatening the marine life.
Along with my friend Karan, we realized a mission to repurpose this waste coming from places of worship. It was the birth of Phool.
Our journey – A struggle Our journey – A struggle
To the uninformed, the idea of further using wasted flowers seemed ludicrous. We had to toil to convey our idea of recycling the temple waste because nobody was willing to take it seriously or give up their floral waste. But our simple idea became a roar once it set rolling. Karan and I spent hours experimenting, meeting various stakeholders and pitching the idea of managing temple waste in the country. A year and a half and countless hours in a makeshift laboratory later, flowercycled incense and vermicompost were conceived and crafted. The mission to preserve the river Ganges and empower vernacular people by providing a means to earn their livelihood became a reality.
Present – Who we are today Present – Who we are today
Phool may have grown much more than the two people it started with but our spirit of adventure that began at the Ghats of the Ganges flourishes every day.
We have invested ourselves heavily into our R&D to invent methods to convert temple-waste into biodegradable packaging and bio-leathers. We are also constantly trying to enhance our impact on empowering the women who are employed with us. It has been our earnest effort to turn this pious waste collection into a full-blown social enterprise which now spans three cities.
As Phool evolves, we are always presented with many decisions. Here, we remember what is imperative- our people, our community, and the Ganges.
"I am impressed by your Phool enterpries in India which is perfect example of circular economy. Keep setting the standards for others to follow."
But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.
I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.