HelpUsGreen creates a range of products made from reprocessed floral and agro-waste, including an ecofriendly substitute for thermocol.
India has thousands of places of worship, big and small, spread across the country. And, people offer tons of flowers, along with sweets and fruits, every day. Once the rituals are over, these flowers and garlands are discarded. But, Kanpur-based HelpUsGreen has developed a novel way of turning this floral waste into ecofriendly products.
The flowers are handcrafted into charcoal-free incense sticks and cones, organic vermicompost and biodegradable packaging material that can replace the use of toxic thermocol.
The idea behind HelpUsGreen was born in 2015, when two friends, Ankit Agarwal and Karan Rastogi, were hanging out one winter morning on the bank of River Ganga in Kanpur. As they sat watching the devotees bathe in and even drink its polluted water, they realized that they had a mission.
Through research, the duo found out that one of the major factors responsible for the pollution of this revered river was the dumping of flowers offered at places of worship. “In Uttar Pradesh, tons of flowers, grown using insecticides and pesticides, were dumped into the Ganga daily. What began as an idea to protect the river, has now grown to be HelpUsGreen,” says Apurv Misal, the company’s marketing manager. So far, it has “offset over 275 kilograms of pesticide residue,” he adds. Started with a meager investment of Rs. 72,000, it has grown into a unique upcycling technology to turn flower waste into handcrafted ecofriendly alternatives.
HelpUsGreen collects around 8.4 tons of floral waste every day. This is, then, repurposed into incense sticks and cones as well as vermicompost fertilizer for agricultural purposes. The incense sticks, initially sold under a different brand name, were rebranded as Phool in 2018. “Within three months, we reached a level where we were able to sell an incense packet every minute. With each product we sell, we prevent 1.25 kilograms of flowers from being dumped in the Ganges,” says Misal.
He explains that the smoke from ordinary incense sticks has high levels of particulate matter, volatile organic compounds like benzene, toluene and xylenes, as well as sulfur dioxide. “Our Phool incense sticks have no charcoal or sulfur content,” he says.
HelpUsGreen’s idea of preserving the Ganga expanded in a new direction when it identified the potential of using flowers to create a possible replacement for thermocol. The company developed Florafoam, an ecofriendly alternative to thermocol, which will soon be launched in the market.
“Thermocol is one of the biggest pollutants on Earth and a way to recycle it has not been discovered yet. The production of thermocol is energy-intensive and causes harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrofluorocarbons, used in the production of thermocol, result in air pollution, which damages the ozone layer,” says Misal. “Florafoam is a revolutionary packaging material developed by HelpUsGreen, using the technology of Flowercycling. It is a 100 percent natural product, as it’s made of flower and agro-waste. Its production process is also carbon neutral. It is cost-effective, as compared to traditional packaging material and is fire-resistant too.”
The material, he says, provides great elasticity, tensile strength, shock absorption and durability. Further, it can be altered and molded to any shape as per product requirements. “Florafoam takes around 62 days to disintegrate in soil completely and can be easily recycled,” adds Misal.
In 2018, HelpUsGreen received training at the Nexus Incubator at American Center New Delhi. This helped the company “identify and solve critical problems that would otherwise have gone unnoticed and possibly been risky. Nexus, with its passionate team and a network like no other, can help start-ups find solutions to problems across all verticals,” he says. Nexus Incubator start-up hub is a collaboration with the IC² Institute of The University of Texas at Austin.
HelpUsGreen is now gearing up to launch Flora-Leather, a vegan leather made from floral waste. “We have invested heavily in our research and development to invent methods to convert floral waste into biodegradable packaging and bio-leather,” says Misal. “We are also constantly trying to empower 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.”
Ranjita Biswas is a Kolkata-based journalist. She also translates fiction and writes short stories.