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Andrea Hoymann
5 min readNov 10, 2020

Social enterprise turns temple waste flowers into catalyst for change.

Photo by Shiv Prasad on Unsplash

“If Ganga lives, India lives. If Ganga dies, India dies.” — Dr. Vandana Shiva

The river Ganges — or Mother Ganga as it is affectionately referred to by Hindus — supports the lives and livelihoods of over 420 million people in Northern India. Yet, the river’s might goes far beyond these practical and worldly values. In Hindu tradition the river embodies sacredness. It is where the dead are sent onto their final journey via redemptive burning rituals and where the faithful bath to “purify their souls”.

While the Ganges is highly revered in Indian culture, it is also suffering from intense pollution with untreated factory drainage, sewage, and waste being dumped into the waters daily. In a twist of irony, the river’s sacred status is also further intensifying the environmental stressors it must withstand. Not just because of the ritualistic burning of human remains, but something much more unexpected: Every year, temples dispose around 8 million tonnes of waste flowers in the waters of the Ganges.

Since the flowers were used in worship, throwing them into the garbage after they have served their purpose is not an option. Instead, the holy waters of the river are considered an appropriate alternative. The problem is that when mixed with water, the flower petals release the pesticides and insecticides used to grow them which is further increasing the river’s toxicity. These chemicals have been linked to contracting cholera, hepatitis, and severe diarrhoea which is the leading cause of child mortality in India.

Coming full circle: From flower waste to incense sticks

The complex interrelatedness of the environmental problem, human health hazard, and sacred local traditions means that the issue requires a place-based solution that considers, engages, and pays respect to local community and customs. Former software engineer turned social entrepreneur, Ankit Agrawal, has decided that he is up for the challenge.

In 2015, Agrawal founded Phool named after the Hindi word for flower (formerly known as Help Us Green). The social enterprise collects waste flowers…

Andrea Hoymann

German expat in Australia | writes about sustainability, travel, work & life | head of strategy at