How this CA turned social entrepreneur is recycling temple floral offerings
Generous offerings are made to temples every day - be it in the form of monetary donations, food donations for the poor or even flowers in huge quantities that are used in the form of garlands or prasad to decorate idols.
But what happens to all the flowers in temples after they are used? By the end of the day, most of them go into nearby water bodies as these offerings are deemed too sacred to be discarded in landfills. However, this dumping into water bodies leaves rotting flowers, not to mention pesticides and insecticides in it, to cause water pollution.
Addressing this menace is Delhi-based social enterprise, Nirmalaya, that works with over 120 temples in the capital to recycle the floral waste into organic incense sticks and cones, dhoop sticks, and Havan cups among others. Floral offerings made at home are also collected as raw materials.
The Nirmalaya journey
In April 2019, Rajeev Bansal, a commerce graduate and seasoned entrepreneur, noticed flowers offered at the Shirdi temple in Maharashtra being recycled into incense. A few months into researching how flowers and other waste from temple offerings can be recycled, he teamed up with wife Surbhi and founded Nirmalaya.
Establishing a factory spanning 3000 yards in Dham Complex, Delhi, the couple developed their own recycling process, and got it patented under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
In the initial months, the company employed nearly 40 women from underprivileged backgrounds to work in the factory. But as the pandemic led to temple closures and a drastic reduction in offerings, the bootstrapped venture had to let go of several workers. The company currently has about 15 women employees.
These women segregate the flowers, infuse a healthy mix of organic herbs, and take care of packaging as well. The factory is also designed such that it is safe for their children to be around while they work, so that childcare is not an impediment for these women while working.
Priced between Rs 150 and Rs 1500 (a gift box containing each of Nirmalaya’s products), the items are sold on the startup’s website as well as ecommerce platforms like Amazon, Flipkart, and Jaypore. The products are also available on sale at retail stores in Goa, Bengaluru, and Kolkata airports through retail eco-conscious brand, Rare Planet.
“In November 2020, we received our first international order, and the customer loved our products so much that she is now our connection to the international market. The lady orders in bulk and exports to markets outside India,” Surbhi shares.
Bootstrapped so far with an initial investment of Rs 70 lakh, the startup hopes to break even in the next few months. The entrepreneur says word-of-mouth has gotten them the most customers, as huge social media marketing expenses deterred them from going that route.
Awareness about organic
Reaching out to priests and other administrative folks in temples, and convincing them about their idea was the biggest hurdle, according to Surbhi. However, the duo won their trust when they explained the process, and showed that the end products are used for religious purposes.
To ensure effective market penetration, the duo had to work on spreading awareness about the environmental impact of long standing rituals. She adds that once people began using Nirmalaya’s products, and understood its ethos, they eventually turned around to become more conscious consumers.
Edited by Anju Narayanan