In these temples, offerings do not go waste

They are carefully segregated and processed to create nutrient-rich organic manure

By Subhojit Goswami
Published: Tuesday 05 June 2018
Flower pollution is often overlooked while crafting policies towards cleaning the Ganga. Credit: Vikas Choudhary
Flower pollution is often overlooked while crafting policies towards cleaning the Ganga. Credit: Vikas Choudhary Flower pollution is often overlooked while crafting policies towards cleaning the Ganga. Credit: Vikas Choudhary

We give generously to our gods, and that is evident from our temple offerings. It is estimated that some 800 million tonnes of flowers, including roses and yellow marigolds, are offered across the temples mosques and gurudwaras in the country. Along with flowers come vermilion packets, plastic incense packets and bangles made of synthetic material.  However, when these generous offerings turn into colossal waste, it creates a tricky problem that is detrimental for our environment.

First, the problem

Since temple offerings are considered scared, it is discouraged to dump them in the landfills. Most temples throw their waste into local water bodies like rivers, ponds and lakes. There are several temples in the country, especially those located in Ganga basin, which directly dump daily waste into the river, that too, without even segregating them into biodegradable and non-biodegradable components. There is no monitoring system either.

While industrial runoff is often singularly blamed for the spike in pollution level in Ganga, floral waste hardly gets the blame. In fact, flower pollution is often overlooked while crafting policies towards cleaning the river. Floral waste, reportedly, accounts for 16 per cent of the total river pollutant. While rotting flowers affect the water quality, the pesticides that are used on them, leach into the waters and harms marine life.

But the same waste flowers have an enormous potential of being turned into wealth. This is exactly what the Art of Living Foundation’s solid waste management project is doing in collaboration with entities such as Coal India.

So, how does the project help?

Segregation of temple waste at Dakshineshwar Temple in West Bengal. Credit: Art of Living

Instead of letting tonnes of waste going down the river or any other water body, it is collected at one place, sent to waste processing units where it undergoes the process of shredding, following which the bio-enzymes break down complex waste particles to create organic manure.

From Kashi Vishwanath in Uttar Pradesh to Kamakhya Temple in Assam and Krishnamuth Temple in Udupi to Dakshineshwar Temple in West Bengal, this solid waste management project is targeting temples that draw maximum devotees all round the year and hence, generate huge amount of temple waste. 

The process is not just sparing the water bodies from bearing the burden of waste, but also generating employment for locals, who are deployed for segregating waste, separating flowers from garlands and operating the processing units. Currently, about 35 people are employed for all the seven temples.

Waste processing unit used for converting temple waste into organic manure. Credit: Art of Living

Challenges and progress so far

Kashi Vishwanath has been the most challenging project so far. “Thousands of devotees throng this already crammed temple complex. About two tonnes of waste is generated every day, but taking them out of the complex is difficult. We are trying to find out ways to make logistics less cumbersome,” says Mayank Vashishtha, who leads waste management projects. Every day, one tonne of organic manure is created out of the waste. Not just that, each year, about 730 tonnes of (365 days x 2 tonnes) of waste do not find their way to Ganga or in landfills.

But are there any takers for manure? “When we approach devotees and local commercial establishments and tell them that the manure is being created out of the flowers offered to the deities, they feel like taking this product home,” says Vashishta.

However, according to Mayank, it is not always feasible to run a waste processing unit depending on one major temple. "That is why we are urging small temples in the vicinity to allow us to collect floral waste from their premises as well so that we are able to convert more waste into compost,” he adds.

So far, the project has been initiated in seven temples. "By the end of June, we will implement this project in Ajmer Sharif, where three to five tonnes of roses are offered every day," concludes Vashishta.

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