“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein
While sitting on the ghats of Ganga, visitors often get immersed in its enchanting aura. The cool breeze engulfing your body. Sound of the trees and flowing water merging into the melody of Aarti being offered in the temples. With your feet dipped into the relaxing waters and your mind in a state of eternal peace, there’s no place else that you’d rather be. Suddenly, you feel something entangling around your legs. You look down and find an unsavoury garland of flowers wrapped around your calves.
Garlands and flower petals are generally offered to Gods and used in rituals. However, once used, they are mostly dumped in the rivers. This leads to an enormous waste problem in India apart from being a sore sight for the tourists. Studies estimate about 8 million tonnes of flowers are dumped into rivers each year. Rishikesh based Odini products has taken up the task to prevent the flowers from being discarded into rivers.
Odini products was established in February 2019 by Rohit, Gaurav and Rita. It processes flowers that are offered at temples into daily use products like incense sticks (Agarbatti), incense cones (Dhoop), Shower gel, Holi colours and Vermicompost. The products are branded under the product line: ‘Nabh’ which means sky in Hindi. They aim to prevent the flowers from dumped into the surroundings and rivers while generating employment for the local population. The flowers are collected from temples, flower shops and other sources. Since the waste will be generated perpetually, it’s practical to have utility products being made from them.
They have carved a niche for themselves while providing economical products that can be used by the masses. While working as an engineer, Rohit had come across processing units that convert fly ash from burnt coal into bricks. He was searching for avenues to enter into the waste management sector when he came across the problem of flowers being dumped in the rivers. His aunt who had taken to Sanyasa (asceticism) and meditation guided him to pursue the cause further. He talked to the locals and experts to find the solution. He set up a lab in his home to try various combinations of ingredients that can give a functional product with the highest composition of natural materials. The R&D and market search phase took around 6-7 months during which he faced multiple failures. With perseverance and determination, the required products were achieved.
Nabh involved and trained women in SHG’s in and around Rishikesh and employed them in the processing operations.
It currently employs about 15 people, the majority of whom are women. The women have flexible working hours so that they can look after their homes as well. Involvement of machines is less so that to the maximum number of people can be provided employment. The products are priced such that even the marginalized women who make them can purchase them easily. Thus they are produced for the common citizen of India.
The prevalent mass-produced incense sticks and cones traditionally have a high proportion of harmful chemicals like Charcoal, Sulphur, etc. that pose a health risk for the users. The smoke from such products has been linked to respiratory ailments and triggering Migraine headaches, among other ailments. The products offered by Nabh are free from such toxins because of the high proportion of natural ingredients and are thus less harmful for daily use.
Many challenges were overcome during the journey of Odini products. The primary one was inducing behavioural and attitudinal change. The stakeholders were deeply imbibed in their habits that were difficult to change. They prefer to dump the offered flowers in the river and dustbin rather than storing it to be used by Nabh. Thus the team installed boxes around temples for easier collection of flowers. They appealed to the temple authorities and worshippers who gradually came on board.
Next challenge was to gather and transport the flowers for segregation and recycling. The flowers that can be used are converted into a granular base for the products like incense sticks, cones, etc. Whereas the rotten flowers and green parts like leaves, stem are used for the vermicompost.
Paying close attention to customers’ feedback was hugely beneficial for Odini products from the start. When the first batch of products was being sold, a customer told them that the fragrance was not strong enough. The batch was held back and the product was reworked and redistributed.
Before the lockdown, Nabh was processing about 400-500 Kg of flowers daily.
Before the lockdown, Nabh was processing about 400-500 Kg of flowers daily. Due to the Coronavirus lockdown, as the temples and workplaces were closed, the operations were stopped completely for 3 months. The Green shoots are reappearing with the gradual reopening of temples since July.
The venture has a substantial offline presence in Rishikesh and online presence in multiple states via online platforms like Amazon. Word of mouth publicity and strong distribution channels helps it to connect with the tourists and pilgrims who throng Rishikesh all year round. The team is now working on new products like Lip-Gloss and anti-septic foot cream, thus diversifying its products array. Odini products’ long term vision involves setting up multiple decentralized manufacturing and processing units in the religious towns across India. It aims to impart training to the local women of these areas who can’t travel large distances due to family constraints. The team is planning to work on other waste materials as well.
A holistic model like theirs that works at the intersection of Women empowerment, employment generation and waste management go a long way in realizing AtmaNirbhar communities and Bharat.
Article by Subhav Duggal, Team ulaunch.