Holy Waste, founded by two women, processes the floral waste from temples to manufacture fragrant soaps and incense sticks.

Turning floral waste into soap incense The story of a women-run Telangana startup
Features Entrepreneurship Thursday, July 25, 2019 - 17:39

As you enter Holy Waste’s office and working space in Gundlapochampally, over 20 km from the Hyderabad city, it’s the sheer comfort on the faces of the women employees that strikes you first and then the sweet fragrance of the soaps and incense sticks they manufacture.

Manohara, one of the employees is heavily pregnant, but is comfortably sitting in a corner of the room, rolling the incense sticks to perfection. There are around 10 employees exchanging friendly banter, plucking flowers off the strings and carefully segregating them.

Holy Waste, a startup that manufactures products out of floral waste, was started in December last year by Maya Vivek and Minal Dalmia, two enterprising women who then didn't know much about entrepreneurship. Leaving aside their plush 9-5 jobs, the duo went through the trouble of procuring used and discarded flowers at temples to turn them into useful everyday products.

Today Holy Waste receives around 100 kg of floral waste from around the city thrice a week. What once went into the dumpyards of the GHMC has now found a new lease of life in the forms of fragrant soaps and incense sticks. Maya and Minal say it’s been a long journey from starting their company in a small community hall at Gundlapochampally to setting up their own office in a rented building. And of course, the journey includes the women of the panchayat, who are building their dreams as Holy Waste grows in leaps and bounds.

Where it all began

Maya and Minal met each other through their children who studied in the same school.  After discussing a couple of ideas like making fridge covers or opening a goodwill store, it was one of their friends who suggested the idea to source discarded floral waste from temples.

Maya and Minal

“The heads of the temple were quite open to the idea because the waste generated was picked up by the GHMC staff and ended up in the city dumpyards every day. Though the temple authorities agreed to the plan, the real challenge was to segregate the flowers from the whole lot of waste thrown away in the bins,” Maya says.

After much brainstorming, the duo decided to place separate bins on the temple premises which collect only the floral waste. “The idea worked and the temple staff began dumping the flowers into these. However, we still receive a lot of trash in between which makes the process of segregation slightly difficult,” Maya adds.

Today, Holy Waste procures floral waste not only from temples but also from events and weddings that use a lot of floral decoration. On the terrace of their office, flower petals are spread out on huge tarpaulin sheets on one corner, and the other corner has women employees rummaging through the loads of floral waste received thrice a week and segregating the collection. There are different kinds of flowers - some fresh, some about to wither and some already shriveled.

However, Minal says that none of the flowers are thrown away and each of the petals is used judiciously in preparing products. “The sepals and stems are kept apart and put into compost along with cowdung which we later sell in the market,” she adds, pointing at a row of bins set aside for the purpose.

The women of Gundlapochampally

Procuring waste from temples was only one half of the job. The real challenge was to get the support of the sarpanch of Gundlapochampally and convince the women to come for work.

“The sarpanch opened to us the doors of the community hall on one condition - that we give employment to the women in the village. We were more than happy to recruit them. However, most of the women were initially apprehensive though most of them also needed the money to run their families,” Maya says.

Manohara was one of their first employees and the duo says that it was during the Aiyappa season that they realised they needed more hands at work. “One fine day, we received around 300 kg of floral waste and the three of us just sat their clueless with the heaps of waste in front of us. But through Manohara, the word of mouth spread and more women came enquiring about work,” Minal says.

Holy Waste currently has around 10 women who are into making incense sticks, soaps and colourful pouches using discarded sarees. Monica, a college dropout, says that she started visiting the place along with one of the employees. She hopes to find work in a big company in future.

Stitching a beautiful pouch from an old discarded yellow saree, Monica says she will soon join an open university and finish her studies. “Until then I need the money to sustain my family,” she adds.

Manohara, who used to work earlier in an LED company, is planning to buy a refrigerator from her savings. “Also, I want to send my child to a good school,” she says.

The quick growth

Holy Waste doesn’t have much online presence but has started to cater to orders even from outside the state. Inside the office, Maya is neatly arranging a gift box which consists of soap, a packet of incense sticks and two lovely petals of dried flowers. “This is for an order we have received and needs to be dispatched today,” she says. There are also small, woven baskets in a corner of the room, inside which are soaps placed inside a tiny pouch made of a purple handloom saree.

“We received this order for birthday return gifts. The boy said he wanted to gift something unique to his friends,” Minal says.

Minal and Maya also personalise the products with a hand-written note attached to each of the baskets.

Though the duo says they cannot call their products fully organic (as the origin of the flowers are unknown), the methods they employ are free of any synthetic material. “Our soaps could also be customised, not through the kind of flowers used but with the help of natural oils we add in the mould,” Maya says. The soaps do not contain paraben and are infused with tulsi along with the dried flowers.

The growth appears to have happened at the blink of an eye, but the duo cracked the success formula only after a number of trials and errors. “Our incense sticks had such a strong smell that people used to joke that we could use it as room-freshener,” Maya laughs, explaining that it was also equally difficult to get the right kind of butter paper that kept the fragrance of the hand-rolled incense sticks intact.

All their care and efforts have paid off. They're now incubated at a-IDEA (Association for Innovation Development of Entrepreneurship in Agriculture) at ICAR-National Academy of Agricultural Research Management, Hyderabad. And the duo’s goal now is to carve out a significant online presence. “And most importantly, we want to reduce the waste generated in the city. We want people to associate us with flowers and think of Holy Waste whenever they look at them,” Maya says.

Holy Waste soaps cost between Rs 100- Rs 175 while a packet of 30 incense sticks costs Rs 100.

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