Student to help recycle floral waste in Indian temples


Parimala Shivaprasad is planning to extract essentail oils from flowers that are discarded after Indian ceremonies (Pic: © University of Bath 2018)
Parimala Shivaprasad is planning to extract essentail oils from flowers that are discarded after Indian ceremonies (Pic: © University of Bath 2018)

by LAUREN CODLING

AN ASIAN chemical engineer has spoken of her hopes to bring to the UK innovative plans to help reduce floral waste offered in temples and other places of worship.

Parimala Shivaprasad, 27, a PhD student, is building a social enterprise which will work on extracting essential oils from flowers used in Indian temples. They will be used as organic compost, which could, in turn, help to grow vegetables.

Floral waste makes up a third of solid waste in India. It is estimated two million tonnes of floral waste are discarded in India every day after religious ceremonies.

Although Shivaprasad plans to set up the pilot scheme in her hometown of Bangalore in south India, she hopes it will extend across the country and beyond.

“We’ve also had a lot of interest from the general public and agriculturalists in the UK,” Shivaprasad told Eastern Eye. “I don’t think it is as big a problem in the UK, but it is an interesting solution to managing floral waste better.”

Although the supply chain differs in Britain from that in India, Shivaprasad hopes the essential oils project is “something on the cards” in this country.

Marigolds, jasmine and roses are traditionally among flowers offered during religious
ceremonies in India. They are also frequently used in weddings and festivals and left discarded in rivers and lakes.

It is estimated two million tonnes of floral waste are discarded in India every day after religious ceremonies

Shivaprasad grew up surrounded by flowers and came up with the idea as an undergraduate student at Dayananda Sagar College of Engineering in Bangalore. She
wanted to develop the idea for her final year project, but that did not happen.

It was only when Shivaprasad came to the University of Bath in 2015 that she began to rethink the idea.

“I had a lot more time on my hands and there was an opportunity at the university with an enterprise competition [which she later won],” Shivaprasad recalled. “It was just an idea for fun though, and I never expected anything more to happen.”

The project called Retra (which translates to fragrance in Sanskrit), has also received funds from a University of Bath innovation award.

Shivaprasad, who received support from the school’s Bath SETsquared Innovation Centre, praised them for their mentoring and advice, adding how they taught her “how to think like an entrepreneur”.

She admitted being sceptical about taking a break from her usual academic route.

However, she believes the project would be a good way of “keeping the links with the academia alive”, as she hopes it will eventually be used as a case study.

“It could be a good case study for environmentalists,” she said. “So I am seeing it not just as a business start-up. It hopefully has the scope to be… a case study.”

Shivaprasad aims to move back to Bangalore at the end of the year to kick start the project. Her father, a chemist, and mother are both keen to help her with implementing
the project at a local temple.

“I am lucky to have such supportive parents,” the engineer said, citing her father as
her role model.

Another aim is to employ local women at Retra, as she believes the process can help them improve their skills and give them an extra income. Typically, women work at Indian temples in small roles such as housekeeping positions.

“I felt this would be a good initiative to employ more women and provide them with more job opportunities,” she said.

Shivaprasad hopes to see Retra set up so she can contribute to the influence of social waste management.

In the long run, she said, the aim is trying to make it work, turn it into a case study and
extend it to other countries that need it.

“If I can contribute, that would be a big achievement for me as a chemical engineer,”
she said. “I’ve always wanted to give back to society.”