Are chemical dyes and holy waste making the holy rivers of India sick?

This article takes a deep dive into the realm of water pollution in the sacred rivers of India caused by industrial and floral waste and how a few organizations are combating it with their sustainable practices

Hitanshu Bhatt
New Update
holy rivers of India

According to the latest findings of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), a staggering 4,126,997 tonnes per annum (TPA) of plastic waste was generated in the year 2020-21. This industrial or commercial waste either ends up in landfills or water bodies, thus affecting the natural habitats there. The majority of this waste is generated due to industrial activities, and only a handful of it is recycled or reused. However, as we say, "every drop counts," in this case quite literally, there are a few brands and organizations that collect this industrial or manufacturing waste and turn it into useful products, mitigating some amount of the threat to these water bodies. As one of the main objectives of the International Day of Action for Rivers is to raise awareness about how freshwater ecosystems like rivers are increasingly being polluted due to human activities, we shall look at a few homegrown brands that collect the trash before it reaches the rivers and turn it into products worth using.

The focus on floral waste management

One of the major sources of water body pollution is the floral waste generated from religious offerings, festivities, and wedding decorations. Most of this waste is not treated or segregated and ends up in water bodies or landfills. When floral waste is dumped into water bodies such as rivers, lakes, and ponds, it decomposes, consuming oxygen in the process. This depletion of oxygen levels can harm aquatic organisms such as fish and other fauna. Additionally, the decomposition process releases nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, which can lead to algal blooms, further degrading water quality.


To address these irregularities, better waste management practices promoting the recycling and composting of floral waste, along with raising public awareness about the environmental impacts of improper waste disposal, need to be implemented. Even before reaching this stage, there are brands that work tirelessly to collect waste from these locations, preventing it from reaching water bodies and ensuring sustainable use.

This purpose drove the birth of a brand when Rahul Bageria and Devanshi Kaul were strolling past the holy Ganga River and witnessed people tossing offerings into the revered river, considered 'Ganga Maiyya' by Indians. Just as they were about to leave, they saw a truck laden with discarded flowers dumping waste into the water. Inspired by the idea of repurposing these flowers, Esscent Living was born – a brand producing natural incense sticks under Project Arpan of the Connecting Dreams Foundation by Shri Ram College of Commerce (CDF-SRCC). Esscent Living collects waste flowers from temples and transforms them into worship accessories, completing the cycle by returning what ideally belonged to the place of worship while mitigating harm to the environment. "To date, we have recycled over 1500 kgs of flower waste, converting them into incense sticks," said the CDF-SRCC team. What's most admirable about this project is that it is run by students of Shri Ram College, with torchbearers changing from one batch to another, ensuring a lasting impact.

The change that might be a threat 


The challenge with passing on a legacy is that it doesn't always yield a positive impact. This was evident in the textile industry's transition when the British began replacing natural dyes with chemical colors for producing textile goods, leading to another set of pollution problems in water bodies. Chemicals such as lead and magnesium, with their high pH values, pollute water bodies and pose significant risks to both humans and aquatic species. Due to commercialization, much of the textile industry releases chemical dyes into water bodies without proper treatment. Recognizing the detrimental effects of chemical dyes on water bodies, Jigisha, the founder of Bageeya - an eco-clothing brand, initiated a venture to mitigate this issue by adopting an alternative solution of natural dyeing.

As damaging as chemical dyes are to water bodies, leftover fabrics, scraps, and other waste materials also pose threats. If not properly managed, they end up in landfills or water bodies, further deteriorating their conditions. Proper disposal or repurposing is crucial, as demonstrated by Patch Over Patch (POP), an upcycling clothing brand that transforms leftover fabric scraps into designer outfits, giving discarded clothing new life while addressing environmental concerns. Kavisha Parikh, the founder of POP, believes in extending the lifespan of clothes until there's no longer any material left to cause harm to the environment. She collects waste materials from industries, designers, and local garment manufacturers, utilizing them to create apparel that promotes the concept of 'refuse becoming the new fashion.' This approach helps manage industrial waste in countries like India, where textile manufacturing is a major industry.


However, the issue doesn't end with repurposing chemical dyes and industrial waste. As Jigisha, the founder of Bageeya, delved deeper into this concept, she realized that water pollution wasn't solely attributable to chemical dyes and industrial waste. Temple waste also significantly contributes to water pollution in India. Reports indicate that around 8 million tons of flowers are discarded into water bodies every year. Bageeya alone collects approximately 5 kilograms of flowers daily from nearby temples in Baroda, Gujarat, and utilizes them to create natural dyes for handloom textiles. These flowers must be segregated from other temple waste, washed, and then processed into dyes to prevent them from ending up in water bodies.

"I believe this is still a modest contribution that brands like ours can make. Everyone, including the government, should intensify their efforts to address this issue. Cleaning the riverbeds of the Ganga or Yamuna shouldn't be limited to one-off campaigns; rather, it should be a regular initiative undertaken by civic bodies," she asserts. Similarly, we should all make conscious efforts to avoid littering especially tourist destinations with waste, allowing the sacred waters to retain their purity. This collective effort can ensure that our holy waters remain pure, with only water flowing through them, devoid of the impurities of our actions.


International Day of Action for Rivers water body pollution floral waste waste management practices Esscent Living Project Arpan Bageeya founder of Bageeya Patch Over Patch