In India, it is very common for people to show religious devotion with flowers. Every year, around 800 million tons of blossoms (red roses, yellow marigolds, prickly xanthiums, etc.) are deposited at the nation’s temples, mosques and Sikh gurudwaras, creating a colorful, but tricky waste problem. Because the flowers have been used for worship, they’re sacred, and therefore can’t be just sent to a landfill, explains Ankit Agarwal, an Indian entrepreneur. Hindu temples often throw the spent flowers into the River Ganges, a venerated waterway. But this just continues the Ganges’s legendary pollution because the flowers are sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals that affect the environment.

When Agarwal and his partner Karan Rastogi first proposed finding alternative uses for the waste, people thought they were crazy. The temples thought the young men wouldn’t treat the flowers with the required reverence, or that there couldn’t possibly be a business in flower recycling. Two years later, they’ve proved the cynics wrong. Agarwal and Rastogi have a thriving company called Helpusgreen, which produces a range of products from the flowers, including incense sticks, enriched compost (735 tons so far) and bathing soaps.

Based in Sarsol, a small village in Kanpur, in Uttar Pradesh, Agarwal and Rastogi now collect 1.5 tons of flowers every day. They work with 29 temples and three mosques. And they’re only just getting started. They plan to launch in Varanasi soon, one the holiest sites for Hindus, as well as in Haridwar, Allahad and Kolkata, all cities along the Ganges River.

Helpusgreen convinced the temples and mosques to let them have the flowers by claiming that the flowers would, in a sense, be used for sacred purposes. Incense sticks, which are normally made of coal, are part of Hindu ritual, while the soaps are used for purification. Sticks are sold in paper infused with tulsi (holy basil) seeds, getting around another disposal problem.

Agarwal was recently in New York, taking part in this year’s Echoing Green fellowship. The award comes with a two-year grant about $90,000 which is money that Agarwal plans to use for further expansion!