Every Wednesday sees thousands of devotees from the city visit St Michael’s church in Mahim to attend prayers. They carry flowers with them and leave them as offerings at the altar. The mound of flowers are thrown into trash cans and carried off to dumping grounds the next day.
That was 2014.
Wanting to dispose waste in an environment friendly manner, the church soon installed a biogas plant in its premises. Soon after, the flower waste was used to generate cooking gas.
This is the first in church Mumbai to have a biogas plant that converts flower waste to fuel. In a year, the plant converts more than five tons of flower waste into around five gas cylinders worth of fuel.
“We receive a lot of flowers as offerings especially on Wednesdays when around 50,000 people come for novena prayers. Earlier, the flowers used to go to the trash cans and get added to the waste piles in landfills,” said parish priest father Simon Borges, 76, who spearheaded the initiative. “We thought of doing something in which the flower wastes could be used to help the environment and so we decided to install a biogas plant,” he added.
The church set up a 1,000-litre/one cubic metre water tank on the terrace of the church where they store the flowers. The gas generated out of the decomposing waste is collected into a 500-litre gas tank positioned above the flower tank. The gas is eventually used as fuel in the church’s kitchen.
The project was designed and executed by Emmanuel D’silva, an environmental scientist who is an expert in setting up biogas plants across the country. “We began the project by using the flowers to create compost but went ahead with installing the biogas plant within six months,” said D’silva. He added, “The church receives around 100 kg of flowers a week from which we get gas which can be used for cooking food for three hours.”
It takes three weeks for a full tank of flowers to decompose without the presence of oxygen and generate fuel called biogas.
“We had spent around Rs 25,000 on the tanks. But the expenses were paid off within two years with the amount of fuel that was generated by the plant. Also, the slurry which is the liquid produced from decomposition is used as compost in gardens,” Borges said.
Biogas is considered to be a renewable resource because its production-and-use cycle is continuous, and it generates no carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas which can trap heat in the atmosphere and lead to global warming.
The process of converting the waste into usable gas is not a labour-intensive process. “There is not much to it except dumping the flowers and adding water to it daily. Our church is not too big but if big temples and churches also use their flower wastes to produce fuel, it will be of better help to the environment,” said Oswald Rodricks, 62, staff supervisor at the church.
The church plans to upgrade the size of the gas-generating plant and is looking for more alternatives to make the campus a ‘green’ church. “We are also considering to install solar panels to become more eco-friendly,” said D’silva.