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The Environmental Impact of Ganesh Chaturthi

To be able to choose the most appropriate ecosensitive solution it is important that we understand the environmental impacts of Ganesh Chaturthi.

These can be summarised to be the following:
  1. The water pollution caused by the immersion of Plaster of Paris idols into natural water bodies.
  2. The water pollution caused by chemical paints used on these idols.
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  1. The waste generated by the non biodegradable accessories used during the worship.
  2. Noise pollution
  3. Traffic congestion
  4. Increased consumerism
Amongst these the first two can be partially resolved by a shift to eco sensitive materials and practices.
Water Pollution:

The Issue

For some years now we have been observing a growing awareness about the water pollution caused by the immersion of Ganesh idols made out of Plaster of Paris, in natural water bodies such as lakes, rivers and the sea. PoP is not a naturally occurring material. Plaster of Paris is a calcium sulfate hemi-hydrate : (CaSO4, ½ H2O) derived from gypsum, a calcium sulfate dihydrate (CaSO4 , 2 H2O), by firing this mineral at relatively low temperature and then reducing it to powder. While idols made out of naturally occurring clay ( shaadu in Marathi) dissolve within hours of immersion in water, PoP idols may  take anywhere between several months to years to fully dissolve. In addition, when chemical paints are used to decorate the idols, these paints contain heavy metals such as mercury and lead, which seep into the water as the idol dissolves.

  Download a factsheet on
the impacts of PoP idols
compiled by Toxics Link, Delhi here.

In Bangalore a study done by the Central Pollution Control Board to assess the impact of immersion of Ganesh idols on the lakes revealed the following:

  • The acid content in the waters increased.
  • The TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) increased by a 100%
  • The Dissolved Oxygen content increased during the day due to the agitation of waters during immersion and reduced at night when organic discharge increased.
  • The heavy metal content sampling showed an increase in metals such as iron which increased nearly 10 times and the content of copper in the sediments increased by 200 to 300 %.
Possible solutions:

Since the main issue around water pollution has got to do with the idol immersion ritual, several people are now suggesting a slight variation of this ritual to avoid water pollution. These include:

1. Immersing the idol in a water tan constructed by the government, instead of directly into natural water bodies.
2. Using only a natural clay idol and immersing it either in the tank or in a bucket of water at home.
3. Immersing a 'betel nut' which symbolises the idol and reusing the same idol every year.
4. If one is using a PoP idol, simply sprinkling a few drops of water on it as a symbolic immersion and donating the idol to be recycled for the following year.

Appropriate Management of 'nirmalya':

Along with the idol, there are several accessories used during the worship which are collectively referred to as 'nirmalya'. These include flowers, fruits, coconuts, cloth, incense, camphor etc. Further, many people create elaborate temples out of thermocole to houwe their idols. Until some years ago, all these were also immersed along with the idols.
In Pune, the municipal corporation has successfully convinced people not to immerse the 'nirmalya' into the water. Instead, they have installed large bins shaped as traditional pots or 'kalashes' to recieve this nirmalya. While this is a good first step, the appropriate management of the nirmalya is still crucial considering the volumes that are collected every year.
This is a sensitive issue since it involves the sentiments of the worshippers.

Possible solutions:

1. Avoiding the use of non biodegradable material such as thermocole altogether.
2. Composting all bio degradable material.
3. Distributing food itmes such as coconuts and fruits among the poor.
4. Recycling flowers to make hand made paper or dried flower products.

To read more on the above issues visit the following links:
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