Social initiative Project Arth – made up of Indian Institute of Technology Delhi students – is the group responsible for the endeavor. According to the group, India performs 8.2 million cremations using wood every year with 16.4 million trees being cut for fuel. It aims to reduce deforestation through the use of sustainably produced cow dung logs.
Project Arth team leader Ayush Sultania told The Epoch Times that each cremation requires 660 to 880 pounds of wood depending on the corpse's weight. This is equivalent to two to three trees being cut down. However, successive cremations and tree cutting being performed amid the second COVID-19 wave caused more deforestation and air pollution.
The group first used its cow dung logs to cremate unclaimed corpses of COVID-19 victims. Sultania remarked that a dignified cremation is considered extremely important in India, which inspired his group to give unidentified COVID-19 victims "a good cremation." He said: "We collaborated with someone who's getting the unclaimed bodies from the police, and we [cremated] those [using cow dung logs.]"
Project Arth launched its free cremation campaign in April in the Indian capital of Delhi, Rajkot city in Gujarat state and Gwalior city in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Since then, it has cremated more than 200 bodies of COVID-19 victims who were unclaimed or belonged to poor families. "In the coming days, we will be doing more [cremations] in Noida and Meerut," Sultania continued. Both cities are located in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
According to the Project Arth team leader, cow dung sees wide acceptance in Indian culture. He commented that the funeral pyre in traditional Indian cremations is built over dirt coated with a thin layer of cow dung. Furthermore, Sultania cited a practice in some Indian villages wherein people attending a funeral bring two plates or cakes made from cow dung. These cakes typically used as biofuel are made from cow dung dried in the sun. This practice purportedly inspired him and his team to use cow dung shaped into logs for cremation. (Related: Coronavirus cremations in India suggest death count possibly 10 times higher.)
According to Project Arth, 520 million kilograms of cow dung are wasted every day. Sixty-five percent of that amount is dumped into heaps to decompose – producing greenhouse gases in turn. The remaining 35 percent is disposed of in water bodies – polluting groundwater sources and clogging drains.
Sultania remarked that methane gas anaerobically produced by decomposing cow dung "has an impact on human bodies" and can "cause regular headaches." He continued that methane "may [also] reduce the oxygen levels in the environment."
The Project Arth team lead said he and his team wanted to solve the problem of cow dung disposal while generating profit out of waste and innovating technologically. Thus, the group created a machine to create logs out of cow dung – and has continued research on how to make new products and generate wealth from them.
Based on the team's research, the cow dung logs contained a higher amount of heat energy compared to the conventional wood logs. They also produced lower levels of greenhouse gases and particulate matter when burned, compared to traditional wood fuel.
Sultania compared the cow dung logs to similar products made from elephant dung. These products prevalent in Sri Lanka and Thailand have both cultural acceptability and commercial value. He nevertheless expressed hope that Indian society will exhibit greater acceptance of products made from cow dung.
The project's espousal of cow dung logs for cremations came at a time when various Indian cities are facing a shortage of wood. Many crematoriums in various parts of the country have reported an "acute shortage" of wood to use for fuel due to the surge in fatalities. Speaking to The National, East Delhi Mayor Nirmal Jain said: "The situation is so dire … that [number of] cremations that would take place in a week are occurring on a single day now."
Because of the wood shortage, authorities in the Indian capital have looked to alternative fuels such as cow dung logs to use in cremations. Two civic bodies in the city said on May 4 that they were installing machines at government-run cowsheds. These machines will produce biomass cakes from cow dung and agricultural waste to be used as fuel.
"To not put pressure on wood, we have suggested the use of cow dung cakes. [Some] crematoriums are using cow dung cakes for the funerals," Jain remarked.
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