Marriages may be made in heaven… but they can be earth-friendly, too. That, at least, is the belief of Bangalore-based environmentalist Shyamala Suresh, who is spearheading an initiative aimed at delivering zero-waste weddings.
She is, happily, not alone. Bangalore has been looking at ways to tackle its burgeoning garbage problem and Shyamala’s is not the only group looking at how to tackle waste at weddings.
In fact, it has become increasingly fashionable for couples to enlist help to ensure that their weddings are as eco-friendly as possible. Garbage is a burning issue in most Indian cities: Bangalore alone generates 2,300 to 3,600 metric tonnes of waste a day. Its landfills are full to overflowing and the problem is further aggravated by a lack of separation at source and generally poor waste management practices.
Shyamala and her group are staunch advocates of green weddings. The aim is to ensure that the traditional big fat Indian wedding (and other similar private events) does not add to the burden on landfills.
Otherwise a writer, Shyamala explains her mission: “Weddings, the way they are conducted today, are mass producers of garbage, and the whole idea behind green weddings stemmed from this observation. It’s just about making simple switches such as not using single-use disposables, ensuring that the decorations can either be composted or reused, and avoiding or reducing printed invitations and tissue paper. Our group of activists works with wedding planners but does not charge a fee.”
Apart from working with wedding planners and couples, Shyamala has also come up with a green-wedding guide that anyone can use. Carrying steel utensils to parties and using paper bags instead of plastic ones are among her group’s ideas to cut down on non-degradable waste.
Of her group of activists, she adds: “Initially, we were a team of local volunteers spreading awareness on waste management. We went by the name ‘We Care for Malleswaram’ [a neighborhood in Bangalore] and helped our friends have eco-friendly weddings. The idea is to reach out to as many people as possible and show them that there are alternatives and it is possible to celebrate their special occasion without burdening the planet.”
Nalini Shekhar, co-founder of another group, Hasiru Dala Innovation, offers a paid service to help organize eco-friendly weddings. “Wedding planners come to us asking for solutions to reduce waste and we provide them,” she says. “The first wedding we planned was about two years ago. I would say word of mouth and social media have been two powerful mediums to help us meet our customers.”
Plates and cups made of sugarcane fibres, areca nut plates and leaves are among their recommendations. “If people are willing to use traditional culinary like steel tumblers and plates, we support them. Thermocol is banned in Karnataka, so we advise against using it.””We work it out with the caterers and decorators on how to serve food with minimal wastage and bedeck the stage with eco-friendly materials. We discourage use-and-throws.”
Shyamala sees weddings as a huge garbage issue. “On average, a person at a wedding ends up using five to seven pieces of plastic, paper and styrofoam cutlery. A wedding with, say, 1,000 people, will leave behind two truckloads of waste, even if it is just a one-day event.”
Weddings are just one source of waste. “Apartment complexes, hotels and other commercial establishments are among the others. We see green weddings as a starting point to create awareness to live a life where you are conscious and responsible for the waste you generate.”
The trend for reducing waste at weddings has been helped by high-profile couples getting on the bandwagon in Bangalore. Karnataka transport minister Ramalinga Reddy’s daughter Sowmya’s wedding reception was widely publicized as an eco-friendly event, for example. Wedding invites were on recycled paper, decorations used potted plants, reusable natural cloth and paper flowers, and the ritualistic gifts given to guests were neem, sandal and mango saplings.
“Such eco-friendly events are starting points that will spread awareness and make people think about the environment at the household level”
Suresh Heblikar, a filmmaker and actor who founded the NGO Eco Watch in 1998, cites several reasons for the so-called “Garden City of India” becoming a Garbage City, from mass migration to rubbish not being separated at source. “Weddings create mass waste,” he adds. “One is due to lavishness and the other reason is food waste. Such eco-friendly events are starting points that will spread awareness and make people think about the environment at the household level.
“Commercial establishments should then follow a green path and avoid plastics. A change in the mindset is one thing that can preserve the Earth. People should look at both reducing the amount of waste generated and segregating it at source to aid effective waste management.”