The golden rays of the sun cascaded through the canopy of a large banyan tree. Babblers, sunbirds, koels and tickels flowerpeckers kick-started their daily routine by foraging for food. A garden lizard moved behind a bush. All around were patches of paddy inside a resort that was restored to an old 1890s Tanjore village. The dew drops on the lush green blades of grass glowed in the morning light. My dearest friend and I were overjoyed, for this was the setting of our wedding. We were bird-watching during rituals! I was proud because we managed to conduct the wedding in a way that is as environmentally conscious as possible!
At a time when the Indian wedding industry is over a 100,000 crore and is growing at 25 to 30 per cent annually, it is important to intervene at every aspect and find alternative ways that reduces our impact on the planet. The best environmentally-conscious way to conduct a wedding would be to conduct it at home with just family and a few dear friends! The second best option would be to intervene and opt for alternatives! We need such approaches at a time when 960 million tonnes of solid waste is produced annually in India due to rampant consumerism. At a national scale, one-third of the India’s wetlands are already wiped out or severely degraded because of encroachment. Wetlands that were once home to numerous species of flora and fauna have been replaced by concrete jungles and garbage mountains, virtually, in the blink of an eye. In such a bleak scenario, we must realise that we are living in an interconnected world with nature, and hence, there is a need for all of us to lead an environmentally conscious lifestyle, especially on big occasions such a wedding where consumerism is in its 6th gear!
While there is a growing number of people opting for eco-friendly weddings, it is important that many follow suit and do our part not just for the planet’s sake, but for our own survival and that of many other species. Here are some ways that can be followed to organise an environmentally conscious wedding.
Speak to your parents and in-laws to get them on your side. It is important to show them the environment-friendly alternatives that are available today. For example, cups made out of sugarcane waste, cloth bags, organisations like HasiruDala who recycle waste, etc. Start with ‘Why?’ Move to ‘What?’ and ‘How?’ Do your bit of ground work even if you have to do a cost-benefit analysis!
Jot down all the events that will take place during the wedding. Make a note of the alternatives that are available to the minutest details for all of them. For example, the paper on the food table with plastic coating can be replaced by a much thinner non-plastic coating paper that can be included in the compost.
Team makes flow. You will need to bring together people like how you do when you start an enterprise. They include parents and in-laws and a coordinator. None of what we did would have been possible without a wonderful team to implement the solutions. Begin by inspiring them to work with you for an eco-conscious wedding.
Outdoor venues with good ventilation are great! You can save on electricity. Some of the space can be used to compost waste. Such venues would be available in every location. For instance, we had a gorgeous sustainable tourism resort, INDEco Swamimalai, that has restored a small south Indian village to how it used to be in the 1890s. They aligned with our values, and were extremely flexible to implement our ideas in their venue. In addition to these, they had their own environment-friendly systems place!
While you plan, you need to think whether a gift is needed or not, and if it is needed, how can we opt for an option that is not wildly consumeristic! Local economy is a great to explore. For example, you could choose for earth-friendly clothing like Tula or by going directly to the production facility so as to avoid packaging waste. You could buy food ingredients and makeup materials that are organic. Return gifts can be as simple as cloth bags from companies like The YellowBag or you could make your own up-cycled gifts. Such options are not only environment-friendly, they look elegant too.
Influencing caterers to buy into an alternate worldview and changing their approach is one of the most challenging situations you would face during the planning process. Hence, I have come to believe that if you ever want to learn the art of persuasion, speak to caterers! Highlight to them about the grave issue of ecological collapse and civic environmental issues. Introduce them to alternative options that they can switch to. Express at regular intervals about your seriousness in making an eco-friendly wedding and the intention behind it. If it is pure, people will come on your side.
When you do this, you can replace little plastic bottles with water dispensers. Metal tumblers can be hired on rent. Ingredients can be sourced organic. Food waste can be reduced, and all the biodegradable waste can be recycled.
Decorations are one of the key areas that generate waste during a wedding. Fortunately, there are multiple options that are available to create them from waste. Look for eco-designers like Mr. Ananda Perumal, who are proficient and sincere in using this art based approach.
I believe that a zero waste wedding is not possible because there is nothing called free lunch. Waste generated one way or the other. The best way is to turn all the biodegradable waste to manure. Inevitable waste there are non-biodegradable waste can be turned to eco-bricks. This approach ensures that waste doesn’t end in landfills. Senthil, an agriculturalist and a disciple of Nammazhvar, and his team worked closely with the caterers and the resort staff to recycle waste and compost all the biodegradable ones.
These eight ways not only allow us to reduce the impact of weddings on the planet, but also serves as a source of inspiration for the guests to practice the same in their families. What we need are the will and effort to make it a reality. At a time when we are few generations away from a seemingly uninhabitable earth, we must ensure that we adopt an inside-out approach by practising environment-friendly approaches at home and taking part in nature conservation outside if we are to save the environment now and for our future generations.
The writer is a conservation educator, and Founder-Director of YOUCAN, a community that identifies, supports and empowers young people to lead nature education initiatives in their communities.