How to cut the fat and keep the flavour.
By Kunjal Kothari
Big, loud, colourful and tons of fun, the Indian wedding is an unforgettable experience. But the extravagance comes with a huge environmental cost. An average Indian wedding creates approximately 300kg of plastic taste and 40 percent of food prepared for weddings is thrown out. There is no separation of waste at weddings, which means that all of it will probably end up in a landfill, where it will continue to
release CO2, warming up our already-overheated planet.
Fortunately, as climate awareness grows, an increasing number of couples don’t want to kick off their future together at the expense of Earth’s and the coming generation’s future. With a little bit of diligence and awareness, families will find that a dream wedding and environmental consciousness are not mutually exclusive.
While no means an exhaustive list, the following green tips are simple ways to reduce the different types of waste created during a wedding. The key to lasting environmental change is to know that while everybody may not be able to do everything, as long as everybody does something, we will all move towards a healthier, greener future.
Good food being thrown away is something no one wants to see, but with extensive menus and never-ending meals, a lot of wedding food ends up in the trash. It is estimated that food that ends up in the landfill is responsible for 8 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.
Follow these guidelines to keep your wedding food from the trash bin:
- Get in touch with an NGO like Scholars of Sustenance (SOS) (Facebook: @scholarsofsustenancefoundation), an orphanage, or a prison to see if you can donate leftover food to those in need.
- Limit the number of items you serve. Keep one international cuisine along with the full Indian menu per meal.
- Stick to the favourites in the buffet line. Most people prefer to eat at the live stations, while buffets are mostly space fillers.
- Provide smaller plates, so that guests do not overfill their dinner plates. Food that is leftover in plates will just end up in the trash. As an added bonus, the smaller plates are easier on the biceps.
- Skip the in-room snack basket, and keep provisions at the hospitality desk. This way, your guests will only take what they consume and you will eliminate the need for bulky baskets (which also end up in the trash).
Plastic bottles can take up to 500 years to breakdown, but plastic never actually goes away. All plastic that has been created in the world is still there and will continue to be there in nanoparticle form long after our grandkids’ grandkids’ grandkids are gone. Eliminating single-use plastic from an Indian wedding is simple with the following steps.
- Choose a venue that has a good water filtration system and make it clear to all your guests that the water is drinkable.
- Pick drinks that don’t require straws. Do keep eco-straws (bamboo, paper or metal) on hand for those guests who do require them. Source these from Ecotique Thailand (Facebook: @ecotiquethailand) or Sonny’s Speciality Products (Facebook: @eco.ssp)
- Source banana leaf plates for your chaat party from Farmers Group Klong Krajong (Facebook: @FarmersGroupKlongkrajong)
- Skip the wedding favour entirely or give one meaningful gift, such as seeds of local herbs along with a recipe of a dish served at the wedding. If your guests are coming from countries that have restrictions on the import of seeds, you can give dried herbs and seasonings. Wrap the gifts in bags made from old sarees. (For example, soaps made from local ingredients by eco-firm Nuaynard Handcrafts (Facebook: @nuaynardhandcraft) make for a fragrant gift.)
- Ask your decorator to repurpose their existing props and materials, rather than creating something completely new; it will save you a bundle as well. Avoid balloons, especially helium balloon releases. It will end up choking birds and fish that are attracted to the colourful rubber and mistake it for food.
Obviously the carbon footprint of a destination wedding will be higher than that of a local one, simply because your guests will have to travel farther to get to the wedding. But you can reduce your emissions in
many other ways.
- Send e-cards and reminders, rather than physical wedding cards. This will reduce your emissions even before the
- Go local:
Choose locally-grown flowers and versatile arrangements that will last the whole wedding, rather than just for one event. If your big day is taking place in India, get in touch with Help Us Green (Facebook: @HelpUsGreen.co), an Indian
company that repurposes floral waste to keep it out of landfills. Source your food and ingredients locally
- Pick a hotel with strong eco-credentials. Some trusted eco labels are Greenkey (www.greenkey.global), which assesses hotels’ consumption, waste and emissions, and LEED (https://leed.usgbc.org), which rates hotels’ Green Building practices. Most truly green hotels also have someone in charge of sustainability to guide you through their Earth-friendly practices.
- In lieu of wedding gifts, ask your guests to offset the carbon from their travel through Green-E (www.green-e.org) certified carbon offset programs.
- Skip the fireworks. It doesn’t just pollute the air, but the noise is extremely harmful to wildlife.
We spoke to a Thai-Indian wedding planner and a couple who recently tied the knot to give their unique insights on how to make weddings more sustainable.
Wedding Planner, Krish Events
Have you ever been asked to plan a green wedding? If so, how difficult did you find it, and what are some of the changes you made to reduce wedding waste?
Yes, absolutely. An increasing number of couples (and their families) have been asking for paperless and plastic-free weddings. We have done weddings where everything, from invitations to signage at the wedding,
was presented digitally. We had another wedding where the décor was created using whole fruits and vegetables, which were then reused.
The weddings we’ve done post-pandemic have had no plastic water bottles. Instead, the guests have been very comfortable with drinking out of glasses at drinking stations. The hotels we work with are also very conscious about plastic waste. For example, all the Marriott properties provide drinking water in glass bottles in the guestrooms and the Shangri-La Bangkok doesn’t allow any Styrofoam in the décor.
What we’ve had some difficulty with is food waste. In Bangkok, we do donate uncooked food to jails and orphanages, but hot food that has been sitting in chafing dishes cannot safely be donated. Outside of Bangkok, it’s harder to find places to donate food to. But we have gotten creative with the food waste, and have sent leftover food to farms where it can be used as animal feed. We also made the decision four years ago to stop using any animals in our weddings, including the baraat, because of the stress it caused the animals.
SHEFALI ANURAG AND MOHAMMED QURESHI
Married in 2022
Why did you decide to have a ‘green’ wedding?
It was an obvious choice for us, and didn’t feel like something out of the ordinary. The two of us are generally very conscious about the products that we use, and our lifestyle. Weddings in Indian culture sometimes
can be about showing people your socio-economic background rather than a day of love with your favourite people – while neither of the two approaches is right or wrong, we thought it was important to keep in mind what really mattered on those few days where we celebrated our love. We made no compromises with the vendors, location, and events, but added thoughtful touches that you could say were ‘green,’ which made the experience better for everyone who was a part of it!
If you had a wedding planner, how receptive were they to your decision to have a ‘green’ wedding? Can you give examples of your steps?
We were lucky to have a venue, Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok, that was incredibly beautiful on its own and did not need too much decoration. Our wedding planner, Magnificence Events, and production team, Pavarit & Co., were on board to do more with less. Creatively, it was not as much about the budget as it was about maximising what we already had. For example, the banquet hall we used one night was designed with Art Deco in mind – which was a natural fit with our Great Gatsby reception theme.
We sourced our flowers and most of our food ingredients locally – and why not, as Thailand has so many beautiful and delicious choices. We utilised reusable natural decor that would not pollute its surroundings
in any way, and held two of our events outdoors. Almost all our signage was digital, and we didn’t print any invites.
Wedding activities included a tarot reader, musicians, and a photo booth with high-quality keepsake frames rather than plastic and paper. We gave our guests a spa kit in a reusable box made locally from natural
ingredients, and an entirely edible chocolate tuk tuk sent to their room in an in-room dining plate (no plastics).
To minimise food waste we knew every guest’s dietary preferences and kept track of the RSVP until a day before the event. The chefs were notified if there were any cancellations.
Our clothes were not Sabyasachi, neither did we wear Louboutins – we wore less exorbitant but equally-beautiful clothes that felt authentic to us. Mo’s outfits were stitched at a boutique in Silom, run by the cutest uncle. We were also mindful of the money our parents would spend on us – reducing waste is not just environmental.
On a scale of 1-5, how difficult would you say it was to ‘greenify’ your wedding?
I would say 2.5. Some things should be done as a default. It is your big day, but that doesn’t mean you create an environmental mess. People appreciate personal touches and thoughtfulness. Sustainability can be
activated creatively, making it look like it was done by design rather than shoddy, and it saves you some money too!