Just after my daughter Nithya was engaged last May, she told me the story of a green wedding in Chennai. She said, “Appa, if we plan, we can do better than this. It will be the best wedding gift I could get.”
I could see the gleam in her eyes, a reflection of her passion for demonstrating how a wedding could be conducted responsibly without using plastic and with reduced waste. After all, she has been a strong advocate of lifestyle changes for sustainable living in our home.
An architect, Nithya has trained in environment-friendly building methods. She has been a strong advocate of lifestyle changes for a sustainable living and shares her thoughts on her Instagram account. She has worked with Namma Ooru Foundation (NOF), a Chennai-based NGO in their environment projects, spreading their message on reducing waste, garbage recycling, and the conservation of natural resources.
I agreed, in principle, to do whatever was possible to make her wedding ‘green’ without compromising the comfort of the guests.
The following morning, we quickly put together a list of changes we wanted to implement. First, I took the parents of the groom into confidence to bounce off our ideas. Their complete trust and appreciation for our passion helped us move forward enthusiastically.
1. Wedding Invitation with a Message
For the invitation, we did not use the thin plastic lamination as it would make the paper non-recyclable. On the rear side of the invitation, we incorporated drawings highlighting our steps to make it a Green Wedding.
Although we could send e-invites to several friends (about 20%), we consciously sent printed invites to many families so that our message on a green wedding reached as many people as possible. We expected that a printed wedding invitation would be handy enough to reach out to the children and elderly persons too – it worked.
2. Alternatives for Plastic Water Bottles, Tumblers, Cups & Bags
The primary challenge was serving water to the guests.
In the last couple of decades, hygiene-conscious people have been made to believe that only bottled water, disposable utensils, and cutlery are safe and hygienic. Decades ago, marriage halls used to carry a large inventory of stainless steel tumblers and cups for use during the wedding. Today, most marriage halls do not have any, as there are no takers.
Hence, through a message on the invitation, we sought to assure our guests that we would replace bottled water and plastic utensils with ‘hygienic and safe’ alternatives.
Our caterer Sivaramakrishna Iyer said, “You are trying to bring back the practices that existed 20 years back. I am with you in whatever you plan – just go ahead.”
When we looked around for renting stainless steel tumblers, cups, bowls, and cutlery, we couldn’t find agencies in Chennai. So we bought 100 sets of tumblers and cups and rented another 200 sets from Namma Ooru Foundation. The caterer brought his own coffee-serving sets on our request.
We knew that keeping tumblers and cups clean was paramount to fulfilling our promise. When we discussed our plan with the owner of the marriage hall (Ananda Mahal, Nanganallur, Chennai), he agreed and arranged for additional staff and continuous availability of hot water to clean them hygienically as and when required.
In addition, the catering contractor enthusiastically agreed to assign a staff member exclusively to inspect and wipe them clean before sending them to the tables. This arrangement worked nearly perfectly, though there was certainly some room for improvement.
With the above arrangement in place, drinking water was dispensed from large bubble jars. Water dispensers were kept in all the floors to make drinking water available easily. These arrangements helped us save approximately 1,500 plastic water bottles, 2,000 single-use coffee/juice cups, over 2,500 plastic cups and 1,000 plastic spoons.
However, non-laminated paper bowls and wooden spoons were used to serve ice-cream as a cost-effective alternative was not available on a rental basis.
When it came to the selection of bags for giving away Thamboolam and sweets to guests, simple made-to-order (unbleached) brown bags with paper handles were our choice. Most other bags available in the market were seen with some plastic content and their utility value was felt to be low. For packing sweets and savouries, we procured special leak-proof paper sachets (without any plastic coating) from Mumbai.
3. Decorations without Plastic
The next major area that required attention was the decorations in the marriage hall. We wanted the decorator to avoid floral foam, thermocol, styrofoam, plastic flowers, exotic flowers or digital banners.
Unexpectedly, he said, “Sir, I was following my father’s training to use only natural materials until clients started demanding practices from other states. I am surprised that you asked for natural materials.”
The green floral foam meant to anchor individual stemmed-flowers to create bunches or floral rows or gravity-defying flower arrangements is very harmful; it is nothing but a form of plastic that will contaminate soil and water bodies.
Hence, we suggested bunching up the bark of the plantain tree as it would be easy to insert stems into them – it worked wonderfully to create the required effect. We opted for a judicious mix of cloth drapes, flowers, leaves and LED lights to avoid generating too much trash. We had painted welcome boards at the entrance of the hall, instead of using thermocol and glitter, to a pleasing result.
We said no to artistic displays of vegetables and fruits as they would use pins that end up in the stomachs of cattle. We consciously avoided digital banners, artificial flowers, decorations using artificial glitters or ribbons, silver and gold foils for decorating sweets. Paan was prepared on the spot and served instead of being pre-packed in plastic sachets.
Apart from these arrangements, the invitation had requested our guests to refrain from bringing bouquets. Just two bouquets were received, which were used for decorating the car for the new couple.
4. Organic Waste Composting
Right from the start, Nithya was very particular about not allowing the trash to go to the landfill. A week before the ceremony, she invited the conservancy inspector of the Alandur Municipal Zone for a discussion along with the management of the marriage hall.
We decided that all compostable waste – including the food waste, plantain leaves and material used for decoration – generated on the days of the marriage – would be stuffed into bags by the cleaning staff after ensuring that no non-compostable material was included. These bags would be carted away by the conservancy staff to their separate composting yard.
I would call this as the ‘icing on the cake’ as we could do this without spending any additional effort or money.
Overall, we were pleased with what we could do to fulfil our daughter’s dream of an environment-friendly wedding. For sure, there was a lot of room for improvement, but I am now confident in guiding anyone on how to pull this one! At the same time, I realised that a green wedding is not easy.
Nithya’s efforts towards using only organic and Ayurvedic makeup and responsible selection of dresses will be a separate story!
(Written by Jay Thiyagu and Edited by Shruti Singhal)