When you look at weddings from a slightly sensitive frame, celebrating while being on the same page with nature is definitely the best way to start a new chapter in life.
“To a layperson, a green wedding can be defined as an event that is mindful of the impact it has on the environment and therefore one that minimizes, to a large extent, the damage caused to the environment,” says Shyamala Suresh, a 27-year-old resident of Bengaluru who is passionate about protecting the environment and organizing green, eco-friendly weddings.
An enthusiastic environmentalist, she takes out time from her regular job to do her part, and does that with flair.
Over the years, she has helped about six couples tie the knot in an eco-friendly manner; all of whom are her close friends.
For Shyamala, a post-graduate in commerce who is currently working in the editorial team at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, it all started in late 2011 when she developed an interest in solid waste management in the city. In the process of learning more about it, she met pioneering environmentalists like Dr. Meenakshi Bharath and Vani Murthy.
“Both of them were working on reducing and managing the waste we generate in a responsible manner. This was in our locality. We were a group of residents working on this, and as time progressed and some members of team were planning their weddings, we all pitched in and helped convert them into eco-friendly ones,” she says.
Lavish or not, most weddings or events organised in the country harm the environment in some way or another.
Be it the decoration or the cutlery, we use everything from plastic, paper, and Styrofoam, while also wasting large amounts of water and electricity.
“A single person generates a minimum of five pieces of disposables at a wedding. Imagine that! This is something that can be completely avoided. Depending on which part of the country you are from, all this waste is either burnt or sent to landfills, sometimes a bit of both. The obvious outcome is land, water and air pollution,” says Shyamala.
Giving all the credit for the celebrations that she has been a part of to the respective couples and their families, she says that the main highlights of most of the weddings were the same. The couples decided against using any one-time disposables – so all paper or plastic cups, spoons, and plates were replaced with steel utensils.
They used cloth napkins in place of tissues and the decorations didn’t have anything made of plastic.
“At one of the weddings, we also had posters in the dining space explaining what steps were taken at the wedding and why it’s important. In each of these weddings, the waste generated (left-over food, banana leaves, etc.) were segregated and subsequently composted. We even took the banana leaves from one of the weddings and fed them to cows.”
Talking about some of the most important steps to be kept in mind when organising a green wedding, Shyamala brings out the need to talk to involved families and sensitize them about environmental issues. She feels it is also important to understand that each and every aspect of a wedding or any other event can be made sustainable if one tries.
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It is equally necessary to ensure that waste generated at the weddings is segregated at source, composted or sent to bio gas plants.
“Most people don’t have the intention of harming or polluting the environment, it’s that they have not given it much of a thought and go with readily available options. Once people are sensitized to issues, they want to do something good,” she says.
Starting from the entrance, right till the food counter – this is what the basic layout of an eco-friendly wedding looks like, with some tips from Shyamala:
• There are fewer printed invitations. Tip: Reserve them only for the elders and close family members.
• Guests are requested not to gift bouquets and plastic-wrapped gifts. Tip: Request guests to get creative while wrapping gifts.
• Steel or any other reusable cutlery is used for serving food
• There is no bottled water
• Decorations have no plastic. Fewer flowers are used and only local and seasonal ones. Tip: You can use colourful cloth to decorate.
• The table on which food is served is either uncovered, covered in cloth or a thick sheet of plastic to avoid rolls and rolls of food-contaminated paper
• All waste produced is segregated. Wet waste is composted or sent to a bio-gas plant and dry waste sent for recycling. Tip: Make sure systems are set in place for this before-hand.
“These are only a few tips; there are many more things that one can do if one has the inclination to,” adds Shyamala. As for the cost, green weddings are cheaper than regular ones. With things like fewer flowers and no bottled water, the cost is reasonably cut down. “Although they are less expensive, they look classier when there are no paper and plastic cups flying around,” Shyamala is quick to clarify.
A recreational athlete and a part time basketball coach, Shyamala also teaches solid waste management from time to time. She is vegan and is extremely particular about adopting a sustainable lifestyle herself. She does not use any single-use disposable utensils, and carries her own plates, spoons, and tumblers wherever she goes.
She composts all organic waste generated at her place and has also switched to sustainable menstruation methods like cloth pads and menstrual cups.
“I also don’t consume any processed food. Apart from being unhealthy, they come packed in so much packaging material and are unnecessarily resource intensive. Whenever possible, I support farmers who grow food without chemicals. Most of the time, I cycle and use public transport.
Although there is plenty of scope for improvement, I’m taking one step at a time to being more responsible about the way I live.
“Look around us. There is garbage piling up in the landfills. Natural resources are depleting. These are huge problems, and the solution starts with individual transformation. Every step we take makes a measurable difference and can snowball into something that will make living on this planet a great joy,” she concludes.
You can contact Shyamala by writing to her at firstname.lastname@example.org