My Big Fat Green Indian Wedding

Weddings!!! A source of incredible joy and unbelievable stress. Atleast this is the way that most Indian weddings are. And mine was no different in this sense.

This article is a bit of a long read, but that is purely because I have written out in detail the steps we took to for my big fat green Indian wedding.

My husband and I recently celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary and it got me into reminiscing mode. Some friends also put up posts about our wedding on social media, not just to wish us, but to celebrate the different way that the day went. Considering the hundreds of weddings you would have witnessed, you may ask, what was so unique about this wedding? Very simple – just 1 kg of waste generated was thrown into the landfill.

Both my husband and I belong to large families which are very close knit and we and our parents have a large friends circle. We are blessed that most of them live in Bangalore, and those that don’t, took the trouble of coming here for the few days of the wedding ceremonies. While the groom and I wanted it to be a simpler event (and of course to generate as little waste as possible), we realised very quickly that our families were so excited that we should hand over the planning to them and not put in any restrictions. So from a Nandi, to Madhavanshastru, to Chapru Pooja to a Mehendi (all of these events held at home itself), to a Sangeet, the Wedding, Reception and a Beegaraoota (all held at various venues) – we hosted more than 2500 people. Phew!!! That was a lot of events and a lot of people – but so typical of our customs and the fact that our extended family and friends attended each event with lots of gusto showed us the immense love and affection they have for us and our families.

So here goes the saptapadi that we took for our eco-friendly wedding:

Step One:

First and foremost: You should want to go the eco-friendly way and believe that it is possible. If you wish for it hard enough, absolutely everything else will fall into place. My mother Dr. Meenakshi Bharath – a gynaecologist by profession and a waste management evangelist by passion – walks the talk in generating as little waste as possible and then dealing responsibly with whatever is generated.

My in-laws (whom we had known only for a few months) put their faith in what we wanted as a low waste generating event and generously agreed to all the plans we made. I have no doubt that this was a huge leap of faith for them as the concept of low waste or zero waste was not something they were familiar with in these times. I’ve got to thank our friend Ramya Padbidri who was the first to have an eco-friendly wedding in our circles – in 2011. The photos and videos from her wedding gave everyone else an idea on how elegant doing it this way could be too. When we look back at any of the childhoods of my parents/in-law’s/grandparents, we realise how naturally eco-friendly their lives were. However we have all seamlessly moved into a place where disposables and use & throw items are part of the norm. So we were very clear that every small part of all the celebrations would be eco-friendly.

Step Two:

The next step in planning a wedding is inviting people. Considering the number of events and the people we had at our events, you would think we would have printed out thousands of invitations. But we took full advantage of the technological advances that have happened. We printed out only a few invites just to give my grandparents’ siblings and the senior-most in our family (totally about 20 hard copy invites). WhatsApp was not very popular at that point so communicating via email was our modus operandi. We had great fun writing out mails detailing some aspects of our planning and sending it to everyone. It felt like we were regularly keeping in touch with our guests. For those who were not tech-savvy (mostly my grandparents generation), I enjoyed my telephone conversations with them, telling them about our planning progress and getting their inputs.

This was the only step where my in-laws requested for a diversion. They were comfortable with only giving hard copy invites, so we printed out about 900 invites for them. We considered papers made out of seeds and other eco-friendly options but finally decided against them. How many people would actually compost the eco-friendly paper or plant them? How many times had we actually done it when we received invites like that?

Step Three:

The main part of decorations at any of our events are the flowers, right? While we did not skimp on the flowers decorating the venue (after all we wanted to celebrate that a wedding was being held at the venue), we ensured that we got flowers that were in season and grown as close to Bangalore as possible. We had shavantige (chrysanthemum) and mallige, and they were all strung up on cotton threads only, without any zari or beads in the middle. Even our garlands were put on cotton thread without any beading, zari or thermocol balls – why should we detract the natural beauty of the flowers with all these artificial items? The mantap had a backdrop of coconut fronds that were woven together (done by artisans in our neighbourhood itself) and cute birds made out of banana fronds.

We also had our name board to the venue done up with flowers. The backboard that the flowers were decorated on (which we pulled out of the go-down of the event planners) has been used several times for multiple purposes and we are thrilled with the recycled nature of this decorative piece. A few years later, a friend took this to another level when she wrote her name and her groom’s on a blackboard. What a wonderful idea!!

Step Four:

Food is the other area where a lot of waste is usually generated. People tend to believe that by using plastic and paper products, they are showing how clean and sterile the environment is so that the guests feel comfortable and confident that they won’t fall ill by eating at the event. But didn’t our grandparents and even parents only use steel and copper utensils for their events? And wasn’t it considered clean and tidy? So we did exactly that. We got steel, glass and melamine utensils – glasses, spoons, large plates, small plates and small bowls – which are all reusable. These were sourced from RR tent house for the wedding and reception – nearly 2500 pieces of each utensil. I will describe the maintenance of these in the last step taken. The guests did not find eating at the wedding unhygienic or yucky and actually felt good that they had saved about 10 pieces of disposable utensils that would have been used for each one of them. We also used cotton table cloths to line the tables as compared to the plastic or paper sheets usually used. Most tent houses have these available with them but do not advertise them as it is additional work for them to wash and keep them ready. However when you weigh the amount of water and work used to maintain these table cloths versus the amount of material that goes into manufacturing plastic or paper liners, there is no doubt which way we should go.

The other disposable menace at weddings is usually the small bottles of water kept at each guest’s dining place. Not only does this create lots of garbage, but the water stored in these bottles is also quite old. We chose to serve water to our guests in steel glasses and juice in glass glasses.

We decided to go one step further and requested our caterer to buy the raw materials they need in large quantities like 25 litres / kgs, etc. They were initially very hesitant as they said that they measured their qualities with the smaller 1litre packets. With a little convincing, they were able understand that they would generate less plastic packets by using the bigger quantities and we provided them with the instruments they needed to measure out all their ingredients.

Pan kept without individual plasatic packaging

My extended family took our wish to be zero waste to heart and made sure that they used reusable items only at the events they hosted. The madhavanshastru (a ritual we have at our mama’s house) was held at Mysuru in my Mama’s house and he and his family hosted about 30 of us over 2 days. They not only pampered us with varieties of local cuisine, but also ensured that the only waste generated was wet waste (food waste and banana leaves) which was composted in their house itself. It felt amazing to have such cooperation to fulfil our wish. 

For the events we had at home, when we did not have enough steel or melanine utensils, we requested other family members to bring in what they have at home. It truly did not matter that there was a mish-mash of utensils at these events. At the end of each of these meals, we all pitched in to wash and dry the dishes and the kitchen was clean too. Easy peasy. This is something that we can all do for any event or celebration that we have at our house, right?

Step Five:

All of our events end with us sending our guests back home with a tambola filled with various items. We decided to give our guests a colourful bag (very similar to the bags that everyone used to carry around for their shopping a few decades ago) filled with our version of goodies. Traditionally a packet of haldi and kumkum is given and we sourced organic haldi for cooking from a friend’s farm in Wayanad. Instead of giving a tiny packet of it, we gave 100gms of it put into a paper bag and with a label in the colour red (to represent the kumkum part of this custom).

We also gave a mallige sapling to each guest and it has brought us such joy to see these plants bloom in everyone’s houses. The mallige sapling has become synonymous with any event that we host and in case we try something different, our guests come back and tell us that the mallige sapling was dearly missed.

Step Six:

We had a team of aunts, uncles, cousins and friends help us plan my wedding and look at how each and every aspect could be converted into eco-friendly ones. One of the wedding traditions is for the bride and groom to wear a basinga (a decorative piece on our foreheads). We commonly find thermacol versions in the market which have ghastly fluorescent colours that stay on our foreheads even after we remove the basinga. So a dear friend made our basingas out of paper mache and gems. Post our wedding, these basingas have graced the foreheads of my cousins, which made us feel absolutely wonderful about it.

Tissues and paper napkins are another major source of waste generated at any event. They are used only once to wipe our hands on and then thrown away. Our alternative was really simple – cloth napkins. A team of local women stitched 1500 cloth napkins which were block printed by adults on the autism spectrum (a group of individuals I used to work with). The napkins were used for the wedding lunch, sent to the nearby dhobi ghat, washed and ironed and were back in time for the reception dinner. Voila!!! We saved over 3000 pieces of tissue that would still be sitting in the landfill as we celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary. I’ve got to mention here that our cloth napkins have became infamous. Relatives and friends borrowed them for their weddings to upanayanams to parties, and they have travelled as far as Pune and Mumbai for some of these events. So these 1500 cloth napkins have totally saved over 10,000 tissues and paper napkins. Getting these napkins made has been justified several times over.

About 3 months before the wedding (i.e. just 4 months after we met them), we requested my in-laws to pick up a traditional olakode (umbrella made from coconut fronds) when they went to Kerala. After hunting up and down the streets of Trichy, they finally found one just an hour before their train departed to Bangalore. What a precious find. It came in time to play the starring role at a friend’s wedding before we used it. The idea was to use this piece of our history for the kashi yatra as compared to a plain umbrella. The olakode lived a very busy life until the pandemic hit – on an average travelling around for 2 weddings a year. What a fulfilling life it has led and it hopes to continue to live once the covid pandemic passes over.

The bride is usually presented with dozens of new sarees – some that she will wear and some that stay in the cupboard with the tag and are looked at decades later. My mother has some beautiful sarees and as I wear them only for occasions, I was able to convince my in-laws to gift me with only 4 sarees – two kanjeevarams that I wore for the wedding and 2 regular wear ones. My mother and I happily dug into her cupboard and pulled out some beauties that she had not worn for many years. I got new blouses stitched and voila – I had a whole new saree trousseau.

Step Seven:

Now onto the last step and the most important. How did we deal with all the waste that we generated for my wedding? The event managers at Jayamahal palace grounds were curious and sceptical about our ideas of low waste generation. They continued to make the waste management arrangements they generally use for each event, i.e. keeping BBMP informed for a lorry to be sent the day after the event to pick up all the waste. Can you imagine – one full lorry for every single event that they manage!!!!! And this is just one such venue amongst thousands in Bangalore. Mind boggling. What is the use of celebrating joyous occasions if we generate this kind of waste that goes into a landfill that trashes someone else’s backyard and causes so much harm? Hearing those figures reaffirmed our need to make my wedding as close to zero waste as possible. 

The beautiful thing about planning out our flower decorations like we did was that we took all the flowers from the venue the day after the wedding + reception, composted it and 2 months later had such sweet smelling black gold that we not only added to our garden but distributed it to our friends and family too. A wonderful return gift, don’t you think so?

The vegetable peels from all the cooking done and the banana leaves used was sent to the ghoshala (cowshed) and the leftover food was sent to the piggery. The plastic bags from the groceries used for the cooking were all washed and sent for recycling.

We had a team of local women who scrubbed every piece of utensil used for the wedding and reception meals to shiny cleanliness which we then returned to RR tenthouse. Our good friend – Mr. Ramakantha – an incredibly energetic and passionate 80 year old (his age at that point) – trained all the staff at the venue on segregating the waste and understanding our eco-friendly practices. He was on his feet supervising all the processes from breakfast in the morning to after the reception dinner.

And that was all the waste we generated. Oh right – we had about 1 kg of dust that was gathered from the sweeping of the wedding venue that was sent to the landfill with the next event’s truckfull of garbage.

So a total of 1 kg of waste was thrown into the landfill at the end of 7 events that hosted about 2500 people!!!!

I would like to specially mention that all of this was possible thanks to the wonderful support and incredible help given by our family and friends.

In summary:

  1. Believe that every event can be eco-friendly and does not need to generate trash that is thrown into the landfill.
  2. E-invites are the way to go.
  3. Local and seasonal flowers without additional adornments are the best.
  4. Ask your caterer or tent house for reusables when planning out the menu. Do not use single use disposables.
  5. Lets go back to our roots when we think about return gifts and tambolas.
  6. Be creative about every little aspect in an event – it’s fun to think from the eco-friendly angle.
  7. Think about how the waste being generated will be dealt with – every bit that you save from going into the landfill makes a difference.

And with that the saptapadi has been concluded successfully.

I hope that all of you reading this will consider following these steps when you plan your next event. Keep these points in mind right from the start and I guarantee that you will be a happier person at the end of it, as will our planet. Remember that each one of us doing our bit can make a big difference.

Tata, Bye!!!!

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