Harshini Vakkalanka | Dec 5th 2017

There are nearly 10 million weddings in India, each generating a few tons of waste. How do you ensure your special day is not weighed down by its Carbon footprint? Harshini Vakkalanka gives you the lowdown. When the ancients set down the wedding rituals, they probably didn’t imagine that exotic flowers would come wrapped in sheets of plastic and pinned with non-recyclable plastic, banana leaf platters would be placed over plastic sheets, or that water would be served in plastic bottles and plastic cups. On an average nearly 12,000 couples get married on an auspicious day in India, amounting to nearly 10 million weddings a year (Source: The Hindu, Metro Plus).

“A family of four people typically generates 900 gms of organic waste and 300 gms of recyclable waste in India. So in a wedding where a thousand families are invited, we can expect atleast over 1.2 tons of waste generated,” says Mathangi from Waste Ventures, a Hyderabad-based waste managed firm. The combined estimate, of the total waste generated every year through weddings alone, is staggering. This is probably why many empowered urban couples have taken the decision to plan a zero-waste or urban wedding. Among the most well-known of such weddings is that of Sowmya Reddy, an animal rights activist and owner of Paradigm Shift, a vegan restaurant in Bengaluru and Abhishek Raje, a freelance researcher for an animal rights NGO, which took place in 2015.

Apart from featuring vegan food and reusable decor elements, Sowmya and Abhishek engaged the services of Hasiru Dala which specializes in event waste management.

“Their wedding was attended by nearly 18,000 people, generating two tons of organic waste that was delivered to bio gas plants for processing; 60 kgs of dry waste that included water bottles, plastic covers used for packaging of food was delivered to city’s Dry Waste Collection Center for further sorting, grading and recycling. The per capita waste generated in the event was 114.5 grams which is way lower than the average weddings Hasiru Dala has ever managed till date!,” shared Nandini Shekhar, its co-founder, in a blog post.

Hasiru Dala works closely with wedding planners, caterers and decorators to suggest and plan how waste can be reduced at the source. The organization has already worked to implement over 15 zero-waste weddings, supplementing the livelihoods of over 377 waste pickers, who are trained by them in the process.

“A significant amount of waste generated in weddings can be minimized by eliminating plastic cups and using biodegradable plates instead of styrofoam. Weddings can be made 'classy' by using artistic cups made from traditional 'matkas' as well. We, at Waste Ventures India, recycle all kinds of low and high value recyclables that includes items like tetrapak, thermocol,and plastic covers that are typically not recycled today,” adds Mathangi.

A significant amount of waste generated in weddings can be minimized by using biodegradable plates instead of styrofoam

But the first step is to not create any waste all, points out Naina from Delhi -based Ecowise Waste Management, who also work with weddings.

“We first take an estimate of the guest list and analyze the wedding venue — guests, seating, catering arrangement, dustbin placement. We then train the housekeeping staff who would be segregating the waste,” she adds.

All the waste is brought to their site where it is sorted into biodegradable waste, sent for composting, recyclable waste— plastics, paper, cardboard, beer-bottles, PET bottles, or cutlery— is segregated and sent to respective recycling units and e-waste — broken fairy lights, LEDs, or halogen bulbs— is sent to their e-waste channel partner for dismantling or refurbishing. Any leftover waste is sent to authorized landfill sites as per government norms.

“The idea is to reduce the carbon footprint at every step, beginning with digital invitations instead of paper, sending out gifts of the same value or printing the details of the wedding on a one-sided sheet to save paper. The second step is to avoid using non-recyclable items in the wedding decor (such as plastic in flowers), using solar-powered lighting, reselling fresh flowers and composting used flowers. Gifts to guests can be given away in reusable cloth bags, instead of plastic bags,” she explains.

Catering, is naturally one of the biggest sources of waste in the wedding. Naina recommends that the untouched food be distributed among wedding staff or shelter homes, or even sent away through recyclable/recycled take away boxes through guests.

“The food which is leftover on plates must be segregated in the bio-degradable section, which can later be converted into compost to avoid their disposal in landfill sites. Taking an estimation of 1000 guests, you can save close to 40 per cent of the food.”

Almost two tons of waste (in an average wedding) can be recycled— including alcohol bottles, PET water bottles, aluminum cans, broken or used glass, plastic, glass or metal cutlery, and paper napkins, she explains. This means that most of everything that is used in your wedding can be recycled or reused, so make sure you plan ahead and do your bit for the planet as you begin a new life.