How to plan a zero-waste wedding on a budget

The one season that never really changes in India, is the ‘wedding season!’ Weddings are considered one of the biggest events in one’s life, and the traditions in our culture make a grand celebration of it. That being said, ‘The Big-Fat Indian Weddings’ are also guilty of producing large amounts of waste. Now, as awareness has seeped in, conscious millennials are opting for smaller-scale, waste-free weddings instead. 

If you are one of them (or simply collecting information for future reference), here is a detailed 3-step guide on how you can plan a zero-waste wedding without over-shooting your budget: 

Step 1: Pre-Wedding Preparations:

Switch to E-vites/ E-cards:

  • Ornate wedding cards with exotic gifts have become quite the rage in Indian weddings. While they are beautiful to look at, this is a highly unsustainable and wasteful practice. It also turns out to be financially draining.

  • E-vites have become the sustainable future of wedding invitations. Not only do they allow you to explore creative freedom, but also give your guests freedom from having to save and carry physical cards. 

  • If you are worried about offending senior family members who still value physical invitations, stick to only a limited number of cards for specific people. Ensure that the stationery used in making these invites is Earth-friendly. These days, you can find wedding invitations made of recycled paper, plantable seed paper cards, and natural ink. 

Scout green venues:

Another effective way to ensure complete sustainability on your wedding is to pick compliant venues. There are multiple ways you can do so: 

  • Choose outdoor venues such as parks, gardens, beaches, and the like. They are all Earth-friendly alternatives to large-scale banquet halls. Open-air venues provide natural lighting & reduce the carbon footprint from multiple air conditioners and electrical units (inevitable at indoor venues & hotels).

  • If possible, it is suggested to avoid destination weddings unless the guest count is low. This is simply because of the amount of CO2 emissions made when flying a large number of people to far-away locations.

  • If you must travel, keep the guest count low and turn it into a mini-vacation! You can also try and shortlist ‘green’ hotels at your destination of choice. 

 

Catering for a green wedding:

Do away with elaborate wedding menus & exotic cuisines that often lead to wastage. The dilemma of reducing food waste can be avoided with some mindful planning:

  • Keep a count of expected guests & request RSVPs. You can also take stock of their dietary preferences & instruct your caterer to stick to the specific requirements. Bollywood celebrity Dia Mirza recently planned her zero-waste wedding & adopted a similar model. To prevent wastage, she pre-confirmed the vegetarians and non-vegetarians attending, and planned the food accordingly.

  • When deciding your menu, try to incorporate more local & seasonal foods. This helps support the livelihood of small-scale farmers and also reduces the food miles that build up from the transportation of exotic or exclusive foods. For intimate weddings with fewer guests, you can hire organic caterers too! 

Minimal & Earth-friendly decor options:

To ensure zero-waste decor, stick to a minimalist theme. Going overboard with decorations is a sure-shot way to rake up your waste generation. There are several ways to ensure sustainability without compromising on your wedding aesthetics: 

  • If your wedding is a small one, reuse certain items of decoration from your own home. Elements like candles, lamps, wall hangings, etc. can all be used at the venue.

  • For smaller functions, get creative with dried flowers, fallen twigs, leaves, and other such ‘garden waste’ as a part of the decor. You can also use coconut-shell planters as table decoration & biodegradable confetti among others. Go back to your desi roots like Sanchita and Prasoon, who creatively used old-fashioned nimbu-mirchi strands for decor at their Haldi ceremony!

  • For floral arrangements, skip the exotic flowers for hyper-local flowers instead. This helps reduce the carbon emissions from transportation and supports local vendors. Bonus points if the flowers used for decoration are grown organically.

  • While renting furniture, opt for pieces that look good without the use of tablecloths or seating covers. One example is chairs made of distressed wood or carved rot iron furniture! Upholstery covers are usually made of synthetic fabric and the carbon footprint of rewashing them also tends to be high. 

Lighting Arrangements: 

  • Skip the bright LEDs and flashy iridescent lights to avoid contributing to light pollution. These fixtures use large amounts of electricity and will also increase the cost on your end. It has been estimated that at a typical Indian wedding around Rs 1.5-2 lakh is spent only on lighting!

  • Solar-powered lights are a viable and sustainable alternative. Beautiful solar lanterns and lamps are now available for use at weddings and can also add a rustic touch to your theme.

  • You can also opt for candles made of beeswax and soy to add some warm candle-lit glow to the occasion. 

Dress Consciously: 

From heavy lehengas to intricately woven cocktail gowns, we are spoiled for choice with opulence & multiple brands. The unfortunate reality is that most wedding attire is ‘one-time’ wear. Additionally, the raw materials and processes used in the manufacture of such heavy clothing are often unsustainable. To ensure sustainability in your clothing, you can adopt a more mindful selection approach:

  • Pick formal outfits that have a higher repeat value. Bride Veena Balakrishnan paired her grandmom’s saree with heirloom jewelry for her bridal look. In actor Yami Gautam’s recent pahadi wedding too, she chose to repeat her mother’s traditional saree & the groom wore a simple white kurta. Such timeless pieces never run out of style & can be used for years! 

  • Some conscious Indian designers are now actively launching sustainable wedding collections, making the choice easier for the eco-conscious brides! At Nupur & Ashwin’s green wedding they chose personalised outfits, handmade with organic cotton.

Step 2: Checklist for your big day

Add sustainability to your rituals:

Our Indian weddings are multicultural & diverse. Different regions have different pre-wedding rituals, with great meaning to each. While following these traditions too, you can stick to low-waste practices:

  • For occasions such as Mehendi & Haldi, opt for good quality organic products. Both pure henna paste & Haldi paste can also be made easily at home using fresh, natural ingredients. Using products that are free of toxic chemicals will not harm your skin or the environment.

  • Giving certain guests small sums of token money is considered a ‘shagun’ & a practice followed at most weddings. For this, you can make envelopes upcycled from old newspapers & wax seals! 

Reusable cutlery at the venue:

It is no secret that India generates large amounts of plastic waste every year. Studies have shown that 26,000 tonnes of plastic waste is dumped annually in our country.

  • Opt to go plastic-free at your wedding, with reusable steel or glass cutlery at the venue. Instead of plastic water bottles, you can arrange small glass bottles or simply serve water in glasses.

  • When using disposables, opt for those made of biodegradable materials such as bamboo, palm leaves, etc. You can also go traditional & serve food on banana leaves!

  • If you’re planning a home wedding, this is the perfect occasion to bring out that fancy dinner set you’d saved for a special occasion!

  • It is also advisable to refrain from using paper napkins and tissues as far as possible. 

Make arrangements for waste management: 

It is crucial to ensure that the waste generated at your wedding is managed in an effective manner.

  • Connect with organizations that recycle & manage waste. Today, there are several such services across India, and you can send your waste to them post every event. From decorations to glass cutlery, you can segregate and recycle most of it.

  • For any leftover food waste or natural decorations (including raw materials), you can make arrangements to have it composted. Take a cue from Ashwin & Nupur, who ensured that all the flowers used at their wedding were composted the very next day!

  • You can also make pre-arrangements to have segregated and labeled waste bins at the venue. This is a good way for guests & staff to be aware of where and how to dispose of certain waste items. 

Step 3: Post-Wedding Responsibilities 

Wedding favors for your guests:

From specially curated gifts for bridesmaids on the sangeet to hampers for wedding guests, almost every occasion has a gifting element involved. To ensure and promote your beliefs in sustainability, you can select gifts that are planet-friendly:

Donate leftover food: 

Even though food waste can be mitigated by taking a strict head-count of the expected guests, it is quite hard to ensure complete accuracy on the day of the event. To some extent, this waste may be inevitable.

  • To avoid complete wastage, you can tie up with NGOs and local volunteers to donate leftover wedding food to those in need.

  • Some well-known organizations that work with the collection and distribution of food are Feeding India, Robin Hood Army, and No Food Waste, amongst many more. All over India, there are many such services and you can find their contact details here.

Weddings are indeed a happy time of celebration for not just couples, but also for their families and friends. It is a time of shared joy, and what can be more joyous than also inviting mother nature to be a part of your happy day? With this handy guide, planning your low-waste wedding can be a much simpler task than you thought. You can also use ideas from here to use for any waste-free parties or events that you may be planning. 

For more guidance on how to live a truly sustainable life while taking positive action, visit our ‘Change Makers Directory’ and find resources for various needs.

If you have more innovative ideas or examples on planning a low-waste wedding, do leave us a comment below! 

 

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