Originally published in The Hindu

An eco-conscious approach drives a few to organise minimal or zero waste events. Here’s how they do it

If you hang around till the end of any public event, small or large, you’ll notice the waste that’s left behind. We lament the lack of civic sense and wonder why people cannot dispose waste in the dustbins provided. After that, a waste management team does the needful. Beyond clearing the premises of litter, is it possible to minimise wastage?

Every Sunday, at eco-friendly organic bazaars held in the city, be it at Our Sacred Space or Lamakaan, most vendors refrain from using plastic bags. The regulars to these bazaars know they have to carry cloth/paper bags to buy the produce. The first Sunday of each month, the Good Seeds bazaar at Saptaparni is a zero wastage event.

What is a zero waste event?

Solid waste — food scraps, banana leaves, flowers et al — are collected separately for composting and banners/tablemats are all made of fabric so that it can be reused. There’s no scope for bags, cups and plates made of plastic or styrofoam.

Narayan K. Murthy, managing director, Good Seeds, explains how the vendors are sent dos and don’ts ahead of the event. Apart from selling organic produce, handlooms and eco-friendly articles, the bazaar serves cooked food and summer refreshers. “We use bio-degradable cutlery or steel spoons and glasses that can be washed. Since we promote eco-friendly livelihoods, we don’t use disposable sheets or cutlery,” he explains.

Large events need diligent planning and the help of waste warriors. Take for instance, a wedding. Sowmya Reddy, who spearheads a vegan café in Bangalore and Hyderabad-based Abhishek Raje were on a similar line of thought — to give guests an experience of a vegan and no-wastage wedding. Their wedding in Bangalore and reception in Hyderabad adhered to this idea.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way; it doesn’t matter how big an event is,” says Sowmya. The couple roped in waste management company Hasiru Dala in Bangalore and Sukuki Exnora in Hyderabad, run by Major Shiva Kiran, to segregate waste.

The tougher part was talking to caterers, asking them not to use disposable cutlery. “We hired steel utensils, spoons and glasses, all of which can be washed and returned. If you’re a little conscious and make an effort, you’ll find alternate methods,” she affirms.

A lot of wastage can be cut down even in the planning stages. Theatre actor C. Suresh Kumar and his wife Sangeeta Suresh Kumar sent e-mail invitations as opposed to expensive, printed cards even to the close circle of relatives. “What do we do with wedding cards? We glance at it and put it away. Some people pile them up if there are pictures of deities. But there’s a lot of waste,” says Suresh.

Sangeeta took a handmade paper and prepared a handwritten invitation, which was scanned and emailed to the guest list. The couple then visited and invited close friends and family members. “A lot of people feel what we’ve done is sensible,” adds Suresh. The couple has requested guests not to bring gifts. Again, think of the shiny gift wrapping paper that’s discarded and the fact that most gifts pile up, unused.

Those hooked to the idea of a big, fat Indian wedding might raise eyebrows at such measures. But those who believe in an eco-friendly approach are hopeful such initiatives will find takers.

Elaborating on their son’s wedding, scheduled in May, Sangeeta says, “We have asked for minimal floral decorations. Most of the times, thousands of flowers are discarded while dismantling the pandal. We need a festive look but we don’t need to be extravagant.”

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