When we think about South Asian weddings, we think about the glamorous celebrations, heartfelt ceremonies, and the joining of two families, and sometimes, the big fat Indian wedding. If you’ve seen shows like The Big Day by Conde Nast on Netflix, you know what we’re talking about.
In the midst of a celebratory spirit, what fails to come to the top of our minds is the waste produced as a byproduct of Desi weddings. Traditional Indian weddings are big and often also create a large amount of waste. This waste can be from something as small as wedding invitations or as large as wedding decor items.
In recent years with a global push towards sustainability, we’re starting to see a rise in eco-conscious couples, eco-friendly wedding products, and ways to mitigate the waste produced at South Asian weddings and throw a sustainable wedding.
But with the complexity of South Asian weddings, how is it possible to host a sustainable Desi wedding and keep track of ways to reduce waste at the sangeet, garba, wedding ceremony, reception and any of the other Desi wedding events? Where do you as the couple look or begin to plan an eco friendly wedding and reduce their carbon footprint?
Here at The Desi Bride, we’ve got you covered. We’ve spoken to various organizations and wedding vendors (in Texas and beyond) to get creative in your wedding planning and throw a sustainable Desi wedding (or at least as eco-friendly as you can get). We including several sustainable wedding ideas below.
At an average Indian wedding with a sangeet, wedding ceremony, and reception in the U.S., 60 meals go to waste per wedding. In a year, this adds up to about 1.8 million meals across Desi weddings in the U.S. Usually, anywhere from 10%-20% of the food at weddings is wasted. This waste not only hurts the environment but also can put a dent in your wallet; for an average Desi wedding, $1200 worth of food is wasted.
Source: Vines of Yarra Valley
Desis love their food: it’s a known fact. Oftentimes, catered orders are larger than actually required and a significant amount of food gets left over to eventually go to waste and get thrown away. This waste can occur for a wide range of reasons. Perhaps the couple or family overestimated how much food is needed. Maybe you overestimated the number of guests who will be eating at your event. How do you have sustainable wedding food? Although it’s difficult to make accurate predictions when planning your wedding, there are ways to donate your leftover wedding food so nothing goes to waste. Here in Texas, we found several organizations to work with in order to donate your leftover wedding food. We’ve shared more about some of them below.
ISA (Indian Students Association) at The University of Texas-Dallas is a student-run organization able to take food donations in the Dallas area. To arrange for this, you simply contact an ISA member to get their approval for donation. We recommend doing this prior to your event, so there’s plenty of time for both parties to make arrangements. For delivery, the food needs to be dropped off at the apartment of the ISA member you spoke with. If you’d like to work with the ISA to donate Indian food from your wedding, please reach out to us at email@example.com, and we are happy to connect you.
Second Servings is Houston's only prepared food rescue organization. The nonprofit has been fighting hunger since 2015 by redirecting perfectly edible surplus food to the people who really need it at over 100 local charities. Barbara Bronstein, who heads Second Servings, walked us through the simple food donation process. Your caterer will need to refrigerate or freeze any unserved food for Second Servings to pick up in their refrigerated vans the next business day. While the food from a self-service buffet cannot be donated, food from a buffet where your servers are the ones serving the food to your guests can be donated. This means that as long as your food servers are the ones serving food to your guests and the remaining protocols are followed, you can donate your wedding food to a great cause! They even make the process easier by providing dishes and labels to use for donation.
When you are planning your menu, be sure to let your caterer know that you want any unserved surplus food to be donated to Second Servings. A few weeks before your event, you’ll need to contact Second Servings with your caterer’s contact info and event date, so they can work directly with the caterer to discuss the donation process and arrange a potential pickup. They can provide disposable pans and labels to make the process very simple and cost-free. Second Servings will issue a donation receipt by email that will show the estimated amount of food and the charities to which the food was delivered.
One of the main reasons food donation plans fall through is due to caterers’ fear of liability. This is false! The government actually encourages food donation by protecting food donors from liability with the Good Samaritan laws. Eco friendly catering is possible if you plan in advance and work with an organization like UT ISA and Second Servings to donate any leftover food to mitigate wedding food waste.
Finally, while donations are great, don't forget to have sustainable disposable wedding plates and utensils. Avoid single-use plastic if you can. You can purchase biodegradable plates and utensils at Costco, or alternately, work with your catering company to supply reusable thalis and utensils. We've even seen families purchase thalis in bulk from India and use those to serve their wedding guests. You can continue to use these eco friendly plates for years to come and in future events and weddings!
Let’s take a look at the impact you can make by choosing to move forward with sustainable wedding invitations like paperless wedding invitations or plant-based stationery. Every year, 285 cedar trees are cut down in the U.S. to send out South Asian wedding invitations. Over 60% of invitations are recycled or thrown away by guests after the wedding events. By choosing to go paperless, you’re saving trees and reducing CO2 emissions—the goal when it comes to sustainability—and saving money! Sending wedding evites results in not just saving trees, but also saving in printing costs and postage and making it easier to track RSVPs.
Choosing evites over traditional kankotri means you don’t have to worry about physically mailing your invitations, making this not only a sustainable option, but also efficient (instant delivery at $0 postage). Evites and online stationery also score higher in the budget-friendly department when compared to paper-based stationery. Digital invites tend to cost around $3 per wedding card, making them a more budget-friendly option, while paper invites range from $4 to $8 and have a tendency to be even higher once you add in postage. Finally, using digital invitations makes it easier to capture and track RSVPs, especially if you use a site with this feature (ex: Paperless Post, Minted, etc.).
We spoke to Disha from Customizing Creativity, a design studio based in Mumbai, to learn more about the benefits and eco-friendliness of digital invites. When asked about the benefits of digital invitations, Disha said “it’s super seamless...because everyone is using a smartphone,” highlighting how efficient this option is. This means that with the tap of a few buttons, you can be on your way to having customized, eco-friendly digital invitations ready to be delivered to your friends and family! This buys you extra time to plan your ceremonies, the most important feature of your wedding. If you make last-minute changes, especially with the pandemic, it’s easy to change the dates and details of a digital wedding invitation. And, last but not least, if you have last-minute seats open, it’s easy and quick to send digital wedding evites to the guests who may not have been at the top of your list.
Aside from digital invitations, plant-based stationery is on the rise for wedding stationery. These products are made from eco-friendly paper that’s both natural and sustainable. Check out Plantables and Botanical PaperWorks: stationery vendors that offer eco-friendly products and are easy to work with.
At Plantables, this natural paper is seed-based and made from cotton scraps, making it biodegradable and wood-free. At Botanical PaperWorks, paper waste is repulped and made into new paper with seeds embedded. When their paper is planted, it can grow flowers, herbs, or vegetables, with no waste being left behind. By choosing plant-based invitations, you get to retain the traditional joy of physical cards whilst being kinder to planet Earth. Just like other invitations, these can be highly customizable and suited to your liking.
While wedding outfits are not traditionally considered sustainable, with the creation of companies like Bombay Trade Co (pre-loved clothing) and Preserve (designer rental clothing), it’s become much easier to throw an eco-conscious wedding with pre-used clothing or rental outfits and have sustainable wedding dresses. For years, there’s been a stigma around wearing recycled clothing in South Asian culture, especially at weddings. However, newer generations are more appreciative of “circular” and “second-hand,” and are becoming more eco-conscious as years go by. Having a sustainable wedding dress is becoming trendy!
If you’re going to attend a Desi wedding, chances are you’ll need several different wedding outfits. By choosing pre-loved clothing, you lower your costs and choose not to waste new clothing materials. Essentially, you reduce your harm to the environment without putting a dent in your pocket.
Companies like Bombay Trade Co make both selling and purchasing pre-loved clothing as seamless as possible; after filling out a form and passing inspection checks, your clothing product is ready to be sold, making this option perfect for those who purchased too many wedding outfits and would like to ensure they don’t go to waste. As a consumer, you’re “putting thought into your purchase” as Bombay Trade Co said. Not only can you find several “new” Desi wedding outfits to wear as a guest, but you can resell these same outfits on the website after the wedding. Bombay Trade Co is centered around sustainability and offering easy-to-use services for you, the consumer.
With interracial weddings on the rise, we see an increasing number of non-South Asian guests who may not have a lehenga or saree sitting in their wardrobe. Instead of investing in a Desi sherwani or wedding outfit they may never wear again, you can encourage your guests to buy a pre-loved outfit at a discount and then resell their outfit after the wedding, sangeet, or Desi reception. We recommend looking into your rental/pre-loved clothing company to see how the process of working with them looks. Be sure to look for accessible customer service and client testimonials.
Another option is wedding outfit rentals, where you get to pick from a wide selection of lehengas, sarees, sherwanis and other Desi outfits according to your requirements and sizing. Companies like Preserve offer a variety of different designers to choose from and strive to make the rental process as simple as can be for consumers. Instead of buying a $10,000 Sabyasachi lehenga, you can now rent it and wear it on your wedding day for a fraction of the cost.
As Lindsey from Preserve stated, rental clothing adds a “new flare” to the clothing industry, and with the rise in sustainability movements, the use of pre-owned fashion is expected to increase. The efficiency of renting or purchasing pre-owned attire not only makes things easier for your guests, but also takes some stress off of you. Sustainable wedding guest dresses are easier on the wallet as well. Rental clothing allows you and your guests to invest in more creative outfit options that you may not feel comfortable purchasing, because let’s be real, the Indian aunties will remember you wore that same purple saree at your friend’s wedding last month.
In South Asian culture, there’s been a stigma that South Asian brides should wear a new lehenga or saree for their wedding. How is this perception changing?
According to Lindsey, “I was very surprised when I was talking to Indian designers of how incredibly receptive they are because they're already renting in many companies in India. You're seeing those old superstitions wearing away. Other rental companies have normalized renting here in the US, and we are going to see a trend,” indicating that traditional norms are being broken and this change is a trend here to stay.
It’s actually easier than you would expect to host a wedding with sustainable wedding decor, especially at Indian weddings with lots of flowers. At most Desi weddings, flowers are the key to grand and intricate decor. They’re also the easiest decor item to repurpose. We spoke to Priyanka Rao, one of the Founders of RAO Factor, a decor company, on ways to repurpose flowers and host a sustainable Indian wedding, and we’re here to share with you what we learned.
There are three ways you can repurpose your flowers: reuse from event-to-event, donate to charities or hospitals, or press and reserve. Repurposing flowers may be harder to do if the flowers are kept outdoors (there’s a chance of them wilting) but if you plan in advance, you may still be able to reuse these flowers elsewhere or donate to a hospital or charity.
Reusing floral decor from event to event helps reduce your decor costs and makes your wedding planning easier. You won’t have to change up your decor for each event and can spend more time on your other wedding planning tasks (we know the list is long). Nowadays, there are so many creative ways to repurpose wedding decor. In the popular Netflix show called The Big Day, the first episode features Divya Khandelwal and Aman Kapur's sustainable fort wedding where everything can be reused or repurposed: natural resources from the nearby village were used to create decor arrangements, and eco-friendly fabric used for installations was given to the children of Bishangarh village after the Indian wedding. Sustainable weddings in India are more commons than eco-friendly weddings in the U.S. We can learn from them!
Source: Vogue India, Photo by Aditi Jain Photography
When asked about things couples can do to save on costs from a design standpoint, Priyanka from RAO Factor mentioned that “trying to use as much of their fresh product as possible” is one of the best ways to cut costs. For example, if you’re hosting your wedding at home, you can reuse flowers across your series of events (grah shanti, mehendi, haldi ceremony, etc). From the wedding ceremony to the reception, you can easily use flowers from the aisle or the mandap as part of your centerpieces for your evening reception., which will save you money but also help you throw an eco-friendly wedding.
The second option of donating to hospitals or charities is a great way to make someone’s day. You can even think of it as sharing the joy from your wedding! According to Priyanka from RAO Factor, “there aren’t many restrictions...it’s easy to donate flowers,” and many of her clients have done so. To donate to hospitals / charities, you just speak to the organization ahead of time, ask your decor company to preserve the flowers post-event, and either have the organization pick up the bouquets or hand-deliver the flowers yourself after the wedding events. With the ease of the donation process and the delight associated with flowers, these are the perfect items for donation! To tie a bow on the benefits of donations, you can also request the organization for a receipt and claim the decor donation as a tax-deductible wedding line item. Not only do you bring a smile to someone's face, but donating your wedding decor is like passing on a sustainable wedding gift. Donations is both a feel-good and wallet-friendly option!
Pressing or reserving flowers allows you to have your wedding memories live on. You dry the garlands from your Indian wedding and frame them to create a living room display piece and a memory from your royal Indian wedding. If you choose to do this, you won’t have to worry about disposal or waste removal, making post-event cleaning so much easier.
While we focus on floral decor here, you can also go one step deeper and find eco friendly wedding decorations from sustainable wedding confetti to sustainable stationery for table place cards at the wedding reception and other wedding signage. Eco friendly centerpieces with plants guests can take home or reusable faux flowers can feel just as glam as typical centerpieces.
Finally, last but not least, we all know how large wedding favors are for Desi weddings. While you want to get your wedding guests a token of appreciation and a gift to symbolize your love and gratitude, the wedding favor should be something the guests can actually use and appreciate. Think about how you might be able to get a sustainable wedding favor that your guests will actually use or a consumable wedding favor your guests can enjoy. From seed packets to succulents and reusable cotton totes, there are plenty of fun, eco friendly wedding favor ideas. If you choose to go edible, consider fair trade coffee packets or a favorite bar of fair trade chocolate.
We hope that through this sustainable wedding 101 guide you've found sustainable wedding ideas to pick and choose from. Having an eco-friendly wedding doesn't mean you have to give up on your priorities or wedding wishlist. We are guests on planet Earth, and everything we can do to preserve our environment will benefit our generations to come. Happy wedding planning, and if you are planning a South Asian wedding in Texas, visit The Desi Bride to start finding your dream vendors!
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Shoutout to Our Contributors
Bombay Trade Co: A recently-launched marketplace for circular South Asian fashion that’s keen on its quality-check process. They've got plenty of budget-friendly options for sustainable wedding dresses for guests.
Botanical Paperworks: A world-leading producer of certified pure seed paper with over 20 years of experience. They customize eco-friendly wedding invitations.
Customizing Creativity: Created by a Mumbai-based wife-husband duo with over 12 years of experience in creating high-quality, custom digital and bespoke paper wedding invitations and other wedding stationery.
Indian Students Association: A student-run organization at The University of Texas-Dallas able to take wedding food donations in the Dallas area, making sustainable catering possible.
Plantables: Formed by sustainability enthusiasts, Plantables offers eco-friendly wedding invitations that can be shipped anywhere.
Preserve: A designer clothing rental company launching this summer 2021, partnering with a wide range of South Asian designers. They focus on sustainable outfits and offer eco-friendly wedding dresses.
RAO Factor: A full-service event design-company based in Dallas, TX with a primary focus on event production, design, décor, and florals.
Second Servings: A fast-growing non-profit food rescue organization based in Houston, TX, so you can throw a sustainable wedding and donate the leftover food.
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