GRETA Thunberg has become the most powerful voice advocating for global climate action, inspiring youth to fearlessly stand up for their future. Her explosive speech at the recent UN Climate Change Conference was a perfect example of that fearlessness – and is exactly the wake up call the world and it’s leaders so desperately need.
This brave 16-year-old has taken a sabbatical from school and dedicated her life to standing up for the environment. This perhaps is the ultimate way to give back. Back home in India, we have an annual week-long festival that celebrates the joy of giving – be it your time, money or skills – to causes YOU care about.
This #DaanUtsav (2-8 Oct), we’d like to highlight the environmental activism of Ashwin Malwade and Nupur Agarwal – a couple who give their time throughout the year to organise weekly beach-cleaning events in Mumbai, as well as being active citizens advocating green initiatives in various social communities.
Ashwin and Nupur are getting married in December 2019, and are planning an eco-friendly wedding. We caught up with them for advice and tips on how we can all be more eco-conscious when celebrating life events.
Small Change: Tell us a little about yourselves.
Ashwin: I work as a first officer in the Merchant Navy. I have been sailing for almost 15 years now and feel a deep connect with the oceans and that’s how I started doing beach clean ups where I eventually met my life partner – Nupur Agarwal.
Nupur: I’m a qualitative market researcher by profession and a rag picker by passion!
SC: How did you guys meet?
A: Nupur and I met through common friends at a bar in Mumbai. Next morning I was going for a beach clean up to Versova and I mentioned the same to Nupur. She obliged the next day, and that’s where we connected – amongst a pile of trash over many weekends.
SC: Was it your love for the environment that drew you to one another?
Both: Honestly, yes. (We) wouldn’t have been able to connect with anyone who didn’t share our love for the environment. Also, the desire to work for the environment is almost addictive and can get overwhelming. We both needed someone who would understand the importance of this in our lives. And gradually, over multiple clean-ups and interactions during school visits, we realised that we shared many more common interests.
SC: An eco-conscious wedding is an excellent idea! But such big events are difficult to control. How are you going about it?
A: Absolutely agree. But we did make a conscientious effort to list out a few things which were non-negotiable for us from an environmental point of view and stuck to our stance. Luckily our families also realise the importance of this and are willing to support us. After multiple meetings with caterers and decorators we realised that though it’s a challenge – it can be done.
N: To make things simple as wedding prep can get really daunting, we listed down 4-5 things that we must do: ensuring no plastic during shopping and packing; had a word with our caterer and decorator to ensure only real flowers, no plastic bottles, waste segregation, composting, and excess food will be given to the poor; the cash that we get at our wedding and whatever money we save from our budget will be directed to an environmental cause; making our wedding carbon neutral by planting trees; recycling clothes, and sending e-invites.
A: In fact, we have inserted a specific note in our e-invites asking our guests to refrain from using any plastic packaging for their gifts. Limiting our guest count also ensures we can probably control the eco-friendly angle to our wedding.
SC: Do you think it’s possible to go completely zero-waste, especially for events such as weddings? If so, how?
A: Yes it is possible. The e-invites we’re sending to most of our guests drastically reduce the wastage of paper. The few paper invites which will be sent to elders in our families are being printed on seed paper – which can be planted. The event shall be free of any single use plastic. PET bottles will be replaced with water stations around the venue for the guests. Decor shall be from sustainable materials which are easily biodegradable.
All waste shall be segregated at the venue and food waste shall be sent for composting while dry waste for recycling. Nupur will be reusing her mother’s wedding lehenga – and she’s getting some interesting messages related to the environment embroidered on it. I shall be using only sustainable fabric for my clothes – all of which will be handmade locally, and will also include some messages related to the environment embroidered on it.
N: You just need to follow a few simple steps, and everything is possible.
SC: What would you say are the biggest polluting factors at events such as weddings, and what solutions are you putting in place to tackle them?
A: Biggest polluting factors would definitely be the use of single use plastic which is non-perishable and non-biodegradable. We have ensured to completely abstain from using any such plastic for the wedding.
Another is also the mass movement of people arriving at the wedding venues from within India and around the world. To mitigate this factor our dear friend Afroz Shah (UN Champion of Earth) and our mentor when it comes to environmental issues, suggested we plant trees for each of our guests travelling to our wedding, so that we can make the occasion carbon neutral.
The process has already begun, and so far we have planted 20 tree saplings in a nearby Municipal school in Mumbai. We shall be monitoring their progress till they are fully grown. We’ve also spoken to Afroz about developing an urban forest in Mumbai.
N: Another big issue with weddings is food wastage. Hence we have ensured that excess food goes to feed the stomachs of people in need and the food waste on plates go into composting.
SC: Do you have any tips for others who are keen to make their life events eco-conscious/zero waste?
A: Yes. Change begins from us. Only when we practice zero waste living can we spread the word to others. Think sustainability when it comes to organising an event. We should try to reduce as much waste as possible that shall be generated from this one event.
List down things required for the wedding and do a little research on what eco-friendly alternatives are available. Reduce the number of food items at the event to avoid wastage. Go local and seasonal with floral decorations. Avoid using plastic decorative flowers as they have no end cycle and eventually end up at a landfill.
Do something good for the environment with the funds received as gifts for the event. It will go a long way in mitigating the damage done by hosting the event. Help your guests understand why you are hosting an eco-friendly event and how they can do the same.
N: Just note down a list of things that are non-negotiable and align your family to that list. It is a challenge but hey, weddings themselves are a challenge!
-interview by Maya McManus
We hope Ashwin and Nupur’s story inspires you to be more eco-conscious in your daily lives and life events. If you have more tips you’d like to share, tell us in the comments below.