Desi O’ Desi: How Can You Make Your Next Event Earth Friendly

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By Anu Chitrapu

It is great that there are so many events run by the Indian community in the greater Boston area. Music shows, poetry recitations, award ceremonies, dance arangetrams … the list goes on. While the events themselves are awesome, the staggering amount of plastic that ends up in landfills because of these events is awful!  Making a few minor adjustments to the events can result in all our events being environment friendly.

Anu Chitrapu

We recently conducted a bharatanatyam dance arangetram for our daughter Anjali. As we went through the list of things to order/buy we tried to be very deliberate about assessing the impact on the environment for each item.

Water bottles:

This is the worst offender but the most needed item. Typically there are about 1000 small plastic bottles that are used at each arangetram.  The easy availability at Costco makes this an item that people don’t even think about before buying. We decided to completely eliminate the use of plastic bottles at our event. Instead we worked with our caterer Dharani, to fill and refill water in 30 jugs. Our event was in Lexington and the water is certified for drinking and is in fact better than the water that sat in plastic bottles for days before being consumed! We provided paper cups and made sure the water jugs were refilled periodically.  Even if you don’t do anything else, if you eliminate plastic bottles from your event you straightaway get to 80% of your goal to be environment friendly.

Tablecloths:

Unfortunately, plastic tablecloths are not only cheap, they come in different colors to match your decor, they are waterproof and spill proof and readily available both online or in your neighborhood store. No wonder a lot of people prefer these to any other type of tablecloth.  However, like all plastic products, these are neither reusable nor do they decompose quickly.  At the end of an event, trash cans are bursting with the plastic tablecloths that are stuffed into them.  One easy replacement for these is paper tablecloths but if you want to be truly environment friendly then you can consider fabric tablecloths. We decided to go with the fabric option and got cotton fabric block printed by an organization that teaches livelihood skills to adults with autism. They did a fantastic job block printing the cotton tablecloths with an ethnic paisley design. Once the event was done, we washed them and put them away in a box. We are hoping to lend these out to our friends for their events.

Picture: Block printed by adults with autism

Cutlery:

Those plastic spoons, knives and forks are not only another landfill item but they cause a lot of harm to sea life. The pictures of turtles and fish with one of these stuck in their bodies are heart wrenching. Don’t be fooled by the metal look alike cutlery — they are plastic colored to look like metal and are as bad as the white or black plastic cutlery.  For a small extra amount you can insist your caterer uses eco-friendly cutlery. These are now easily available and add an elegant touch to any dinner.  We used eco-friendly plates and cutlery that could be tossed after use with no guilt whatsoever. Our plates were made of palm leaves and cutlery was made of wood, which made them biodegradable and compostable. The worst option is using styrofoam, a material known to increase pollution and cause health problems to those exposed to it. To learn more about why styrofoam is bad for the environment click on this link.

Picture: Biodegradable spoons

Centerpieces:

Sadly, there are many beautiful products made of plastic that make great centerpieces. But these products are bad for the environment and many of them take many, many years to decompose. The process of making them also releases pollutants into the environment.  It is very easy to eliminate these from your event. Just put a fresh plant or freshly cut flowers on your dinner tables and take them from ordinary to beautiful. Flowers and plants make for a great take home gift for your guests!  We wanted to pick centerpieces that were eco-friendly but also supported the traditional craft forms from India.  Last year there were some very disturbing reports of terracotta diwali lamps (diyas) being replaced by plastic tealights that were made in China. This resulted in many Indian terracotta lamp makers having to throw away their products as people opted for the cheaper tealights during the diwali season.  Keeping this in mind, we decided to go with centerpieces that would showcase the traditional terracotta craft. We were able to get custom made terracotta bowls (called Urlis) that were made by women artisans in Chennai. These women created the bowls and then hand painted them with traditional designs using white paint.  The LightUpStore in Chennai supports women artisans and made these for us.

Picture: Terracotta centerpieces from The LightUpStore

Picture: Women from The LightUpStore, Chennai making terracotta products.

Gift bags:

While this is a small part of the eco-friendly footprint, instead of buying glossy gift bags to give gifts, we used recyclable gift bags made from old sarees for all the gifts we gave. Check out www.nyrvaana.com for products made with recycled fabric. These bags can be used as handbags/shopping bags and showcase the beauty of traditional, handwoven fabric.

Picture: Gift bags from Nyrvaana made from old silk sarees

Decorations:

It is tempting to buy decorations and with online ordering so easy now, thousands of items are literally a click away. But rather than ordering decorations like plastic or fabric flowers, borrow from those who already have them. We borrowed all the decorations we used at our event.

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