Your Guide to a Zero-Waste Wedding Celebration

Photos by Kathy Reeder

Photos by Kathy Reeder

Say “Yes” To A Green Wedding

I am such a sucker for a good wedding. Lifting a glass of free bubbly while toasting to eternal love? Yo, sign me up, and hand me a bacon-wrapped scallion on the next pass. On the flip side, the wedding industry is by far one of the most wasteful; think new dresses, single-use disposables, and all of the traveling before, during, and after the party. But it doesn’t have to be this way! When planned thoughtfully, you can achieve a moderately low-to-zero waste wedding. It’s no small task to toe the line between what you want for your special day and what is friendly to our earthly mother, but there are a million ways to ensure a less wasteful celebration (and I promise, your guests won’t miss those chintzy favors).

My own wedding only met a few of the eco goals I was hoping to achieve. Due to major budget constraints, I had to Frankenstein a wedding with a shell of a venue, outside caterer, rentals, and so on. So, in the spirit of doing what we can, I included my own eco wins and eco fails in my wedding below. But first, here are the top things you need to consider when planning a low-to-zero-waste wedding:


Elope

The most eco-friendly wedding celebration is the one you don't have. If you keep it small and just go to the courthouse, you'll be just as married at the end of the day with a very small carbon footprint to boot. If I could do it over again, I swear I would elope. Not only would I have saved oodles of cash better spent on a down-payment for a house or paying down my student loans, I would’ve contributed a lot less to the landfill. That being said, there are a million reasons people want to have a wedding celebration, and I’m certainly not here to tell you to skip the wedding entirely; who the hell am I to ruin a party? And how would I get free bubbly if everyone just eloped?

Venue

Okay, so you decided to have a wedding celebration and, dude, I don’t blame you. The first, and arguably most stressful, step in wedding planning is choosing your place to party. The venue is by and large the most important factor to consider when planning an eco-friendly wedding. If you can secure a venue with onsite catering and reusable place settings, you’re already ten steps ahead of the eco game. Additionally, try to find a venue that allows you to hold your ceremony and reception in the same place to cut down on emissions for yourself and your guests. Bonus points if your honeymoon suite is onsite! If it’s not possible to have your ceremony and reception in the same place, consider shuttling your guests in order to save emissions.

Destination vs Traditional

If you’re on the fence about where to wed, it’s important to know the pros and cons of both a destination wedding and a traditional, stay-put wedding. With a traditional wedding, there’s a good chance you’ll be inviting everyone you know (and their plus ones), which means more food, more chairs, more booze; everything must be scaled up, up, up. However, even with the smaller guest list of a destination wedding, you should consider the fuel emissions from air travel (and all of the single-use plane waste), travel-sized amenities, to-go coffee cups, etc. Smaller does not necessarily mean better for the environment.

Now that you’ve learned the major considerations for an eco-friendly wedding, there are smaller factors that play a big role in waste. Below are a few smaller, yet impactful considerations:

Invites

Wedding invitations are usually two-fold: you have the Save The Date notification, followed by a more formal Invitation. For a sizable guest list, that’s a lot of paper waste. With our tech-savvy grandmothers constantly poking us on Facebook, there’s very little reason to send old-school paper invitations over digital invites. There are a ton of options for paperless invitations that make tracking RSVPs a breeze. Below are just a few both paid and free websites for digital invitations. Have an aunt that won’t respond to emails? No big; you also have the option of printing your digital invite design to send to Aunt Shelby.

Paperless Post (my first option!) 
Greenvelope
Evite

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Wedding Favors

I gave away tree saplings at my wedding because I was brainwashed into thinking that people would assume I'm cheap for making a donation in their name instead of giving away a wedding favor. Still, I couldn't stand giving away something silly that would end up in the bin. Giving away trees definitely wasn't zero-waste, but it felt better to give away something theoretically eco-friendly than giving away something personalized that could end up in someone’s junk drawer. When it comes to favors, find your happy medium. If you couldn’t care less about what Aunt Debra thinks about your donation, I say go for it!

Dresses

One way you can remain eco-friendly and save a boatload of cash is to rent, borrow, or buy your wedding-day garb used. Buying a new dress is great for nailing down exactly what you want, but it’s also something you will only wear once (hello, textile waste). Websites like Nearly Newlywed offer the option of buying or renting gently-used gowns AND the option to re-sell your dress back, continuing the cycle of textile use without a single visit to the landfill.

Similarly, Rent the Runway gives your bridesmaids the option of renting a gorgeous dress that won’t take up space in their closets. A friend of mine once dropped $300 on a bridesmaid dress she ended up never wearing again; yikes, right? For my own wedding, I asked my bridesmaids to wear a dress in a shade of green to match my palette. The only other rule is that they had to purchase something they would wear again - a major win for their closest AND my eco goals.

Registry

If you and your fiancé have been living together for a few years, there’s a good chance you already have a well-established household. New appliances, linens, and furniture is often overloaded with packaging material that will hit the bin without seeing another use. For my own registry, I made it pretty clear that my then-fiancé would make better use of cash gifts for our honeymoon than household items. Still, if you haven’t been living together or you desire a fresh batch of kitchen towels, consider registering for the thousands of eco-friendly household items over at Etsy; you may even be able to find a few minimal-packaging vendors. Finally, if you really want to double-down on the eco factor, opt for a charitable donation instead of physical items or cash gifts.

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Decor & Florals

Depending on your personal taste, decor and floral arrangements can be one of the more expensive costs for a wedding, especially when you consider the use of flowers (or lack thereof) after the party is over. After pinning a few inspirational looks to your Wedding Board, consider taking a trip to the local thrift store for decor that will be completely unique to your wedding, such as table linens, candle holders, vases, easels, etc. With time and patience, you can craft a beautiful wedding using thrifted items. However, I know that “thrifted look” is not everyone's jam, so head to your local event rental facility for a cheaper and more eco-friendly decor option or check out Facebook Marketplace, LetGo, and Craigslist for gently-used wedding decor.

Floral arrangements and bouquets can be a bit trickier to navigate in terms zero-waste. Although I opted for cut blooms for my wedding, I composted the arrangements and bouquets that were left at the venue for my garden. Go for eco gold and opt for my sister’s bouquet idea: instead of a traditional bouquet, she made one out of brooches that we gave her during her bridal shower; and instead of centerpieces, she used cakes - and yes, those were her desserts!

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Catering

Oof, let’s talk about my catering fiasco for a minute. My venue, a revitalized factory space, was a DIY bride’s dream; except for the fact that there was no onsite caterer or kitchen. That meant bringing in a TON of disposable buffet containers, paper towels for cleanup, and plastic serving ware. On top of that, the venue allowed me to bring in my own alcohol for cost savings, but since there was no kitchen to continually refresh glasses, beer and mixed drinks had to be served in (GASP) plastic cups. I shudder to think of everything we tossed in the garbage that night.

Again, going zero-waste is a constant effort. My budget and venue determined my particular situation, but if you think about cost savings versus your desire to go low-waste, you’re bound to hit at least some of your eco goals. Remember: It’s not about doing zero-waste perfectly - it’s about the imperfect effort you take to go zero-waste.

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Beauty

Thankfully, beauty salons and independent makeup artists are trending towards a green future. Eco-friendliness and organic, cruelty-free products are becoming the norm in the beauty industry, ever-improving the toll that the beauty industry has on the environment. Think deeply about who you might hire to do your hair, makeup, and grooming. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about their products or whether or not they use single-use applicators.


I applaud you for wanting to have a greener, low-waste wedding. Although achieving a green wedding may seem difficult, there are so many factors you can consider to cut down on waste and step towards a cleaner future with your S/O by your side.

Did you or someone you know think about the environmental impacts of your wedding? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it!

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