Weddings comprise some of the most meaningful events of our adult lives; the beautiful union with our soulmates, a celebration of love and partnership. However, it can be easy to lose sight of how these celebrations impact the environment. A lot has to be in place; the decorations, guest lists, gifts, venue, food, etc., and many of these aspects of wedding celebrations generate unnecessary waste.
However, a zero-waste wedding is an excellent choice if you're passionate about being eco-friendly. In addition to helping to reduce food and plastic waste, it can prove a more cost-effective option. By choosing sustainable and environmentally friendly options for your wedding, you can celebrate your special day and minimize your impact on the planet.
This article explores why you should plan a zero-waste wedding instead of a conventional one, and read on for some practical tips for a zero-waste wedding.
Beyond the uniqueness of having a zero-waste wedding, numerous good reasons exist to reduce wedding waste. First, let's clarify that a zero-waste wedding means a wedding celebration that produces as little waste as possible while preventing environmental harm wherever possible.
Many countries see hundreds of thousands of wedding celebrations each year. There are about 2.3 million weddings a year in the United States. Each wedding involves a lot of transportation during planning, preparation, and on the wedding day itself, especially with destination and large weddings. The fuels burned during the wedding period produce carbon emissions which are very dangerous to the environment. Carbon emissions catalyze climate change and global warming.
To help protect our planet for future generations, it is important to consider the environmental impact of all aspects of our lives. An average wedding produces about 60 tons of CO2, while some produce a lot more than this. In contrast, a sustainable wedding seeks to reduce the emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere.
You might say, "it's only a one-time celebration." However, it's a single-day celebration that occurs over millions of times yearly in different parts of the world. That one time is enough to contribute to environmental damage.
Another danger weddings pose is waste. A great deal of waste quickly accumulates from excess food and single-use decorations. Kate Harrison, author of “The Green Bride Guide,” notes that weddings can produce as much as 400 pounds of garbage. Organizing an eco-friendly wedding reduces the waste produced, helps show what’s possible, and increases awareness about the trash produced at other parties and celebrations.
Related: Check out our guide to zero-waste party ideas, tips, and decorations.
Planning a zero-waste wedding starts from the beginning, after the engagement. To really make the zero-waste cut, you must consider all aspects of a wedding ceremony. Here, we offer you ten tips on how to have a low-waste wedding.
Achieving the zero-waste wedding of your dreams requires a lot of thought and planning, especially if you are new to the eco-friendly lifestyle. Hiring a zero-waste wedding planner will make it less stressful for you because they have expertise in zero-waste matters.
The planner will research local companies for zero-waste products, vendors, suppliers, and caterers. They will give you their expert opinion on how to host a wedding with minimal environmental impact without compromising on the quality of the celebration.
Before a wedding celebration, you’ll be busy drawing up guest lists and thinking about invitations. Traditional weddings send out paper invitations to their guests. Physical invitations require trips to your local printer or unnecessary shipping and may well end up thrown out after the moment.
Instead, make use of an e-invite. An e-invite is an electronic invitation, meaning you e-mail your wedding invitations. All you have to do is approach a graphic designer or try your hand using easy-to-use templates and services available online. Select a design you love to suit your theme and send it via email. Just notify your guest list to check their emails when you send it out.
However, some of us still want to stick to the traditional invitation methods. For this, you can use recycled eco-friendly paper for your wedding invites.
There are also plantable papers you can use for your invites. Print your invitations on plantable seed paper, so your guests can plant them after the wedding ceremony is done. Your wedding lives on even after it is over.
Having a wedding ceremony at a destination location doesn’t count as low waste because of the carbon emissions accrued due to long-distance travel by your guests to get there, especially if you have a large guest list. Destination weddings require traveling many miles from one city to another.
Apart from travel miles, you might have to transport your wedding vendors because it will be more challenging to find a wedding planner and vendor in a city you don’t live in. This increases the level of your wedding’s carbon footprint.
Instead, select an easily accessible venue for your wedding closer to your home location. Also, choose a venue that requires little to no decorations as it reduces waste. You can choose eco-friendly locations like the beach, parks, gardens, farms, mountains, etc., which provide their own unique connection with nature.
However, if you want a destination wedding for personal reasons (like an intimate wedding ceremony in your hometown), ensure the lodging area for you and your guests is close to the venue, which helps reduce the event's carbon footprint. You may also consider purchasing carbon offsets to help balance things out.
Decorations constitute a significant part of a typical wedding, but we mainly use single-use and unrecyclable decoration materials. These single-use decor materials include balloons, ribbons, confetti, and plastic flowers.
Zero-waste decorations are especially ideal for large and outdoor venues because it helps reduce waste. So, use locally grown flowers for the bride and bridesmaid bouquets. You can use dried flowers as confetti which biodegrades; they are perfect for the flower children walking down the aisle and bridal shower.
You can use potted plants and flowers as centerpieces to improve the place settings. An outdoor venue like a park, beach, or garden doesn’t require as many decorations. All it needs is proper floral arrangements. You and your guests can reuse the live plants and flowers as home decor, while the dried flowers become compostable materials.
You can go DIY for your wedding decorations and make macrame and crochet decorations. For instance, you can crochet your wedding bouquet and hanging flower drapes. Also, you can rent your decoration materials from a local rental store, thereby reducing the cost of buying new decor materials, and reuse is also more environmentally friendly. It is better to rent glass props than buy plastic props.
Wedding favors are an important part of wedding planning, and many opt to gift guests to thank them for showing up for you on your wedding day.
There are multiple types of favors: edible, novelty, and inedible favors. However, to have an eco-friendly wedding, you need to include zero-waste wedding favors in your plans.
Zero-waste favors help minimize the waste your wedding produces and always go for plastic free. Avoid plastic water bottles and souvenirs.
You can gift your guests zero-waste products like glass jars, hemp soap bars, tote bags, bookmarks, plantable papers, eco-friendly candles, etc. You also make your wedding favors consumable items like essential oils, honey, grounded herbs, tea blends, etc.
One crucial aspect of wedding planning is ensuring that your guests are well-fed. Unfortunately, a common issue with weddings is the amount of food waste generated. Often, excess meals are prepared and go uneaten, leading to careless dumping of the leftovers.
To have an eco-friendly wedding, your food plan should be as low-waste as possible. Your caterers should source ingredients from local farmers. They should also ensure to use of all parts of the ingredients to make the food. Purchase meat items directly from a butcher’s store to avoid buying meat packaged in plastic. It is also cost-effective because local farms and butcher shops sell in bulk.
An enormous wedding cake is only necessary if you have a really big crowd. Instead, plan the cake size to allow for a portion for each guest.
One effective way to minimize food waste at your wedding is by implementing a strict plus-one reservation policy. By catering specifically to the number of guests on your list, you can significantly reduce the amount of excess food. While some guests may be tempted to invite their friends, it's important to clarify that only those specifically invited are welcome.
Consider donating any leftover food to a nearby food bank or sharing it with homeless shelters in your community. This way, you can ensure that your special day is memorable, eco-friendly, and socially responsible.
Also, you can use some of the food left over from your wedding as compostable materials for your garden. You can make this easy by having compost bins at your wedding venue, so you can easily dump excess food inside them.
It isn’t an eco-friendly wedding if you don’t support sustainable clothing brands. With some shopping around, you’ll quickly find that you can source almost everything you need for a great wedding day from sustainable brands. Sustainable wedding dresses are no exception.
Sustainable wedding dresses don’t hurt the environment during the production and usage cycle. However, you’ll need to spend more time seeking them out as they aren’t that common.
Another option is to opt for pre-loved dresses to avoid the stress of sourcing new, eco-friendly wedding dresses. You’ll find options for rental out there, and a number of the higher-end online thrift stores also have wedding dress categories.
Both rental and buying second-hand are more sustainable options because they prevent the draw on new raw materials from creating a new garment that typically only gets worn once. While rental saves you the stress of getting a new wedding dress and going for multiple fitting sessions, and it is less expensive.
Also, you can opt for wedding dresses made with crochet or macrame. They will look unique and stunning. The best part of wearing a handmade wedding dress is you can crochet or weave it yourself.
Better still, go to an eco-friendly salon to get your hair, nails, facials, and other beautifying activities done. Encourage your bridesmaids and groomsmen to use all-natural beauty products, too.
Assigning seats to guests allows you to keep count of your guests and have them organized. To make this possible, you'll need a guest sign placed where your guests sit. Using recycled or plantable paper with soy-based inks used to write on it is eco-friendly.
Your friends might need a little encouragement for eco-friendly gifting. So, it is best to provide them with a list of zero-waste gifts you’d like to receive. You can ask for e-gift cards from stores like Amazon and Etsy. Your gifts list should contain sustainable items that will last and improve the quality of your life, rather than those that end up in the back of the cupboard or closet and don’t get used. Curating a wedding registry is easier if you use a wedding website.
You can also ask for experience gifts instead of physical gifts. Also, you could request an all-expense paid trip to a resort, tickets to your favorite artist’s concert, or a paid anniversary shoot. You could ask for a portrait artist to create a portrait of you and your husband.
A sustainable wedding is very achievable and more straightforward than it may seem. The primary goal of a zero-waste wedding is to avoid as much waste as possible. Our zero-waste wedding tips cover the basics of planning a zero-waste wedding, but you can hire a wedding planner if a bit of help might make it even easier.
In addition to following our zero-waste wedding tips, there are several other ways to contribute to a sustainable wedding. For instance, you can provide your caterers and guests with proper waste baskets to ensure correct recycling and disposal. Additionally, you can find creative ways to reuse bridesmaid bouquets. Remember, a sustainable wedding can be just as enjoyable and exciting as a traditional wedding while positively impacting the environment.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.