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The Zero-Waste Wedding Guide

Weddings are so many things: beautiful but stress-inducing, short-lived but significant, a day of memories that will be cherished forever. When you’re getting swept away in a cascade of emotions and minute details, it’s easy to forget about the impact your wedding will have on the environment.

Guest Post By: Hannah West 

For busy brides and grooms, it’s an inconvenient truth. Between the registry gifts, the showers, the favors, and the actual ceremony/reception, your wedding will have a gigantic footprint if you don’t take control from the onset. Having planned a wedding myself, I realize how difficult it can be to insist on eco-friendly at every turn. But with a determination and a sense of direction, you can have a gorgeous, environmentally-conscious wedding without overspending. What a great way to start a marriage!

Make a Plan 

Most wedding decisions are based on two factors: expectations and budget. But if you want an eco-friendly wedding, then from the beginning you have to make sustainability equal to those priorities, or it won’t happen. I’m not the type of person who likes planning events, insisting on having my way, or being the center of attention. So even though I was interested in an eco-friendly wedding, convenience settled into that third spot on the priority list and I watched my wedding be wasteful in some ways I could have prevented. 

Make a plan. Print off a regular “wedding checklist” and mark off the things you don’t need or want. Write notes on eco-friendly alternatives next to the things you do want. You don’t have to sacrifice anything if you’re thoughtful and intentional about every element. 

Vet the Venue and Caterer

An outdoor wedding is the greenest option because you automatically forego lighting and climate control. But if your ceremony, reception, or both need to happen indoors, look for a venue with the right stuff. A room with plenty of sunlight won’t need to be lit, and the natural light can help the place warm the space in colder weather. Have your ceremony and reception on the same property to prevent the emissions of guests traveling from one place to the other. Ask about recycling receptacles and whether the linens and dishware are reusable. If you really want to dig in, make sure the napkins and tablecloths are organic-dyed materials. Better yet, forego the tablecloth!

When it comes to food, try your best to support a local business with organic and ethically-sourced foods. A specifically green venue with quality local catering will make your life a little easier. But if there’s not one, look for a venue that makes an attempt to reduce waste and reuse quality supplies.

Have a Home Wedding 

If the green venue search gets a little complicated, consider a home wedding. You get complete control of the environment, decor, food, energy use, and waste management. A beautiful backyard or porch will need minimal decor. A home wedding is also an excuse to keep the guest list small, which means keeping wastefulness in check. 

Your home may need a little sprucing before you make it the backdrop of one of the most emotional days of your life. Thankfully, a small, minimalist wedding can leave room in the budget for home improvements to help you nest with your new spouse.  

DIY with Discretion

Pinterest can make even cut-up pieces of tissue paper strung together look like a fantasy flower garden, but you shouldn’t always fall for it. I ended up buying and not using so many sheets of tissue paper to save money on a backdrop. It was heinous. We eventually made an arbor out of fallen branches from a friend’s yard, and it was gorgeous. When DIY goes right, it can be both green and great for the budget. When it goes wrong, it’s waste of every resource, including time. 

Have a Talk with the Wedding Party

Make sure your wedding party is on the same page as you. From showers to bachelorette/bachelor parties, they have plenty of chances to be eco-friendly versus wasteful. If you want guests to bring unwrapped gifts, make sure your wedding party knows this. If you’d rather forego paper decor and balloons for more mimosas, don’t be shy. Ask for reusable dishes rather than paper and plastic. Make sure they only send electronic invitations, and help them by getting invitees’ email addresses when you asking for their mailing addresses. Stay local for your parties and have guests rideshare as much as possible (for safety reasons, too). 

Borrow or Buy Used 

Borrowing is already a beautiful and nostalgic wedding tradition, so why not make it a wedding goal? Chances are, you have a few friends with some centerpieces or cute reception heels tucked in closet somewhere. Several of my college friends got married before my husband and I did, so I was able to borrow plenty of decor pieces and a game of giant Jenga. Shop around for gently used clothing items and see what options are available on bridesmaids dress resale sites (yes, these exist!). You can even get reused flowers!

Nix Some Traditions 

Wedding programs usually acknowledge the special people participating in the ceremony, and of course they let guests know how many more songs or prayers stand between them and food. But nowadays, we have wedding websites for the former and short ceremonies for the latter. So think about nixing the programs. 

Likewise, we don’t really need printed invitations anymore. But that doesn’t mean you have to forego them. Print your invitations on recycled or sustainably-sourced paper with non-VOC ink. Make them small so that you can print more per page. Double-check your order so you don’t end up with the wrong size and have to reorder them (ahem, guilty). 

I’ve never been to a bachelorette party that wasn’t also a lingerie shower. Why were these things ever separate in the first place? Consolidate these two traditions into one and you conserve decor, food, gas, and money. 

If you have what you need for your home, skip the registry and ask for your guests to donate to a charity or contribute to the honeymoon fund. 

Donate or Sell Items after the Wedding 

No one wants a garage full of glass votives or mason jars. And no one wants to buy hundreds of dollars worth of these things for their own wedding. So do everyone a favor and find ways to get rid of your wedding supplies besides tossing or recycling them. We were able to sell our arbor on Craigslist to another bride and groom, which gave me the satisfaction of knowing we helped make someone else’s day exactly what they wanted—and helped greenify another wedding, too!

Hannah West writes for Modernize with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence.

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