Surrounded by friends and family, your wedding day can be among the best of your lives, but it can also be one of the most wasteful. After the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 postponed many wedding festivities, 2022 will be a record year for marriage, with about 2.5 million weddings expected. Here’s how to plan a celebration that comes without a high environmental price tag.
Skip the destination wedding
While a backdrop of surf and sand might be alluring, the environmental cost of a destination wedding is high. Between 2 and 3% of all global CO2 emissions are from air travel, and a faraway wedding requires every guest to fly. To reduce the emissions associated with your big day, plan the celebration centrally, where most friends and family can travel without boarding a plane. Of course, there will always be a few outliers, but consider where is easiest for a high percentage of guests to reach by car or public transportation.
Pick an eco-friendly venue
Along with location, choose a venue that prioritizes sustainability: a far easier task these days as many venues are going green, leaving plentiful options for your big day.
When choosing a location, search for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certified or Energy Star certified buildings; the Green Building Information Gateway is a great way to find green buildings and venues for any event. Otherwise, look into venues that otherwise consider their environmental impact. When touring a space, make sure to ask questions: How do they handle waste? If food is included, where do they source their meals from?
Or, skip the indoor venue entirely, and get married outdoors! With a beautiful natural backdrop, an outdoor venue will eliminate the need for lots of decorations – and, of course, the need for lighting or heating/cooling.
Rent whatever you can
A wedding day requires many items that you’ll probably only need once: items you can opt to rent instead of buy, saving both money and resources in the process. Bridesmaids dresses, for one, are often costly and will only be worn once. The woman-owned wedding-wear company Borrow Love Return rents dresses for your bridal party, as well as veils, jewelry, and other staples for your big day, and The Black Tux has a great selection of formalwear for grooms and groomsmen alike. Local boutiques might offer similar services as well. As a plus, you might be able to afford garments that otherwise would have been out of your price range.
Sustainable wedding and engagement rings have become much more common, and you won’t have to sacrifice any beauty for sustainability – and, you’ll memorialize a momentous occasion with an item that’s not linked to human and environmental exploitation. The mining of gold has a devastating impact on ecosystems and water quality; it’s estimated that 20 tons of waste are generated to create a single gold wedding ring. Instead, shop for secondhand gold jewelry to melt down for new rings, designed by you and your partner.
Along with gold, diamonds also require intensive mining and are associated with many human rights abuses. For each mined diamond, between 200 and 400 million times more rock needs to be extracted, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. If you don’t want to forego diamonds altogether, use pieces that are already in the family, or shop for sustainable diamonds. Some can be made in labs and look nearly identical to those found in nature, although there is some debate about their true environmental impact, given the energy required to produce them. Visit a sustainable jeweler and talk to them about their practices, such as where the stones are procured, and whether their lab-grown diamonds are produced using renewable energy rather than fossil fuels.
Registries are a great way to set up your mutual home together – but, when choosing your desired wedding gifts, consider what you really need. If registering from big-box stores, add only things you don’t already have, or items you won’t be able to gather secondhand.
Alternatively, opt for a sustainable registry. Everlastly offers “registries for conscious couples,” pulling items from sustainable companies and rating the environmental impact of each. Many sustainable companies will also offer a registry themselves, like Ecovibe: a Portland-based Black- and women-owned company that sells home goods, kitchenware, plants. Or, have guests make charitable contributions in lieu of gifts. Choose an organization that you’d like to support, whether it be a local group or a larger nonprofit.
You can also ask guests to make monetary contributions towards sustainable choices you’d like to make in your life together – like participating in a CSA, powering your home with renewable energy, setting up a garden, etc. – and use a registry as an opportunity to fund personal environmental efforts.
Pick flowers mindfully
Of all cut flowers sold in the US, 70% are imported from Latin America. Each bloom has to be grown – which requires water, land, and fertilizer – packed, and transported quickly. Choose locally-grown flowers for your big day instead, which don’t need to be transported as far, and often require less packaging to keep the blooms fresh and intact on their way to the venue. Find local farms or florists that source from sustainable growers, and have discussions with the florist ahead of time to learn their/the nursery’s practices. Seasonal, native flowers also cause less damage to ecosystems, but might limit your options based on the time of year. Use the seasonal selection as an opportunity to organize color palettes and decorations around the floral arrangements.Or, forgo flowers altogether and decorate with potted houseplants, annuals, or perennials instead, which can be brought home or planted in the ground after the celebration. Small decorative plants can also be given out as party favors at the end of the night. Many plant stores will rent out their inventory for events as well, so you aren’t left with a forest of houseplants to care for afterwards.
FORGO WASTEFUL TRADITIONS
Not every wedding needs to be by the book. Many traditions are quite wasteful, and you might find that they don’t add much to your day anyway.
Cut out the confetti, for one, especially if you’re celebrating outside, or use a hole punch to cut out small pieces from leaves to create biodegradable confetti.
Party favors are a nice token of the event, but might be an added source of waste. Hand out those small plants used to decorate the tables, or give experiences instead, like a gift card for a free coffee from a local coffee shop the morning after the party.
Cutting the cake – especially a very large one – might not be vital to the party either. Some couples even cut a fake cake with only one real tier, and then distribute slices of sheet cake or other desserts to minimize waste.
Providing plant-based food for guests is a great important way to eliminate waste and cut down on party-related emissions. Serving vegetarian meals can cut the food-related emissions of an event by 75%, or 90% for vegan meals, according to the Environmental Working Group. Pick a caterer that has great vegetarian or vegan options, or consult with them beforehand about preparing meat substitutes or sustainably-sourced, local animal products. Also make sure that delicious food isn’t wasted, like 10% of most wedding food; calculate how much food you’ll need based on the guest list (especially if there’s a buffet).
RECYCLE AND COMPOST
Even with correct estimations, you might end up with some paper, plastic, and food waste at the end of the night. Without the presence of oxygen, decomposing food in landfills produces methane: a greenhouse gas 80x more potent than CO2. Keep food waste out of landfills by setting up a system for composting food scraps, perhaps coordinating with a local composting service. Use as few single-use items as possible, and have both paper and plastic recycling available for the unavoidable things, or invest in a TerraCycle box for all other plastic packaging not accepted by conventional recycling services.
DONATE THE REST
From food, to flowers, to wedding dresses, much of what’s left at the end of your wedding day can be donated. Bring unopened trays of food and other leftovers to local pantries, kitchens, or community fridges; collaborate with an organization ahead of time to make sure they can accommodate your leftovers. Petals for Hope also rearranges and redistributes used flowers. Consider donating your wedding dress to one of these great organizations that make wedding dresses affordable for brides, or use the proceeds to benefit a number of important causes (and, it’s tax deductible).
Author: Linnea Harris graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Along with her most recent position at Hunger Free America, she has interned with the Sierra Club in Washington, DC., Saratoga Living Magazine, and Philadelphia’s NPR Member Station, WHYY.