Wedding planning is not an easy task. In fact, for some, it can be downright overwhelming. Adding environmental threats into the mix can seem so daunting, but facing the threat of climate change has caused many people to strive to be more environmentally-conscious in more than just their day-to-day lives. From vegetarian diets to carpooling to reusable coffee mugs, more and more people are trying to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Translating these individual changes into event planning is a challenge. To help, we’ve put together some ideas and tips for planning an eco-friendly wedding that won’t break your budget.
- Look for an environmentally-friendly venue. An outdoor venue is best, but that’s not always feasible, so try to find a venue that practices sustainability. Some locations advertise that they are eco-friendly in one way or another. Don’t be afraid to ask if they do anything to reduce their carbon footprint: energy sources, recycling options, etc. are good things to cover.
- Another option is to find a venue that is stunning as-is, so you don’t need to decorate it.
- Have your ceremony and reception in the same location, so guests don’t have to drive as much. If that’s not possible, offer carpooling or shuttle options.
- Put cloth towels in the bathrooms in lieu of paper towels or air dryers.
- Have your wedding and reception as early in the day as possible. If you’re set on having it at night, use candles to supplement the artificial lighting and cut down on electricity use. Alternatively, you can just dim the lights part way through the evening. Most of us are more comfortable dancing in dim lights anyway! Turn down the lights, turn up the music, and save some electricity while you do the electric slide.
- Cut down on the paper you use or use recycled paper. Save-the-dates, invitations, RSVP cards, menus, programs, thank-you cards, envelopes – the paper adds up fast. Many people are sending save-the-date notices by email or Facebook, and some even send the invitations themselves by email. You can also find paper that is embedded with seeds, so the invitations could be planted and grow into grass, flowers, or even herbs.
- Give out-of-town guests a list of environmentally-friendly hotels, or consider having the reception at one.
Flowers and Decorations
- Use potted plants instead of cut flowers. If that’s not possible, find flowers that are grown without chemicals and are as nearby as possible. If you plan far enough ahead, you can grow your own flowers! You can also find a local florist who sources sustainably and ethically grown flowers and then put together the bouquets yourselves.
- Not sure you even want flowers at all? Not to worry – use a brooch bouquet, grasses and other green foliage, or another floral alternative. Get creative with your bouquet; it doesn’t have to be just flowers!
- Nixing the ceremony exit toss altogether is a great way to reduce your impact on the environment. If you definitely want to keep this tradition, choose a plant-based or biodegradable item for guests to throw. Things like flower petals, herbs, or even biodegradable confetti are great alternatives to rice or paper confetti. Even some birdseed mixtures can be harmful to native plants, so it’s important to know where the product comes from and what’s in it.
- Find a way to make your centerpieces reusable. One idea is to use the bridal party’s bouquets, so after the ceremony someone puts each bouquet into vases on the tables. This way you don’t have to buy extra flowers that will just get thrown away at the end of the night. Another idea is to pick centerpieces that you can gift to the bridal party after the wedding, such as these wood troughs that can be used as planters or wine troughs. Fill them with plants for the reception and then let the bridal party take them home after.
- Find a farm-to-table catering company, or at least ask your caterer to source from local farms, bakers, etc. Also consider including fresh herbs – like cilantro, basil, or parsley – in your centerpieces so guests can season their food themselves.
- Serve vegetarian food. This one might ruffle a few feathers at first, but remember it’s your wedding and you can serve whatever you’d like! Not to mention plant-based meals offer more nutrients than meat. Even if you do include meat, keep the dishes produce-heavy.
- Also, keep in mind that guests may not eat as much as you think they will. Consider serving a smaller dinner, with only a couple of dishes, and then hire a food truck to stop by a few hours later for a late-night snack. This is a really great way to save money and resources, and your guests will be thrilled by the food truck surprise! Avoid a buffet if you can – typically, buffets waste more food than served meals do.
- If you are using bottled or canned drinks, set out extra containers for recycling. Make sure these are clearly labeled, and consider including pictures or a list of items that can be recycled. Also consider including a container for “compostables” and make sure guests know they can put food waste in that one.
- An even better solution is to buy and serve your drinks in bulk. Make giant pitchers of lemonade or tea and serve beer from a keg. Give guests a way to mark their cups so they can reuse them all night, whether it’s a simple sharpie or a cute, personalized tag. Looking for a quirky addition to your wedding? This is the perfect opportunity to display your collection of mismatched coffee mugs. Dust off all those ravel souvenirs and thrift shop finds and your guests can pick their favorite one to drink out of, without losing it, tossing it, or picking up the wrong one all night.
- Consider using biodegradable materials for things like the dinner plates. Bamboo is a great option because it is a renewable resource (and grows so fast!) and is inexpensive. With all the different styles and designs, it’ll be easy to find the perfect set for your wedding – and then you won’t have to worry about renting and returning, or washing dishes and using tons of water, or throwing away dishes that will sit in a landfill for a long time.
- Wear a family member’s wedding dress or tux. You can have them altered to fit or to better match your style. If borrowing isn’t an option, you can rent wedding attire or search thrift shops and consignment boutiques for lightly-used clothes.
- Consider letting the bridal party wear clothes they already own (with guidelines about color, length, etc.) so they don’t have to buy new clothes as well. If this doesn’t work out, choose a dress they will all definitely wear again, to reduce waste.
- Celebrate the area by hiring local vendors, buying in-season local food, and using in-season flowers. You’ll eliminate the waste from transporting goods from other areas. Don’t be afraid to ask what they’re doing to be eco-friendly before you hire them!
Favors and Gifts
- Use place cards or centerpieces that double as favors. One really cute idea that saves a ton of resources is to bake cookies and put a guest’s name on each one, and then set these on the table at their seats. Guests can easily find their seat, they get a delicious treat to take home, and you cut down on packaging, paper, and more.
- Give a favor that gives back. Many nonprofit organizations sell products in order to raise money for their cause. You could also do something like donate money to plant a tree in your guests’ names. Choose a cause you care about and find a way to support that cause with your favors.
- Many people think food favors are a good eco-friendly option, and they are as long as you are careful about the packaging you use. Most food packaging can’t be recycled, so if you’re gifting food, try to find packaging already made from recycled materials, or a material such as jars or cloth that can definitely be used again.
- When you register for gifts, choose sustainable products, eco-conscious companies, or, if you aren’t planning on asking for gifts, set up a charity registry so guests can donate money in your name.
Still feeling overwhelmed? The most effective way you can reduce the impact your wedding has on the environment is to elope (haha!). But eloping isn’t for everyone, so the next best way to reduce your wedding’s impact is to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Borrow decorations, tables, chairs, table cloths, dishes from friends. Alter your mom’s wedding dress rather than buying a new one. Make as many decorations as you can, and shop locally for the pieces, rather than ordering everything from a large corporation. After your wedding, sell, give away, or even donate as much of your wedding as possible. Is there so much food left over it’ll go bad before you can eat it all? Donate it! Purchased a photo booth back drop, knowing you’d likely never use it again? Sell it or rent it out for other special events, but don’t just tuck it away in a closet for twenty years before throwing it away. You don’t have to sacrifice your perfect wedding just for the environment – just make sure nothing goes to waste after the wedding is over.