The wedding is evolving. From nontraditional micro weddings to destination elopements, the mere concept of weddings as we know them – and all of the details that comprise this special day – seems like it’s changing year after year. And with most people’s wedding plans on pause over the last year, that evolution is only bound to continue in the near future.
One of the most notable changes is the shift toward more eco-friendly, sustainable weddings. In addition to costing an average of $22,500, the typical wedding reportedly generates over 400 pounds of leftover trash. That’s why more and more couples are aiming for zero-waste, or otherwise environmentally sustainable wedding celebrations. Indeed, sustainability was cited as the top wedding-related trend in 2020, according to Harpers Bazaar.
“Zero Waste doesn’t have to mean rustic,” says Sara Tso of Matchbox Kitchen. “Simply being careful and mindful of your choices can make any wedding decrease the amount of trash going to a landfill.”
An eco-friendly wedding starts with asking the right questions. When planning out the big day and talking to potential vendors, there are a number of factors that can impact the environment. What will the caterer do with leftover food? Are the flowers local and sustainably farmed? From the way the dresses were made to the length of the guest list, there’s a lot to consider at every step if you want your wedding day to be both magical and environmentally sustainable.
Pick An Eco-Friendly (Preferably Local) Wedding Venue
Like most weddings, planning for an eco-friendly one starts with selecting the perfect venue. The first detail to consider here is location. Picking a local venue or one that otherwise minimizes travel for most guests is one of easiest ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your special day. Whenever possible, encourage carpooling or provide shuttles and buses, primarily if a majority of the guests are spending the night, or if the ceremony and reception are at different locations.
Local farms, campgrounds, parks, and botanical gardens often make ideal wedding venues–and when it comes to documenting the day, the more scenic the views, the better. Indeed, hosting an outdoor wedding during the day will give your photographer plenty of natural lighting to work with, in addition to keeping electricity usage down.
To maximize both scenic beauty and sustainability, look into local or national parks, which provide a one-of-a-kind visual backdrop and allow you to support the environment and local wildlife through your reservation fees.
Consider Planning A Micro Wedding
One of the easiest ways to dramatically reduce waste and overall cost is to keep your guest list small. Whether that means a list of thirty loved ones or just inviting immediate family, the fewer guests invited, the smaller the environmental impact.
A smaller wedding also widens the net in terms of venues — fewer guests means you might be able to fit the celebration into a family member’s backyard, making for an especially intimate and meaningful celebration. Even a destination wedding with just a handful of guests — or an elopement — can be done having made a smaller environmental impact than some traditional weddings.
Hire An Eco-Conscious Photographer
Finding the perfect wedding photographer is rarely a simple task. But here’s one way you can narrow down your search: Look for talented photographers who prioritize sustainability in their work. They might be “Leave No Trace” certified or their website might talk about the ways they’re working to lessen their impact on our planet — most commonly, working in a green workspace or paying to offset the carbon generated from their traveling.
Jenn and Dillen of Wild Coast Photo are wedding photographers who believe in equality, leaving no trace, and environmental sustainability. The duo works to capture an emotional, authentic wedding while still respecting the environment around them. With experience in outdoor weddings and elopements across the Western United States, they’re a great resource if you’d like some additional insights on planning a sustainable wedding, or if you want a glimpse into how wedding photographers are working to create a more environmentally-friendly process.
Seek Out Sustainable Wedding Attire And Accessories
From rings to dresses, look for environmentally-friendly options that match your style and budget. Lab-grown diamonds can be 40 – 60% cheaper than natural diamonds — and you avoid all of the negative impacts of mining. Other alternatives include giving new life to family jewelry and searching through antique stores or Etsy, where many shops offer complete transparency into where the stones came from.
Similarly, consider family heirlooms before you begin shopping for a wedding dress. See if there are any local wedding boutiques that focus on pre-loved gowns, which are typically more affordable and sustainable than purchasing a new gown. If you’d prefer to have a new dress created, keep an eye out for brands and designers that use eco-friendly fabrics and ethical production practices.
As your wedding day look begins to take shape, prioritize finding clean makeup that fits your needs. Request that your makeup artist use specific products and brands, or do your own makeup and splurge on a few new products for your own collection. Many cosmetics retailers make it easy to find options that are eco-conscious and stores like Credo only sell products that are clean, cruelty-free, and sustainably-packaged.
For the rest of the wedding party, consider formal wear rentals like Rent the Runway or The Black Tux, which are more affordable and environmentally-friendly alternatives to purchasing outfits that will only be worn once.
Send Green Wedding Invitations
Sending electronic wedding invitations is an easy way to go green by reducing waste, while also streamlining the RSVP process. Online services like Greenvelope and Paperless Post let you manage the guest list, link to gift registries and much more, all while still sending a personal invitation that suits your own unique style.
If you still prefer sending physical invites, Paper Culture offers invitations made from sustainably-sourced materials. They plant a tree alongside every order placed and give customers the opportunity to add a dedication with each tree. To date, Paper Culture has planted over one million trees.
Invitations printed on seed paper are another eco-friendly option. Botanical Paperworks sends their invitations on biodegradable paper embedded with seeds. Once planted, the paper will turn into compost, giving the seeds of your choice — wildflowers, herbs, or vegetables — a chance to take root and grow.
Liven Things Up With Sustainable Wedding Decor
Wedding decor isn’t just about aesthetics; It can also be a fun way for couples to celebrate their favorite memories and relationship milestones. Fracture glass prints are a visually stunning way to display photographs at the wedding – on the venue walls or as souvenirs for guests – that have the added benefit of being made and shipped sustainably.
For certain types of decor like centerpiece vases, tablecloths, and many other decorative flourishes, thrifting and vintage-shopping can inject a little extra personality while limiting excess waste after the festivities have ended. The vintage and thrifting route may be tougher for items you need to purchase at scale – such as anything intended to decorate the guests’ tables – but for anything else, it’s worth the effort. A good rule of thumb: Whenever possible, thrift it.
Renting also helps keep things green. If your wedding venue regularly hosts events, they most likely offer rentals on everything from chairs and tables to plates and cutlery. Renting reduces unnecessary waste from single-use items — as well as clean-up required after the fact. After hours of partying, even the best-intentioned plans to donate, recycle, or compost are often set aside for the ease of just throwing things away.
Celebrate With Biodegradable Confetti
It’s never been easier to find zero-waste confetti that matches your style and theme. Purchase confetti made of dried flowers and herbs for a colorful option that’s completely compostable, or look for shops that sell confetti made of biodegradable tissue paper. Ecofetti offers eco-friendly, biodegradable, rice-like confetti that comes in over 55,000 color combinations. Or you can go the do-it-yourself route by hole-punching your own all-natural confetti out of local greenery, leaves, and flowers.
As a confetti alternative, consider deploying some delightful, non-toxic bubbles for an unbeatable wedding favor that guarantees a joyous end to the celebration.
Greener Greenery: Limit Waste From Excess Flowers
After most weddings, the pile of leftover flowers and other greenery is massive; In fact, it averages about six feet wide, three feet wide, and two feet high, reports Petals for Hope, an organization focused on reusing and recycling wedding flowers. Petals for Hope has locations all across the United States and will come pick up leftover flowers and greenery, redesign and tidy up each bouquet, and then deliver it to your charity or location of your choice.
Regional programs like Garbage Goddess and Random Acts of Flowers also offer services that help with composting and recycling as well as repurposing your greenery so they can brighten someone else’s day.
Of course, there are a few ways to lessen your impact on the environment before any flower is picked. Select greenery grown locally and in season, both of which reduce your carbon footprint. Look for local vendors that use eco-friendly practices and avoid chemicals — for this, Bouqs is a great resource. Ask for the arrangements to be created without floral foam or Oasis, which are made out of toxic materials that cannot be recycled or composted, and request that they be delivered without any plastic wrapping, or without plastic containers.
Pick Eco-Friendly Vendors For Food And Drinks
What will happen to the leftover food after the wedding? It’s an easily-overlooked question, but a very important one. Seek out food vendors who make efforts to limit waste and double-check with the venue that guests are allowed to take extra food home. If you can’t send guests home with their tasty leftovers, see if the caterers are willing to donate extra food to a local food bank or homeless shelter. The easiest way to reduce food waste? Plan a plated dinner for guests rather than a buffet, which generates a larger volume of leftover food.
Skip the plastic wedding cake toppers in favor of thoughtful items you can display after the wedding, like personalized Funko Pop figures or an engraved acrylic heart, or forgo altogether and choose edible flowers and fondant decor. Look for a local cake shop that uses fresh and local produce, and request the desserts be delivered without single-use boxes or any excess plastic.
Many semi-casual weddings opt for drinks served in cans or glass bottles, which are the easiest to recycle. Host a wine tasting beforehand and find a great organic or eco-friendly wine, or see if there are any local options that suit your needs.
Gift Creative, Environmentally-Friendly Wedding Favors
Add a personal touch to your wedding favors and eliminate the need for drinkware. Order personalized glasses with your initials and wedding date inscribed for a thoughtful gift guests can use regularly. Other personal wedding favors include celebrating your love of sweets with miniature glass jars of honey from a local farm or using succulents as an eye-catching centerpiece that also eliminates one additional source of single-use decor.
Want some help documenting the day? Offer disposable cameras to each table and see the festivities through their eyes. Collect the cameras and share the photos with guests after they’ve been developed. Even better, round up the absolute best photographs taken that day and get them made into Fracture glass prints as a thank you gift for guests.
Don’t Forget The Wedding Registry
Add items that will help you live a more eco-friendly life from your retailer of choice, or see if your online registry offers an environmentally-friendly collection for you to shop from. Another option is to create a registry with gifts that don’t require manufacturing, shipping, or wrapping. Honeyfund personalizes virtual gift-giving, letting guests select honeymoon experiences they can pay for in lieu of a physical gift. Share the excursions, activities, and restaurants you’ll be trying during your honeymoon for a personal gift that saves on your honeymoon costs and makes thank you cards a breeze.
Once your wedding date is on the books, there are sustainable, eco-friendly options for nearly every detail you’ll be planning leading up to the big day. Just remember: what will be remembered about this day isn’t the decorations, the bridal bouquet, or the centerpieces. It’s about creating a moment you and your loved ones will remember forever, and doing it in a way that is thoughtful, creative, and kind to our planet.