While weddings are most definitely beautiful, they often produce much more waste than any of us realize. That's why we need to make conscious and informed decisions to make sustainable choices wherever we can. From choosing an in-season menu to subbing out your plastic cups, here are 10 easy (and affordable) ways to make your wedding eco-friendly.
Disclosure: We only recommend products we would use ourselves and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post does not contain affiliate links and Aster + Birch does not earn a commission through these recommendations.
Did you know that the average wedding in the United States produces around 400 pounds of garbage and 63 tons (yes, TONS!) of CO2? With an average of 2.5 million weddings per year, that's 1 Billion pounds of trash and the equivalent of 4 people's carbon emissions in a year in just one day (and that's just the U.S).
Those are some scary numbers. But, I promise you, there are small changes you can make in YOUR wedding that will help.
Now, we are well aware that there is no such thing as a true zero-impact wedding and that some amount of waste is inevitable. But we, at Aster + Birch also believe that it's the little things that matter, and if we, as a society make those little changes (that are super easy!) whenever possible, we send a message to the rest of the industry that these things matter.
There are so many parts and pieces to a wedding that it would be impossible to go through each and every one of them in one article. So, we broke it down into the simplest, most cost-effective, and attainable solutions if you're looking to make your wedding a little more green.
So without further ado, let's get into it!
Select Sustainable Paper
If you Google "Wedding Stationery", you will find a million results for all sorts of printed paper products to incorporate into your wedding. While many of these you could simply skip if you wanted to (I mean, hey, when's the last time you kept a wedding program?), what about the ones that are must-haves? Like your Save the Dates and Invitations? Is there a way to reduce your paper waste without giving up those time-honored, and truly special, stationery items?
We recommend sourcing a handmade paperie like Inquisited or Lumaca Papers, or searching for stationers that use sustainable materials. There are so many good options for this: Seeded paper, recycled paper, tree-free bamboo paper, even elephant dung paper! (Yes, you read that right). And just because we want to cut down on our paper waste doesn't mean we shouldn't be taking care of our stationer friends! So just remember, pay for quality over quantity.
Opt for Online RSVPs
In the age of technology, paper RSVPs are becoming outdated. While you most certainly should mail physical invitations, we recommend setting up an RSVP manager on your wedding website and include instructions and a link on your invitation. Alternatively, you can include an RSVP card in your invitation suite and have the website link on that. Although the second option does not change the amount of paper you'll be using, you will still be decreasing the amount of postage used and the ground/air travel it would take to return the cards by mail.
Bonus! It also saves YOU money on return postage and you get your responses faster- so it's a win-win!
Support Creatives who Shop Local
Since we're on the subject of reducing transportation costs, another great way to go green is by supporting creatives who shop local. Start by asking your potential creative team where they source and store their materials. If they're a florist, do they get their flowers from a local nursery? Does your caterer get their ingredients from a farm nearby (or better yet-grow their own!). What about your dress shop? Are their dresses made in your state, the USA, or overseas? These are some of the questions you can ask to strike up a conversation about their sustainability efforts. When we shop locally, not only do we stimulate the local economy, but we tell the market that we care about where things come from. And generally speaking, the fewer transportation costs required, the more savings are passed down to the consumer (that's you!).
Choose an In-Season Menu
Regardless of when you are getting married, there are always foods that are in season and out of season (think fruits and veggies). The more in-season foods you choose for your menu, the tastier and higher quality they will be. Not to mention they usually cost less than their out-of-season counterpart and your caterer will have better access to the ingredients!
When caterers are asked to prepare foods that need off-season ingredients, they aren't able to find them at the local farmers market and are forced to source from stores that get their supply through cross-country or international shipping (and we're trying to REDUCE transportation, remember!) So when you and your wedding planner are interviewing caterers, ask for their input on what's in-season. Of course, if you have your heart set on a particular menu, perhaps adjust your wedding date so that your ingredients will be in-season for your area.
Ditch the Disposables
We get it. Paper and plasticware are cheap and easy.
But here's the reality: If you have 100 people at your wedding, and each person needs (at minimum) a dinner plate, a salad bowl, a dessert plate, a cup, and a set of utensils, then at the end of the night, you will have created 156lbs of garbage. And this is all assuming that each guest will only use one of each item.
Making the choice to use real dinnerware will not only elevate the design and guest experience but will also ensure that your trashcans aren't filled with single-use items and that your dollars don't go straight to the bin with them.
If you're getting sticker shock from the rental cost, know that you always have the option to buy- either secondhand or new, and you can always consider reselling afterward. And finally, if you absolutely must go with disposables, choose a high-quality renewable and compostable option like these from EcoProducts.
Buy Ethically made Attire
Wedding fashion is not as big of a contributor to landfills, pollution, and water waste as "Fast Fashion" since most couples keep their wedding outfits for quite some time. That being said, it does pose a unique opportunity to make sustainable, eco-friendly, and ethical choices, and look fabulous while doing it!
From vintage to upcycled to renting from a company like Rent the Runway, you have plenty of options to help reduce your environmental footprint. But what if you dream of buying a brand new piece that's all yours? That's where sustainable and ethical brands come in- we're talking materials, supply chain, and production processes.
So many categories could be described as sustainable, but here's a few to get your gears turning:
Made from organic fabrics; Fair Trade-certified fabrics; deadstock or vintage fabrics; recycled materials; natural, plant-based, recyclable, or biodegradable fabrics.
Low-waste or zero-waste pieces made by a brand employing low-waste cutting techniques
Made by anyone who earns a living wage through ethical production.
Pieces made by brands with eco-friendly initiatives like compostable packaging or carbon-neutral delivery
Want the dress featured above? Check out Wear Your Love- a California-based brand that prizes sustainability by using organic cotton, and low waste production.
Make Sustainable Swaps
Throughout the planning process, you will find all kinds of little things that you may never have thought would make an environmental impact. But by changing them to a less wasteful and renewable alternative, you make a big (and just as stunning!) statement on your values.
Instead of the traditional paper escort cards, have one large seating chart displayed or make the cards out of something renewable, like magnolia leaves! Why not use lavender or dried flower petals for your exit toss? There are so many possibilities! So the next time you find yourself wanting to make a small change, ask yourself if there is a better alternative. Remember- it's all about the little things.
Invest in Usable Favors
Oh the dreaded favors...
This time-honored tradition is a lovely way of thanking your guests for joining you on your wedding day, but so many times we send favors that are trendy and non-practical. However, your favors are a great place to make a little change with a big impact. The goal is to give practical favors that are not only fun but remind your guests of you long after the wedding day. One of my favorite ideas is sending your guests home with their "escort cards" in a potted plant. Or you can have your programs printed on seeded paper, and at the bottom saying something like "take this home and plant it to remember our love as it grows". If you're having a Jewish wedding, monogrammed yarmulkas are a great practical gift. Whatever you choose, remember to have your emcee make an announcement reminding guests to take them home!
Have Your Cake and Eat it Too (at home)
An easy way to be eco-conscious on your wedding day is to ask your caterer not to pre-box. If your caterer/venue/local laws allow guests to take home doggy-bags of cake (or food), make sure it is by request only. This way you are only using the number of disposable containers you actually need, and not needlessly packing extra. Have your emcee make an announcement about 15 minutes before food service is over and your servers can spend that time boxing the correct amount.
Remember! If you are going to offer to-go, make sure to purchase containers made from renewable materials like these.
Spread the Love
Food and florals make up a huge percentage of trash on your wedding day and much of it ends up in a landfill when it could easily be composted or donated. Each state has its own laws on donating leftover food, so make sure to do your research and ask your prospective caterer what their plan is for unused food or food scraps, which can be composted into rich soil. You can even research public composting facilities near your venue!
Another great way to repurpose and extend the use of your wedding day items is to donate leftover flowers. At Aster + Birch, we commit to donating as many leftover florals as possible to people living with sickness, terminal illness, poverty, and disability through our local charity organization The Flower Shuttle. If you don't have a local charity, ask your nearby nursing homes, children's hospitals, or women's shelters if they would appreciate donations.
Well, that's it. Ten ways to make your wedding more eco-friendly.
We recommend you focus on one area of sustainability that's particularly important to you, and start your search there. Do your research and remember that sustainability is not about making perfect choices, it's about making better ones.