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Low-waste weddings: How to make your special day sustainable

Groom wearing thrifted tie clip at wedding

A wedding is a special occasion that creates memories that last a lifetime. However, it can also generate a significant amount of waste. From single-use decorations to disposable tableware, weddings and their many associated celebrations have a substantial environmental impact. But it doesn't have to be that way. With a little planning and effort, you can have a beautiful, low-waste wedding that reflects your values and respects the planet.

Set your vision and communicate it 

Low waste fruit decorThe first step to having a low-waste wedding is to let go of expectations and tailor the event to what is meaningful to you. Don’t feel the need to live up to anyone else’s idea of perfection; you can exclude any parts of the event that feel less important. Simplifying your event can avoid unnecessary sources of waste.

It's also essential to communicate your expectations to the people involved in making the event happen. This includes hired staff as well as friends and relatives who may plan smaller events for you, such as showers, parties, and gift-opening brunches.

When making selections for your wedding, consider the waste practices of the wedding planner, venue, and vendors. Ask lots of questions before making a choice on who to use. For example, you might ask:

  • Does the venue offer compost and recycling?
  • Will you be required to work with certain vendors, and if so, what are their waste practices?
  • Does the caterer use or offer to rent you reusable glassware, dishes, utensils or linens? 
  • What will your caterer do with leftover food from your event? 
  • Does the wedding planner have expertise in low-waste events? 

Food and beverages

Table setting at a weddingFood and beverages are an essential part of any wedding celebration and a main source of waste. To reduce packaging and disposable ware, make sure reusables are used for all food and drink offered. Remember to include anything served outside of the main meal, such as a cocktail hour, bar service, desserts, or late-night snacks. If you can’t use reusable dishware for everything, make sure there are proper containers available to collect recyclable or compostable materials. Also, ensure that the staff is trained to separate materials and make sure there is very clear signage for guests to follow.

Preventing wasted food is another critical aspect of having a low-waste wedding. Consider plated food versus buffet meals and take your vendor's advice on how much to order. Coordinate with your caterer to donate unserved food or package it up so that you or the guests can bring home the leftovers. 

Venue and decorations

Repurposed floral decorationsThere are numerous ways to make your wedding decorations low-waste no matter the look or style that you want to achieve. There are plentiful options to rent, buy secondhand or borrow almost anything you need, including but not limited to arbors, table number holders, place cards, signs, candle jars, lights, and other decorative items. If you have a wedding coordinator, see if they have items that you can rent or borrow. If you will have flowers, look for locally grown blooms, find a low-waste florist, ask your florist not to use floral foam, rent vases from them, buy used fake flowers, or make flowers out of paper.

Gifts and favors

There are many creative ways to have low-waste gifts and favors. Consider asking your guests for money, gift cards or even a Venmo transaction to put toward a vacation, home ownership or repairs, furniture, subscriptions, or a rainy-day fund. You can also use a platform that makes it easier to give experiences or used items, such as a SoKind Registry, or ask for no gifts. For any gifts you might choose for your wedding party or special guests, consider the options above and at a minimum avoid monogrammed items that won’t be reusable for someone else. If you plan to provide niceties for your guests such as dancing flip flops, toiletries, umbrellas, or blankets for an outdoor wedding, try to buy higher quality, durable items and have a plan for how they will be used after your event.

Invitations and paper goods

Invitations and other wedding paper goods can generate a significant amount of waste. To reduce waste, skip sending a printed save-the-date and send your invites earlier or correspond over email for whatever you would like. You can also skip printed programs, menus for tables, and place cards, which also saves on costs. To make sure any items you do choose to print are recyclable, avoid metallic inks, foil, glitter or other non-paper decorative items and choose more muted paper colors with recycled content.

Clothing and accessories

Bride putting on earrings in a mirrorBuying used or renting wedding attire or formalwear is a great way to reduce your impact for your wedding and other associated events. Check local thrift and consignment clothing stores early to get an idea of what is available and identify places you might want to visit again. Search the Choose to Reuse directory under the ‘formalwear, gowns & wedding-’ or “clothing’ category. You can also find online rental options such as Borrowing MagnoliaVow to be Chic, and Rent the Runway. For your wedding party, consider giving them flexibility to choose what they want to wear for both clothing and shoes within a framework of colors and fabrics so they can make selections they could wear again. 

During your event

Most of the impact of your wedding day will require planning and procuring items ahead of time. When the big day arrives, there are only a few more things left to do. Use your day-of coordinator or assign someone to be your recycling champion; they can check in on vendors, make sure waste containers are available, and oversee that leftover food and reusable décor makes it out of the venue. This person or a deejay can quickly speak to your goals and provide any instructions guests may need to help support your low-waste event.   

Have fun!

Finally, don't forget to enjoy your special day and know that your low-waste wedding choices are making a positive impact on the environment.


Photography credit: Amanda Birnie