I would assume that you are here, reading this blog, for 1 of 2 reasons:
1. You are planning a wedding.
2. You are a conservationist/environmentalist and want to add ideas to this post (seriously, if you do, comment on this blog and/or email me and I will be happy to update it).
I mean, there is this OTHER option, that you're just a super cool person and are reading this just for the heck of it. Either way, I adore you for being here.
If you're anything like me, you'll put effort into being "green", aka, helping the environment by reducing waste. However, if you are REALLY like me, you aren't an "extremist", or someone who can fit their month's worth of trash in a glass jar. I admire those people, but I am not one of those people. This is why I am striving to make a "realistic" guide to being "green".
Let's start with the shocking statistics:
According to The Green Bride Guide by Kate Harrison, the average wedding produces 400 pounds of garbage and 63 tons of carbon dioxide in six hours. Keep in mind, the book was published in 2008. I won't lie to you, my initial reaction to this was "No way". An average sized guest list is 75-100 people, and an average wedding costs $30,000 according to TheKnot.com.
I will begin with the more simple changes one can make, in fact, you should keep the following statement in mind in all things you do in life, not just a wedding. Make it a mantra. Print it on canvas. Tattoo it on your arm. I don't care what you do to remind yourself of this, but please, for the love of all that is good in the world: Stop using disposable products (also known as one time use products).
iYou might think to yourself "I'm just going to go with paper napkins, because they are cheaper."
Well, you might be right on that. I won't lie to you. It is the most cost effective option, but I will implore you to picture this:
A tiny crab is burrowed in the sand. It doesn't sense vibrations in the sand anymore, and believes it is safe to emerge. It makes its way to the surface, but it can't get up for air. A napkin has trapped it in the sand. It's frightened, it can't escape! It panics and tries to wiggle its way out from underneath the napkin, but it just can't seem to escape it. A seagull, noticing the movements from the sky above, swoop down and makes the napkin and crab its afternoon snack. The seagull later has an intestinal blockage from the napkin, but its seagull friend doesn't know how to perform the proper surgery needed. The seagull friend didn't go to vet school! Now a crab has died, and a seagull too.
Dramatizations don't work on you, huh? To be fair: that could totally happen.
Well, if you are here, you may not necessarily care about the most cost effective option, but rather the most cost effective green option. Bravo.
There's not a ton of variety when it comes to picking napkins, let's be real. There's paper, or there's cloth.
You can either rent or buy cloth napkins, and only you know what choice is best for you. I personally opted to purchase napkins in April of 2021 (4/3/21 peeps, where you at). I figure I will reuse them for future parties. I bought my napkins at https://www.efavormart.com/collections/cloth-napkins
If you would rather rent napkins, you can ask your venue if they have options for renting napkins (it may be included in your venue fees), or you can look up a local party rental company near you and see how much they charge. If you do rent, ensure that you don't have to launder the napkins before returning them. Most companies will accept the rental napkins back used in a bin and will launder the napkins themselves.
Again, I won't lie to you. The disposable option is going to be cheaper here.
However, those plastic disposable tablecloths, though plastic, have many different additives and chemicals that make them unable to be recycled, and thus have to go in the trash. A lot of plastic table cloths are made from PVC, which takes years to biodegrade.
Just like napkins, you can rent or buy tablecloths. I purchased my own tablecloths for my wedding for the same reason I purchased the napkins. Here's the link I used to purchase tablecloths:
If you'd rather rent, I would again ask your venue if tablecloths are included in your venue costs. You can also look up local party rental companies and see how much they charge. Just like with napkins, ensure the company you are renting the tablecloths from will take them dirty and launder the tablecloths themselves. You don't want to have to launder tablecloths yourself after your wedding day!
A lot of venues or caterers will provide dinnerware. You may not have to look at your own dinnerware, and that's completely fine.
You can ask your venues or caterers if they have real glassware, real silverware, and real plates for the dinnerware. If they come back and tell you that the quote you received does NOT include those items but instead includes single-use products, ask them how much it is to upgrade to the non-disposable products. You may find that your venue can provide real dinnerware and your caterer has disposable. At that point you can work with your venue and caterer to remove the costs of dinnerware from the caterer and add the costs to your venue invoice. You're smart, you can figure it out, I believe in you! I mean, I know you're smart, because you're here, trying to figure out how to make your wedding more green!
Just, whatever you do, do NOT use styrofoam.
The wedding clothing industry targeted at men has this figured out. A person can go and rent a suit or tux along with the whole ensemble: tie/bowtie, shoes, socks, handkerchief, etc. When the wedding is over, one simply returns everything in the garment bag to the store from which they rented the items.
The wedding industry targeted at women is not so easy. Yes, there are dress rental companies out there, but most of them, if not all of them are online. Which means that you have to order several samples, try them on, and then return the ones that don't work. If none of them worked, you need to start the entire process over. You can add on shoes and accessories to the rental, but again, you need to order, try on, and return.
Psssst... I'm showing my age a bit now aren't I? It just seems so complicated! Perhaps for younger people it's not, after all, this online shopping method is where the world is heading to at this point.
What about wedding dresses? A quick Google search shows that renting a wedding dress is not as easy as renting a wedding party dress, or a suit/tux. Plus, one can't tailor a rental, so chances are a rental dress is not going to fit the way you want your wedding dress to fit. However, it is possible to rent wedding dresses, which is a more green option than buying one.
Oh, and while we are at it, can we forget the whole "I'll just shorten it and wear it again?" I would bet 99% of people who say this never shorten, dye, or alter a wedding dress/wedding party dress to wear again after purchasing.
I am very sorry to break this to you, but a majority of the save-the-dates, invitations, and thank yous that you send out will end up in the trash. Take a moment, heal from the hurt I just caused, and let's look at the options.
You can keep your paper stationary. It will be thrown out/recycled, and paper does break down in 2-6 weeks which is a healthy amount of time for decomposition. I won't shame you for sending out paper for your wedding day.
I only encourage you to keep an open mind. There are other options out there. My wedding invitations were magnets, and I still see them on the refrigerators of my friends and family 2.5 years later. We ordered those on Shutterfly, by the way, in case you wanted to know.
There's also a really cool company called Botanical Paperworks that prints your save-the-dates, invitations, thank yous, whatever else, on biodegradable paper. "Plantable paper is a biodegradable eco-paper made with post-consumer and post-industrial paper waste that is embedded with seeds. (No trees harmed for this paper!)" is straight from their website: https://botanicalpaperworks.com/how-plantable-paper-works/
The company tells you what seeds are included in what papers so you can even choose what plants your stationary will sprout! I think that's really cool.
The guest favors are 100% in your control. What do you want your guests walking away from your wedding with? What will go with your theme and still be healthy for the environment?
Here are some examples of eco-friendly favors that I have seen and/or received at weddings in the last few years:
1. Flower seeds in small glass jars. The flower seeds can be planted, and the glass jars can be repurposed.
2. Coffee Mugs/Tumblers. Can be reused after the wedding (who doesn't love a free mug/tumbler!)
3. Honey jars. It is best if the honey is locally sourced and in glass jars so that the jars can be repurposed.
Have fun with this one! It may take a bigger thinking cap to get to an idea that works best for you, but it will be so fun when you figure it out.
Food is one of the number one causes of waste from a wedding. Why? Buffet style can result in people taking more than what they can eat and the food leftover on their plates goes to waste. Some caterers don't let you keep leftover food and it ends up being thrown out. It's a shame, really.
Food is also one of the number one contributors to the high carbon dioxide amounts that weddings have. This is due to caterers either choosing to, or not being able to use local ingredients. For example, if you really want a strawberry salad as the starter for your meal, try to have your wedding during strawberry season. If you don't, and you don't live in an area that can grow strawberries year 'round, then your caterer has to order strawberries in. How do the strawberries get to your caterer? Via freight, of course. Boom. Gas emissions created.
Tricks to cut down on food waste:
1. Have the food served family style. This is not an option that's available with all caterers. If your only option is buffet style, see if the caterer will have people who dish plates for the guests, instead of having the guests dish plates themselves. This will prevent guests from taking more than their fair share, or more than they can eat in general.
2. Hire a caterer that only uses locally sourced food.
3. Hire a caterer that lets you keep the leftover food. You may be thankful to have meals you can just warm up for the few days after your wedding!
While flowers and greenery are natural items and will breakdown easily in a landfill, there are ways to reduce the amount you are contributing to the landfill in the first place.
The most efficient way to do this is to find a florist that will work with the scraps from the arrangements you order.
For example, most florists trim the outer petals of the flowers you choose. The outer petals tend to get damaged or tend to go brown before the rest of the flower does. Does your florist dry these petals to create potpourri? If they do, that could be a guest favor idea! Or, can you use the petals for the flower child/adult to toss as they make their way down the aisle?
Can the florist repurpose stems from flowers that did not pass the quality check, or the trimmed pieces of stem? Full stems can be trimmed of leaves and flowers and covered in biodegradable glitter to add some shine to a floral arrangement. Trimmed pieces of stem can be used in that potpourri, or perhaps can be donated to a local garden for their composter.
You'll also want to consider locally sourced flowers for your wedding. This will cut down on emissions since they don't have to be shipped in.
Real, locally sourced flowers are better than fake flowers, since fake flowers are not compostable/biodegradable.