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How to Have a Low Waste Wedding

Posted by Lindsay Scholz on

Guest Post by Amanda Meyer

It's officially fall and with the change in season comes rustling leaves, cozy socks and sweaters, and for many couples in love – wedding season!  Weddings have been on my mind A LOT this year (I myself got married back in April), but in recent years I have noticed more wedding announcements flooding in with fall dates.  It is safe to say I've celebrated more nuptials on a crisp day in the September - November months than at any other time of year. The muggy, unpredictable Midwest summer temps might play a part in the popularity of fall weddings in my neck of the woods, but I've noticed lots of other perks to hosting an autumnal wedding.  This past month, I've had the opportunity to celebrate the marriages of my cousin Jill to her husband Nicholas, and stand by my sister Anne Marie and her husband Phil as their matron of honor. Leading up to each couple's big day, I looked for small ways I could contribute to their wedding experiences and in doing so, found myself seeking beautiful, memorable, and conscious choices.  

For most folks, a 100% eco-friendly, totally sustainable wedding may seem overwhelming and somewhat out of reach when factors such as geography, budget, dietary restrictions, or the always-appreciated, (yet occasionally stressful) influence of others challenge what works, realistically.  Recognizing this is an admiral, aspirational goal that many couples reach with smashing success, I'd like to share my experience with finding a few, small ways I could contribute to two of my most important ladies' big days with sustainability in mind.

PRE-WEDDING FESTIVITIES

The wedding planning experience so often focuses on the wedding day itself, but there are many other gatherings and festivities leading up to the event where conscious choices can have an impact!  These include the engagement party, wedding shower, and bachelor/bachelorette parties. Shopping locally, serving homemade foods or potluck-style, and reducing single-use plastic waste are some of the easiest choices to implement regardless of party size or location.  I was lucky enough to co-host a combined bachelorette party for Jill and Anne Marie in Nashville, TN a few months back. This 16-woman strong soiree presented quite the sustainability challenge! From scheduling and timing showers, to clothes and shoe-swapping for nights out, to meticulously sorting recyclable cans and bottles, we did our best to keep the weekend as low-waste as possible.  One of our biggest successes was the reuse of our "bride tribe" cups, which made appearances a few more times ahead of the wedding, including Anne Marie's wedding day bridal party brunch. Reusable glassware, silicone/metal straws, and fabric napkins are all-star sustainability goals that we met at our day-of brunch (WIN!), but they didn't prove realistic for Nashville. Instead, we opted for reusable cocktail cups, compostable coffee cups, paper straws, and recyclable aluminum cans & bottles over single-use plastics at every opportunity.  Big events like this can be tough, so keep an eye out for small opportunities to have an impact.  

DAY-OF CONSCIOUS CHOICES

Fall weather in the Midwest presents great sustainable options for hosting a wedding.  Outdoor celebrations in the morning or afternoon take advantage of natural lighting, cooler temps, and reduced exposure to harmful UV rays when compared with summer months.  Evening celebrations indoors or outdoors require less energy usage to regulate temperature. Jill & Nicholas's outdoor reception perfectly blended the enchantment of natural elements with the added perk of a 70-degree breezy evening, ensuring that guests were comfortable through drinks, dinner, and dancing.  Their pavilion venue was also equipped with roll-down shades in the event of rain. There is never a guarantee that the weather will cooperate, so it is always smart to ask a venue coordinator what options are available as a back-up plan. Indoor venues allowing lots of natural lighting also create a beautiful ambiance while reducing energy usage and the risk of wet guests on a rainy day.  

Another conscious choice is the alternative party favor.  I shudder when I think about the Hershey kiss-filled organza bags tied off with cheap gold ribbon and paper tags that littered the tables at my wedding after everyone went home.  At Anne Marie's wedding shower I wrapped flour sack towels around wooden kitchen spoons (pictured below). This was a great eco-friendly favor that everyone could use and enjoy. At Jill & Nicolas's wedding, they opted for a s'mores bar in place of a traditional party favor.  This allowed guests to gather around away from the music and connect with treats, without having to go inside. These treats were easy to make with reusable metal roasting sticks and all of the food packaging could be easily recycled or composted. It was a fun, intentional outdoor activity that allowed for story-sharing, connectivity, and low waste.

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POST-WEDDING UP-CYCLE OPPORTUNITIES

One of the most magical and sadly, most wasteful features of a wedding is the floral arrangements – I remember walking into my reception earlier this year and beaming at the beautiful English garden motif my local florist had created, and wincing at the end of the night when I realized that not all of my arrangements would make it home with a guest.  Flower donation is an incredible upcycle opportunity I WISH I would have discovered earlier! About two weeks ago, I came across Repeat Roses while scrolling through wedding day reflections of one of my favorite influencers, Lucie Fink (who also posts her fair share of conscious living ideas, check her out!) Repeat Roses upcycles floral arrangements from events by donating them to hospitals, nursing homes and shelters with services available in many major cities through licensed service providers.  Other companies who provide this service include Random Acts of Flowers (Chicago, Knoxville, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay), Petals with Purpose (Palm Beach County, FL), and Floranthropy (Austin, Houston, San Antonio).

I scoped out a few Chicago-based options to provide this sweet service for Anne Marie & Phil's wedding, but unfortunately I hadn't discovered them early enough to reserve a pick up time.  I would recommend contacting a floral donation service at least a month out from your wedding so they have plenty of lead time to arrange for pick-up from your event and delivery to the recipients of your heartfelt donation.  If a flower donation service isn't readily available in your area, reach out to local hospitals & nursing homes to arrange a donation time. If your florist is unable to pick up and re-deliver, try contacting local high school or college student groups to deliver your arrangements in exchange for service hours to the community (as a service fraternity alum, I would have jumped at this fun opportunity back in college!)

One other amazing upcycle choice I'd like to highlight is Once Wed, an online wedding dress store where women can donate or purchase once-worn designer wedding gowns, bridesmaid dresses, accessories and more at a reduced cost.  For many conscious brides, a lot of thought goes into the sustainability of major purchases, especially their wedding dress. With Once Wed, brides, maids, and mothers have lots of options to upcycle their gowns to be loved again or purchase once-worn gowns for a second glorious fête.  I have a few friends who were ecstatic to find the dress of their dreams without having to purchase it new, or lovingly parted with a gown knowing the excitement it would bring to another bride through Once Wed.  

QUICK SWAPS WHEN TYING THE KNOT

These small conscious contributions may not seem like much on their own, but added together across the wedding experience, the impact can be exponential.

Here are a few quick swaps (including those mentioned above) where you can make small choices for sustainability and have a larger impact working up to and beyond your big day:

  • Purchase ethical, sustainable jewelry — you can do this by ensuring your gemstones and metals are fairmined, fully traceable, or recycled. Bario Neal and Do Amore are both environmentally and socially conscious jewelers worth checking out.

  • Opt for glassware, dinnerware, washable napkins, and recyclable options wherever possible in place of single-use items including events leading up to the wedding such as the engagement party, bachelor/bachelorette party, and wedding shower. I once went to a friend’s wedding where they used bamboo tableware and we easily composted everything!

  • Consider emailing invitations to wedding events in lieu of snail mail.  If all-digital communication proves too challenging, meet in the middle with online RSVPS and thank you notes.  If your heart is set on paper invites, look for bundles or kits that use recycled paper, source local printing/calligraphy vendors, or DIY ways to print with less. A local St. Louis company, Cast Paper Art, produces plantable and eco-friendly stationery, paper, party favors and paper products that are equally beautiful as they are good for the Earth. 

  • Rent suits/tuxes or purchase gently used wedding attire/dresses instead of new; return, donate, or resell after your wedding. Encourage your bridal party to do the same, hello Rent the Runway!

  • Leverage natural lighting whenever possible especially in more temperate months to reduce energy usage indoors.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask your food/catering vendor to support your desire to be low waste. Donate leftover food and desserts to local shelters, and floral arrangements to hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living communities to be enjoyed by others.  If donation isn't available, explore composting options. Ask them to serve from/on reusable tableware, utensils, etc.

  • Look for a low-waste favor alternative or experience as a way to thank your guests for attending parties and events. In case you didn’t catch this earlier, Cast Paper Art sells plantable party favors. As if embedding seeds in party favors isn’t cool enough, they can also create personalized bridal/thank you stationery by including the flowers used the day of your wedding.

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