Weddings are some of the most wonderful celebrations here on Earth, and they also produce a wild amount of waste. The average American wedding produces 400 lbs of waste and 63 tons of CO2 emissions! For. one. day. And look, I’m a wedding photographer. I LOVE weddings and I believe marriage is absolutely worth celebrating. I also want to do my part to reduce their impact on our precious planet. So today, we’re going to learn how to have a more sustainable wedding by using 4 simple concepts: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
In this post, I am not going to tell you to use recyclable stationary or to plant a tree at your ceremony. Of course, these are great things to do, but we’re looking for big impact items here. So let’s go!!
Marie Kondo your wedding! What I mean by this is to consider every item and event associated with your wedding and ask yourselves “does/will this bring my joy?” If it does or will, it’s in! If not, or you’re not sure, chuck it! Don’t worry, you can always reevaluate and add things later.
- Start by making a list of wedding day events and things (or use this traditional American list)
- Decide together what you would like to include and what you should leave out.
- Then, determine what will become of each item after your wedding day. And be brutally honest.
- Can you really resell it?
- Are you really going to want it in your home after your wedding?
- Or is it going in the trash?
- Next, determine the most important 3-4 areas or vendors where you want to focus your wedding budget
- Ask yourselves where your money is going and who you’re supporting.
- A local chef who chooses to work with local farmers or a national brand that just gets the cheapest of the cheap for your wedding day? Consider what each means for the farmers, producers, and servers – are their jobs safe and sustainable?
- Ask yourselves if the service or product will add to the experience of the day or if you are being spread too thin, either financially or emotionally.
- Ask yourselves where your money is going and who you’re supporting.
- ELIMINATE SINGLE-USE PLASTIC, FULL STOP. This includes, but is not limited to
- Cutlery, dinnerware, cups, and tablecloths
- Water bottles
- Floral foam (read more about sustainable wedding floral here!)
Other ideas for refusing? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Obviously, you can’t eliminate everything from your wedding, even if you have the most sustainable wedding. So here, let’s figure out how to reduce the impact of what you have chosen to include. The biggest item is going to be people.
- Start by paring down your guest list.
- This will allow you to go for quality over quantity when it comes to food, table decor, and hey, you’ll actually get to spend time with your guests! You’ll also be eliminating carbon emissions related to travelling to your wedding!
- Next, pare down or eliminate your wedding party.
- I mean, do your friends need another suit or dress they are not really going to be able to wear again?
- Reducing or eliminating your wedding party
- diverts clothing from the landfill,
- saves you and your friends money,
- and you can STILL have them help you get ready and get photos taken with them.
- In 2021, about half the weddings I photographed did not have a wedding party, and they were still amazing!
- If you super want a wedding party, think outside the box.
- Do you need to order one-time wear polyester bridesmaids dresses from Azazie? Can you find a cotton or linen option from Mata Traders or Christy Dawn that would be beautiful, whimsical, and perfect for work or play after your wedding?
- Similarly, do your guys need perfectly matching suits or can they be a range of shades in a chosen color?
- Reduce the travel required to your wedding by choosing a central location to your guests and vendors.
- Fossil fuels are often an overlooked cost, as we tend to focus on material things going to landfill. Keep this concept in mind as you choose your venue, and consider carbon offsets if you choose a destination wedding.
Check out Lauren & Nico’s intimate wedding day! They had 45 guests and no wedding party, and it was an amazing day!
Part of having a more sustainable wedding is simply producing less stuff. Producers will take their cues from how much of an item consumers are buying and adjust their production to meet demand. So, if we lower demand for new items by reusing, fewer items will be produced! Here are some ways to achieve this concept for your wedding:
- Start by buying used and rent when you can
- Buying used is a great way to not only save money, but packaging! There are some fantastic groups on Facebook for buying and selling everything wedding!
- Hiring a decorator like Kahani Events & Design that can pull off your wedding vision while using what they have in stock is a great way to reduce!
- Then, resell what you can!
- As you purchase things for your wedding, keep track of everything in a spreadsheet or a list. You’ll have an inventory and be able to see how much money you made back at the end!
- Make sure you take good care of everything you can on the day! Remember, it’s easy to be lazy and just throw things away, but work with a friend, or better yet a wedding planner!
- Consign, sell, or donate your dress
- Hang onto your dress for a few months, maybe even a year, in case you want to do an adventure honeymoon session or something like that. Hey, it’s still reuse!
- Sell or consign your dress – there are always brides on a budget or who are eco-conscious and would love to give your dress a second chance!
- If you’re in the giving mood, donating to organizations like Brides Against Breast Cancer or Adorned in Grace are great options! They support causes important to women
Now, I’m raising my hand as a guilty party here – I got my dress cleaned and preserved back in the day, and now it just chills in a box in my in-laws’ basement. WHY??? It’s a simple, classic dress, and I know someone else could love it! The plan is to grab it next time I visit and donate it.
Ok, so reselling is a form of recycling, so HIGH FIVE! We did it!
But wait! There’s more! 😀 Recycling means…
- Taking care of your wedding waste responsibly. And by that, I mean in this order:
- Compost food waste, paper napkins, compostable dinnerware, flowers, etc. first.
- Then, recycle metal, glass, plastic, and paper items.
- Last, send everything else to the landfill. Remember that “wishcycling” can be just as bad as not recycling or composting!
You’ll have to do some work on this one. Talk to your vendors and your guests about the importance that waste is dealt with properly. Make sure there is a system in place to make it easy for your guests to follow (remember, people are lazy and will tend to the trash for everything).
In Minnesota, Hennepin, Ramsey, and Anoka Counties (among others) have organics recycling programs. So, make sure your vendors are taking advantage! Remember, the more people use the service, the cheaper it gets. And the more you ask, the more vendors will know it’s important to their clients. Change in a capitalist economy is often about consumer pressure v. what’s good for society. You’re the consumer, so put on the pressure!
Let’s Wrap Up!
In conclusion, you can have a more sustainable wedding by following these four, simple concepts:
Refuse – simply cut events and items out of your wedding that do not bring you joy.
Reduce – think “meaning over things” or “experience over materials”!
Reuse – consider the life of what you include in your wedding, and do your best to extend it!
Recycle – learn about handling waste responsibly, and make sure your vendors are in on it!
This is all very doable with some thought and intention, and I’m here to help you! Above all, doing something is better than doing nothing! If you are looking for a wedding photographer who shares the value of sustainability with you, and will help you along the way, I’d love to hear from you!