If you want to host an eco-friendly wedding ceremony and reception, the best place to start is at the beginning. Producing a green and sustainable event takes a village, and you’ll need help from everyone who touches your wedding, from vendors and retailers to guests.
There are plenty of reasons to strive for a green wedding that cuts down on waste. Annually, the 2.3 million weddings held in the U.S. produce more than 1 billion pounds of trash. One wedding alone produces 400 pounds of garbage and 63 tons of CO2.
As couples become more eco-conscious, wedding trends are beginning to shift in favor of more environmentally friendly practices to cut down on this waste. Oftentimes, these green ideas go hand-in-hand with supporting local businesses and decreasing wedding costs, which gives couples who embrace green event practices all the more reason to celebrate.
Read on for 24 ideas that will help get you closer to a zero-waste wedding, or jump to one of our inspiration boards below:
Hosting your wedding ceremony and reception in a setting that will help you go green is essential when planning an eco-conscious wedding. Because your venue will likely help with setup and disposal, getting on the same page about waste and best practices before you book will help your wedding day run smoothly and sustainably.
Here are some things to consider when deciding on a ceremony and reception location:
Consider the destination. Cut down on plane travel and car emissions by booking a venue that’s convenient for as many wedding guests as possible. If you and your spouse are from the same town, consider getting married close by. If you do decide on a destination location, vet out its overall sustainability performance with this green city report.
Choose a sustainable venue. Your wedding venue plays a major role in your event’s setup and waste removal process, so choose a site that shares your beliefs. Find out more about how to choose a wedding venue so you’re well-prepared. When hunting for a green event space, look for venues with LEED certifications (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) and Energy Star ratings. Keep in mind that outdoor spaces such as farms and gardens tend to be more eco-friendly. Also make sure your venue offers free WiFi, which enables digital communication and cuts down on the need for paper materials.
Find a dual ceremony-reception site. Many venues offer both ceremony and reception sites, so rather than booking two separate locations for your wedding day, consider booking a dual-site instead. This will cut down on carbon emissions from guest and vendor transportation. Bonus points if you can host your ceremony and/or reception outside, which cuts down on electricity usage.
Use local vendors. Oftentimes, your venue will have stipulations on what outside vendors you can work with. Ask what the vendor rules are to ensure that you can partner with like-minded vendors who can help you achieve your goal of zero-waste and sustainability. Once you determine which vendors you can use, contact them and ask about their environmental commitment upfront. Have them email (not print!) documents with more information so you can vet their practices.
Hire a shuttle. Ditch the need for multiple cars by setting up shuttle transportation for guests. This also curbs drinking and driving and is typically the preferred method of travel by wedding venues.
Stage a green exit. Your wedding exit is something you’ll want to consider early on, as many venues have rules about the types of exits that can take place on-site. The good news is that eco-friendly exit ideas are typically venue-approved because impact and cleanup are minimal. Consider, for example, a leaf toss instead of confetti. You can discover more natural wedding send-off ideas.
Hosting a sustainable wedding isn’t just about the location and waste—you should consider the impact of all the decisions you make leading up to your big day. Consider a retailer’s social responsibility before you purchase, and double-check that your product choices are ethical and humane.
Wearing second-hand clothing and incorporating vintage accessories into your ensemble are two great ways to reduce waste around your wedding fashion. You should also encourage your wedding party to consider green practices when choosing their outfits.
Here are some of our favorite eco-friendly wedding fashion ideas:
Rock a vintage dress or veil. You can be chic and eco-friendly at the same time by embracing vintage fashion choices. You can borrow a dress from a family member or friend, or purchase it used. Antique veils are classic and timeless, and a great way to include a unique accessory in your look.
Buy ethical rings. Start your engagement off on a green foot with an antique diamond. If you plan to purchase new, make sure your diamond is collected in a socially responsible manner. You can also consider ditching the diamond in favor of a gemstone that is more ethically sourced.
Rent your tuxes. Rather than having you and your groomsmen purchase matching tuxes, consider renting instead. This will save everyone money, while still letting you match for photographs.
Wear faux fur. If you’re hosting a wedding in the cold, a fur coat or shawl can add extra glamour and elegance to your look. Make sure your jacket or capelet is faux fur before you buy it. This will help save an animal’s life and save you money.
Support an ethical designer. There’s nothing wrong with purchasing a brand new wedding dress. You have tons of ethical designers to choose from who use recycled fabric and incorporate other positive business practices to make their designs come to life.
Use cruelty-free cosmetics. When booking your hair and makeup stylists, ask about their product line choices. Make sure the makeup and hair products aren’t tested on animals.
Your wedding decorations can produce a lot of waste. After all, what will you do with 200 candlesticks after your reception ends? Rather than buying all new items to decorate your space, consider renting or incorporating vintage pieces into your wedding decor.
Here are some of our favorite sustainable decorations:
Use vintage pieces. Consider heading to the thrift store to find your decorations to cut costs and waste. Mason jars, candle holders, seating, vases, rugs, and other common wedding decor can all be found at antique and vintage markets, or you can pop some tags like Macklemore at nearby thrift stores.
Embrace candlelight. Limit the amount of electricity you need to run at nighttime by lighting candles. This eco-friendly option doubles as romantic decor and is sure to set the mood. Make sure to get permission from your wedding venue ahead of time.
Choose seasonal flowers. Featuring local blooms in your bouquets and floral decor is one great way to cut costs and participate in sustainable floral practices. Find more ideas on how to go green with florals here.
Hand out edible favors. Traditional wedding favors are notorious for ending up in the trash or getting left behind. Say thank you to your guests with edible favors served in reusable containers such as mason jars. Consider serving jam jars or honey purchased from a nearby farm so your guests can get a taste of the local surroundings.
Decorate with potted plants. As soon as a flower’s stem is cut, it begins to die. If you opt for potted plants instead, your blooms can live on for months or years!
Rent reusable decor. Rather than purchasing all of your decorations, consider renting reusable items such as linens, furniture, and chandeliers. Renting will likely save you money in the long run, you’ll get to support a local business, and cut down on waste. Win-win-win!
Food waste is a huge threat to the planet. As food rots in landfills, it becomes a significant source of methane. Even so, up to 40 percent of food in the United States is never eaten and 10% of wedding food gets thrown away.
Your wedding menu doesn’t have to be wasteful. Check out these tips for eco-friendly food and drink ideas:
Set up grazing tables. A hot new wedding trend that lets you reduce the need for food displays and containers is the grazing table. This colorful setup lets guests nibble on multiple menu items from the same display, rather than separating each dish. You can get creative with your grazing table and even opt for a fruit and veggie-only display.
Hire a farm-to-table caterer. Your food vendor plays a major role in how much waste your event will produce. Choosing a caterer that is eco-conscious will ensure that your food is prepared in a sustainable way. Farm-to-table caterers will help you reduce your carbon footprint by identifying which foods are in season and locally available. Bonus points if you opt for a vegetarian or vegan menu. Learn more about how to choose your wedding caterer.
Serve organic alcohol. You don’t have to skip the booze in order to drink responsibly. Organic alcohol has no pesticides, fertilizers, dyes, or GMOs—so the ingredients come from environmentally-friendly sources. The organic label may also reduce your hangover, so there’s no real reason not to serve organic alcohol at your wedding bar. You can learn more about eco-friendly alcohol choices here.
Provide biodegradable cutlery. You can opt for biodegradable plates and utensils rather than traditional China or glassware. Bamboo plates, corn syrup utensils, and biodegradable straws are all readily available for you to purchase.
Set up a disposal system. Work with your venue to set up a disposal system that lets attendees dispose of their waste in the appropriate bins. You can set up a trash station, recycling station, and compost bin for any biodegradable items.
Send leftovers home. Rather than tossing leftover food, encourage your guests (and vendors) to take leftover food and treats home with them. You can also consider donating the food to a nearby shelter. Serving cupcakes in place of cake slices is one great way to keep leftovers manageable and easy to transport.
You’re well on your way to hosting a guilt-free wedding with these eco-friendly ideas that let you say “I do” while respecting the planet. In addition to the wedding day details listed above, your wedding website and wedding registry are two other great places to go green.
Your wedding website will digitize your day-of details, which in turn cuts down on the need for print materials. You can even encourage guests to RSVP directly to your wedding website to cut down on wedding postage.
You can also make responsible and earth-friendly registry choices when you sign up online for Zola’s wedding registry, and take advantage of Zola’s smarter exchanges program that lets you cut down on unnecessary deliveries by exchanging gifts before they ship. You can also consider cutting down on deliveries by setting up a cash fund, which encourages online cash donations.