To protect the environment, many couples are saying "I do" to Zero-Waste weddings, focusing on sustainability for everything from floral design and dresses to invitations and food.
The goal is to recycle, reuse, compost and otherwise keep anything from becoming trash in a landfill. Whether or not couples succeed in reaching the Zero-Waste goal, "they're certainly more conscious of the ecological impact of what they do, and are aiming for something as close to that as possible," says Rachel Sylvester, lifestyle editor at Real Simple magazine.
The key to success, experts say, is letting wedding planners, vendors and your reception venue know from the start that you're serious about going Zero Waste. Then be flexible enough to facilitate that.
"Flexibility and creativity are essential," Sylvester says.
Bea Johnson, one of the pioneers of the Zero-Waste movement, says, "You'd be amazed at what you can find second-hand if you're open-minded and really look around." Her Zero Waste Home blog features a "bulk finder" tab that helps locate businesses selling food, drinks and other items free of plastic packaging.
Focusing on quality instead of quantity also helps, Johnson says: "The smaller the party, the easier it is to make it truly Zero Waste."
Her own Zero-Waste wedding was on a yacht, so space constraints limited the guest list to 40.
Kathryn Kellogg, who wrote extensively about her Zero-Waste wedding on her Going Zero Waste blog, hosted a reception for 60 people on a shoestring budget of $200 for everything. She bought bedsheets from a thrift shop to use as tablecloths, and borrowed dishes, tables and seating from friends and family.
"We were on a tight budget, so we were married at city hall with our closest family there, had a separate reception for about 60 people, and decided to save most of our money for a really great honeymoon in Maine," she says.
"Honestly, the hardest part was convincing our families to go along with it all. My biggest tip is not to stress things, and to balance expectations with reality. Ours may not have been the perfect Pinterest wedding, but that didn't make it less fun or meaningful."
Some Zero-Waste wedding tips:
FOOD AND DECOR
Choose cloth napkins, and authentic tableware, glassware and plates, rather than disposables.
"It's easy enough to rent, borrow or find things at thrift shops," says Kellogg, who used her abundant collection of Mason jars and borrowed items for her reception.
"Sometimes an eclectic mix of plates and glasses can be fun," says Johnson.
As for food, Kellogg says, "I took my Crock-Pot to the butcher, had him put in 4 or 5 pounds of pork shoulder, and served pulled pork and pulled jackfruit for the main dishes," Kellogg says.
She and Johnson both recommend colorful displays of fruits, vegetables or even flower petals as table centerpieces that guests can take home and enjoy.
"Instead of traditional wedding gifts, we asked guests to each bring a side dish or something to drink, and contribute to our honeymoon fund," Kellogg says.
Other couples ask for donations to their favorite charity, or contributions toward a goal, such as a down payment on a house.
"For my wedding invitations, I bought card stock and painted a design on the front, but these days I'd say paperlesspost.com or another e-mail option would be the best Zero-Waste option," says Johnson.
If you're set on paper though, "go for recycled paper with vegetable ink," says Sylvester. Some papers are embedded with seeds, so guests can even soak the invitation in water and then plant it.
Like tables, chairs and linens, wedding dresses and tuxedos can be rented. Vintage or second-hand dresses are also popular, and can be tailored to size. Some designers now make Zero-Waste dresses using fabric scraps otherwise destined for the trash.
"Zero-Waste weddings are a recent trend in France. This year I even designed for a client a wedding dress made from pieces of her grandmother's wedding dress," says Laetitia Drouet of the French-based Kamelion Couture.
Choose locally grown, seasonal flowers, "certainly from a carbon-footprint perspective if not a waste perspective," says Ariella Chezar, author of the forthcoming book "Seasonal Flower Arranging: Fill Your Home with Blooms, Branches, and Foraged Materials All Year Round" (Ten Speed Press).
To cut back on waste, make sure your florist isn't using foam in centerpieces and other arrangements. "It's one of those products that is non-biodegradable and is totally unnecessary," says Chezar.
Next, plan how your florals will be repurposed after the event, she says. Many organizations will pick up arrangements and give them to nursing homes and other institutions. If nothing else, make sure flowers are composted instead up ending up in a landfill somewhere.
"Or you can forgo cut flowers altogether in favor of potted plants, which can then be gifted or planted. There's certainly no waste there," Chezar says.___
Centerpiece and other decor items, like flowers, fruits or vegetables, can double as gifts for guests, as can things like votive candles.