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How to Have an Eco-Friendly Wedding Without Breaking the Bank

When you hear the terms "eco-friendly", "zero waste", or "sustainable" when it comes to wedding items, you might be afraid that those words equal a higher price tag for that product or service. While that can sometimes be true, there are little changes here and there you can make, both in your lifestyle and in your wedding planning, that don't have to cost a pretty penny. At the end of the day, wedding waste comes down to the choices made while planning your big day. Between the traveling your guests have to do, to all the paper products involved, to the food thrown away at the end of the night, there’s actually a lot of waste that a wedding produces. When I started looking up the facts to get some real numbers, there were only a few resources, this 2017 article from The Guardian and The Green Bride Guide , a book by Kate Harrison published in 2008. Here are some of those facts:

  • approximately 1/10 of all wedding food gets thrown out at the end of the night

  • one wedding produces about 400 pounds of trash and 63 tons of CO2, the same amount of CO2 that five people would produce during an entire year

  • 37% of guests don’t eat edible wedding favors

These statistics haven't really been updated, so I can only imagine how worse this has become. But, it doesn't have to be like this! That’s why, to celebrate this Earth Day, I’ve compiled a list of easy switches you can make in your wedding planning process to help make your event that much more eco-friendly and sustainable! This is by no means a full list of your options, but it's a perfect starting place. Whether you do everything on this list or just snag some inspo from a few things, the earth thanks you.

Shop conflict-free diamonds

newly engaged couple hugging in snow capped mountains
Photography: Kyle Singbeil Photography, Ring: James Allen

That’s right, your journey to a more eco-friendly event can start with the proposal! Lucky for us (and the earth), it’s become easier and easier to shop conflict-free diamonds right from the comfort of your couch. And then, when it’s time to find the wedding bands, you’ll already have a brand in mind! Whether the ring is made from recycled metal, the diamonds are responsibly sourced, or the diamond is grown in a lab which removes the whole mining process, there’s plenty of brands out there who are stopping the engagement ring industry in its tracks. Check out some of these brands we love: James Allen, Catbird, Brilliant Earth, Mejuri, and Noemie.

Choose vendors wisely

bridal makeup done using clean and cruelty-free beauty products
Photography: Faded Fern Photography, Makeup: Makeup By Ivett

If you come across a vendor like a catering company or florist who say they’re eco-friendly, reach out to them and ask what exactly they are doing that makes them “greener” than the rest. It’s easy to throw a trendy word like sustainability or eco-conscious on their site, but if they don’t have the answers to back it up, they might not be all that green. Opt for a caterer or bakery who uses all organic and natural ingredients, and hopefully has a waste removal process like composting incorporated into their operations. Go with a florist who has said goodbye to floral foam and sources local blooms. Sign with a makeup artist who uses clean and cruelty-free makeup products. Fall in love with a vendor who might not have the greenest standards? Ask if they are willing to make an exception for your event. You might be surprised!

Host a local event

bride and groom kissing under American flag at Birkby House
Photography: Joffoto, Venue: Birkby House

With family all over the country and guests living abroad, it can be hard to limit the amount of travel needed to get to your big day. If staying local for a majority of the guests isn’t possible, make sure to have the ceremony and reception are in the same location, to limit car travel. If you have room in the budget, splurging for guest transportation like a party bus would cut back on greenhouse gases and give them a fun experience!

Limit your paper goods

Wedding program made with seed paper by Botanical Paperworks
Photography: @Erikanroybal, Stationary: Botanical Paperworks

Save the dates, invites, RSVP cards, belly bands, programs, personal menus, escort cards, name cards…the list of paper products that are involved in one wedding can get excessive! Luckily, there are plenty of ways to cut back and your guests won’t even notice. Electronic save the dates are a great alternative to little postcards, and have recently jumped in popularity. Digital RSVPs are usually the smarter route, depending on the tech savviness of your guests, to save paper and stamps. Most people have been to a few weddings in their lifetime, so unless you’re adding in a specific cultural element to your ceremony that they might not be familiar with, programs probably aren’t necessary. For your must-have paper products, recycled, 100% cotton, or even seed paper (that can be planted after use) are all fab options to limit waste!

Partner with a floral donation company

pretty blooms that will be donated after use
Photography: Hannah Bjorndal, Florals: Stem & Thistle

You can let your guests take home centerpieces of your beautiful blooms to give them a longer life, but that might not work best for garlands. Companies like Petals for Hope and Reflower Project will pick up your flowers at the end of the night, and repurpose them into gorgeous bouquets that will be donated to nursing homes, hospitals and women’s shelters. Those flowers brightened up your big day and can put a smile on someone’s face the next!

Take your 'Something Borrowed' to the next level

bride wearing eco-conscious wedding dress made by Reformation
Photography: Aysia Lanae Photography, Dress: Reformation

There’s been a huge increase in the amount of wedding dress rental or resale shops and sites in recent years. A wedding dress and all the accessories that come with it can cost several thousand dollars, and for something you will never wear again, is it really worth it? Even if you don’t go with a pre-loved gown, there are other ways to be more eco-conscious in your dress choices! Rent the Runway and Borrowing Magnolia are affordable rental and second-hand purchase options, while Reformation and Wear Your Love are brands who design with deadstock, vintage fabrics, and organic materials. A quick Google search can help you find a resale shop near you!

Compost your wedding

wedding tablescape with greens and neutral tones
Photography: Maria Vicencio Photography, Rentals: Select Event Group

If your catering team doesn’t have a composting or eco-friendly waste management solution in place, you can take matters into your own hands by hiring an outside composting company. For those who don’t know what compost is, it is when you take your food scraps or other organic material and it is added to soil to help plants grow. Think of it as basically recycling your leftover food that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill. Some composting companies charge has low as $1 a person for their services, so while it is an extra expense, it won’t break the bank. You can pick from varying levels of service to fit your event needs and composting goals. The most affordable option usually involves them dropping off compostable liners for your venue’s trash cans and pick it up the next day, while the full service option is where they will have multiple people at your event monitoring the catering staff and teaching them about how to properly compost. Click here to find a composting company in your area. There’s a level of composting service for every budget!

Look for LEED certified venues

couple getting married at LEED certified DC venue, District Winery
Photography: Love Life Images, Venue: District Winery

Venues that have an LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification have gone to extraordinary measures to ensure that they are as eco-friendly as possible. The LEED certification measures a handful of things such as indoor air quality, waste management systems, energy and water use, plus more, so hosting your event here will mean it is sustainable inside and out! If your dream venue doesn't have this certification, simply ask them about their sustainable practices to get an idea for how serious they take saving the planet.

Donate your leftover food to a food kitchen

chic wedding dinner being served
Photography: Pop The Cork Designs, Catering: RSVP Catering

The goal isn't more compost, it's less waste! If composting isn't your thing, consider donating your leftovers. If you go for a plated style dinner with untouched food still left in the back, all that food can be donated to a local food pantry. However, if the food has been accessible to guests the whole night via a buffet or served family style, naturally, that food can’t be donated, so composting the leftovers will be your best bet. But, catering teams are pros, and are used to making just the correct amount of food, so you shouldn't have too many leftovers to worry about!

Nix the rice or confetti throw

dried flower petals being thrown on wedding couple
Photography: Alex Marks Photography, Floral Confetti: Everland Confetti

While rice seems to have dated itself out of the wedding trends, confetti is still popular for guests to shower the couple with on their walk back up the aisle. Not only would this make a mess for clean up, but it could harm animals who might come by and think it’s food, and a lot of venues don't even allow it (another reason to read those contracts carefully). Dried flower petals from companies like Everland Confetti are biodegradable while still being super pretty, so no harming the animals or earth. You can even make your own confetti by stamping out shapes from leaves!

If you must have disposables, make them biodegradable or compostable

appetizers in biodegradable containers for wedding cocktail hour
Photography: Jiovana Photography, Catering: Cheese & Grace

So long are the days of ugly plastic plates and cutlery that is not only an eye sore but harming the planet. If you require single-use cups or plates for any of your wedding food (normally for hors d’oeuvres and dessert), opt for ones made of bamboo or fully compostable materials. Green Paper Products has plastic cups made from corn and tableware made from sugarcane!

Use your wedding for good

succulent wedding favors
Photography: Andreo Studio

Rather than have a cute little wedding favor that your guests may or may not use (or even take home with them), take the opportunity to thank them for attending your big day with a donation to a charity in their honor. You’ll feel good, they’ll feel good, so it’s a win-win. If you really love the ideas of handing out a favor, pick up mini succulents or seeds for them to take home and plant!

Rent your decor

sustainable wedding rentals
Photography: Abby Jiu Photography, Rentals: Something Vintage

It’s super easy to get carried away buying all the perfect wedding decor at stores like Hobby Lobby and Michaels, but it can actually get really pricy, really fast. Going through a rental company to get your decor will save you money, save you space in your home that would have been housing all these leftover decorations post-wedding, and is a more eco-friendly option. Better yet, if you get all your rentals from the same company, that will cut down on the fees and minimums, and less deliveries equals less car travel for the earth! If you are looking for personalized touches, Etsy is a great way to support small business owners. For personalized signage that you don’t plan on keeping, check out Borrowed Beginnings, a Minnesota-based business that rents custom decor that you mail back after your wedding.

Wondering how you can implement some of these eco-conscious ideas in order to have a more sustainable wedding? Send me an email! I'm always happy to help push you in the direction of zero waste!


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