Planning a wedding can feel like a huge task to accomplish, let alone throwing a sustainable zero-waste wedding. As a fellow eco-friendly bride, I can tell you that planning an earth friendly wedding is possible with some good boundaries and a healthy perspective. In this post, I am going to share with you how our sustainable wedding went. I’m sharing all the details - from what we truly threw in the garbage to how much it cost!
Let’s all admit that the most sustainable wedding is the one where you and your partner *walk* to the courthouse in the clothes you already own with your IDs and proof of residency and get married in front of a judge. Full stop.
Honest moment. A truly sustainable wedding is the one where you don’t have a wedding at all. No traveling family and friends with a carbon footprint, no rings exchanged whose precious metals and gems are mined, no food catered because no food waste - AKA no fun at all.
Listen, I fully understand that a wedding, even if a bride works for it to be a sustainable one, has an effect on the environment. But to my fellow brides, you deserve to spend this special day surrounded by family and friends. Having said that, your big day can also be one that reflects your values. Let’s dive in!
All the beautiful photos in this blog post were taken by Laura Ivanova Photography
Please note: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you end up clicking and purchasing an item. I worked hard to find my trusted favorites and I want to share them with you so you don't have to deal with all the crappy junk I had to go through. Nuff said
Sustainable + Zero Waste Decor
You can roll your eyes all you want, but I was a burlap and mason jar kinda bride. As a farmer, this wedding theme wasn’t a fad - it was an actual representation of our lives together.
I loved using mason jars because they are recyclable and reusable. I found many of them at Goodwill and then I bought the rest in bulk at Target. Now that the wedding is over, I can reuse the 80+ mason jars I purchased for canning and preserving our garden harvest for the rest of my life!
The burlap runners are both reusable and compostable. I plan on using the 100ft+ burlap runner as a weed barrier in my garden in the years to come.
As for tablecloths and centerpieces, we rented our table clothes so they perpetually get reused by the caterer. One of our centerpieces was pine boughs cut from my parent’s property, which we threw back into the woods to decompose when we were done. The other was mason jars filled with wildflowers picked the day of, which we threw back into the woods to decompose when the wedding was over (yay for Closed Loop Cycles!).
All our wedding signage was made from scrap wood and pallets. I painted it myself with nontoxic chalkboard paint and white chalk markers. I was able to wipe off the words when we were done and can now reuse the signs for our farmstand.
The hand sewn cotton bunting for our post-ceremony pontoon ride I purchased off of Etsy from LovesBunting. I saved it and plan on using it in our future nursery (insert sobs here).
The cake topper kissing bears I purchased off Etsy and saved them in our handmade wooden guest book along with all our guests’ cards.
All the extras, like paper banners, little wooden signs, etc were generously given to us by a neighbor whose daughter was married the summer before. We either recycled or donated these items when the wedding was over
Sustainable + Zero Waste Wedding Favors
For our wedding favors I harvested marigold, sunflower, echinacea, and daisy seeds from our farm and organized them in cute paper seed packets. They did double duty as place settings when we wrote our guests’ names on their packet and stuck them in their mason jar (that they would use to drink with) and a cute paper straw.
What’s even sweeter is some of our guests sent us pictures later in the summer of their flowers blooming, reminding them (and us!) how wonderful our wedding was.
Sustainable + Zero Waste Wedding Party Gifts
For our five wedding party members we gave them a bar of handmade soap from The Bearded Bee Homestead, organic sunscreen from Dirty Hippy Cosmetics, and a super soft cotton T-shirt from Lake Effect Co.
Sustainable Wedding Florals
The most sustainable wedding florals is not having any florals at all. I was ready to completely forgo florals until my mom begged me to let her pick wildflowers the day of the wedding with her side of the family.
With the help of five people, my mom was able to put together four bouquets and 13 centerpieces in three hours. They picked wildflowers in the ditch and on some neighbor’s property and stored them in five gallon buckets filled with 3” of cold water. They wrapped our bouquets in burlap and white cotton ribbon. When the big day was over, we simply tossed the flowers, small strips of burlap, and ribbon into the woods to decompose.
If you have a similar idea, be sure of what will be blooming in the area at the time of your wedding. I was lucky enough to have lilac, lupine, cherry blossoms, and ferns all in bloom when we got married in USDA Zone 4 in early June. I was later told by a florist that if I had gone to a professional florist and asked for the same set of florals, it would have cost me $4000+!
All I have to say is, thanks Mom, you’re the best.
Sustainable + Zero Waste Catering Options
There are so many options to sustainably cater a wedding. We opted to hire a local caterer who was extremely flexible and accommodating with our requests. Adventures Catering is the best and I couldn’t recommend Julie and her team more!
Our caterer had all our wedding food sourced either organic or hyper local to our area which brought the price up considerably, but it was important to us. We also provided our own eggs for deviled eggs as an appetizer (which were so dang good, holy moly, I still have dreams about those deviled eggs!).
I baked 12 pies myself with a gluten-free crust using rhubarb, strawberries, and ground cherries harvested at our farm and our neighbor’s garden.
For sustainable dinnerware, we had compostable plates and napkins. The caterer provided stainless steel cutlery since we had organic roast beef and ain’t nobody going to want to eat that with a flimsy knife and fork.
Sustainable + Waste Wedding Rental Options
Renting as much as you can is a great way to cut down on unnecessary waste for your wedding. Through Ty’s Rentals we were able to rent our tent, tables, chairs, linens, dance floor, and sound system (no DJ here folks!).
Psst - if you are in the Minnesota or Wisconsin area looking to DIY your wedding in your parent’s backyard like I did - Ty and his team are the freaking best. I highly recommend them!
Managing Waste At A Zero Waste Wedding
At our wedding, we had two types of trash cans clearly labeled either “Recycling” or “Compost.” We also had two types of trash bags.
Recycling Can: We used black heavy duty contractor bags for our recycling cans so when we emptied them, the bags would not break. All our guests’ beer or soda cans, bottles, wine bottles, etc went into the recycling. The black bags were not recyclable and did wind up in the garbage once the recyclables were dumped.
Composting Can: We used certified biodegradable trash bags for our compostable cans. Since our dinner plates and napkins were compostable, when guests were done eating they could simply dump their plates in the compost cans. We brought all our compost home and it is happily decomposing in our enormous compost pile behind the barn.
The issue we ran into is that people were so confused by not having a straightforward “garbage” can, they ended up throwing recyclables in with the compostables and vice versa.
Even though we *talked* about it over the microphone with our guests before we were served dinner. Even though the signs on the cans clearly stated what went where. Yup. We ended up having to do some post-wedding sorting which was … fun.
The first and biggest issue you will run into with throwing a sustainable wedding is the compliance of your guests. Whether they give you gifts when you ask them not to or throw empty glass bottles into a trash can clearly marked “compost” you can’t control your guests’ actions at the end of the day.
The other issue we ran into with wedding waste was packaging. Even if we purchased something that was compostable or recyclable, the packaging always wound up in the garbage because it was some unidentifiable plastic film or cling wrap. I won’t sugar coat how frustrating this was. It’s the reason I started #PackagingForThePlanet in 2018 and am working to end unnecessary plastic packaging waste.
With all this said, our sustainable wedding went well and we managed to refrain from generating the mountains of waste I’ve seen at other weddings over the last decade when I worked as a wedding photographer.
Ballpark waste we created was two 30 gallon trash bags, which mostly comprised the packaging all our purchases came in.
What did we spend on our sustainable zero waste wedding?
Total Cost of Sustainable Wedding = $15,240
A few things to note with the cost of our wedding.
First, we were able to forgo the cost of a venue because we got married at my parents’ lakeside cabin. Forgoing a venue puts you in the driver's seat and definitely means a lot more planning on your end, but it also gives you complete control over food waste management. It’s hard to ask an established venue to separate food waste out after dinner and put it into compostable bags. These venues have a system they stick to because it works for them. While it’s worth asking if they are flexible and could possibly accommodate your request on food waste management, you should have the expectation that they will say no.
Second, I splurged on photos because as a photographer, it was one of the most important things to me. Sans expensive (but gorgeous) wedding photos, you are looking at $9440. This is incredibly reasonable!
Final Thoughts On Our Sustainable Wedding
My husband and I wouldn't change a thing. Surrounded by family and friends, eating delicious food, and busting some great dance moves - our day was perfect. All in all, we created a much smaller carbon footprint versus conventional weddings and we are proud to say so.
Have you been planning a sustainable zero waste wedding? How is it going? Fill me in below in the comments!
Thanks for stopping by Green Willow Homestead! From chicken rearing to composting, we've got our hands full and we love sharing what we've learned along the way. Follow along as we turn the 80 acres we call home into a farm that serves its community and a homestead that nourishes us throughout the seasons.
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Favorite Books of 2020
2. Braiding Sweetgrass
3. As Long As Grass Grows
4. The Small Scale Poultry Flock
5. The Zero Waste Solution