Wedding Planning for the Sustainable Couple: General Waste Conscious Tips & Ideas

Photo by  Christine Clark

Welcome to the last and final part of my sustainable wedding series. Hopefully so far it’s felt like a mix of general wedding planning 101 with some learnings.  Now, I want to just list out a bunch of waste conscious tips and ideas that I personally used or that has come up from others. I’m repeating some points from the previous posts, but in case skipped straight to this, you’re in luck! If you read the rest of the posts, consider this a reminder. :)

This list should just be a starting point for you as each wedding is unique therefore other ideas and tips may come up in your own planning process. If so, please share them in the comments! Would love for others to see them too!

Digital Invites & Thank yous: Save paper by going digital. Instead invest on a graphic designer to help you with your invites and thank yous OR recruit a creative friend to help you out.  

One thing to note: If you use a mailing service like mail chimp (like we did), your invites and thank yous may get stuck in spam or promo filters (esp through gmail) so I would try to use something different. Maybe Paperless post?

Seed paper for Invites & Thank yous: This may especially be cute for thank yous as your guests can plant your card and have a nice plant as a reminder of your special day!

Gifts for Guests: Try something like a bulk snack section or something they can use during the wedding… honestly all I think about are snacks/food items. ;) But you can easily have recyclable bags for people to self-serve and enjoy the snack on their way home or… to the next party haha. In the end, as much as a gift is thoughtful, it can sometimes be difficult to take home or easily forgotten in the midst all the wedding festivities so as you’re budgeting, think about if this is something super important to you.

Attire: Thrift what you’re wearing! Encourage others to wear vintage and secondhand as well! This is where creating a theme or vibe will help people have more direction on what to wear. Sometimes if you don’t shop secondhand often, the more direction, the better! Have a wedding party? Rent or make an outing out of finding secondhand outfits!

Extra Activities: Destination Wedding? Traveling has a huge carbon footprint so have your guests make the most of their trip by planning or suggesting fun waste conscious gatherings surrounding your wedding day! In the end, it is all about the memories so remember you don’t need much more than great people and some local food to set the right tone for your wedding week.

Signage for Glassware: Utilize signage to remind people to reuse their glassware! This is especially important if you’re going disposable free. Most times you’ll want a water station of some sort as guests arrive and afterwards there may be a cocktail hour, so you’ll either need tons of glassware rentals or some kind of system to make sure people have a spot to place their glassware between different parts of the wedding. I would suggest utilizing the same glassware for pre-ceremony and the cocktail reception, new glassware for the dinner (on tables) and either new or reused glassware for the closing reception depending on the location of each part of your wedding. Glassware can cost more BUT I would prioritize this if you can! 

Reuse Florals during Wedding: Don’t feel like you need new florals for each part of your wedding. We ended up reusing our ceremony florals for the stage area at dinner. The smaller floral pieces on the cocktail tables were reused for the tables later at the closing reception/dance party. ;) Work with your coordinator to get the florals moved. It is totally possible and totally worth it.

Donate Florals Post Wedding: I had done some research on this and found a local coordinator that picks up florals after weddings to donate to local hospitals or nursing homes. Sadly they couldn't pick mine up but they informed me that most times these places are happy to take in florals. Just call to coordinate ahead of time and either recruit a local friend or family member to drop it off the next morning, take it yourself with your partner (set the tone for your marriage giving back sustainably!) or negotiate with your coordinator to own this so you don’t have to worry about it. Either way, your florals deserve a second chance to shine!

Tell your Bartender or Caterer, NO STRAWS: This is an easy one but could easily slip your mind amidst all the planning. Most catering companies aren’t used to being told, “no straws” BUT they are always open to accommodating this request. If you have a bar and cocktails, just skip the straws. No one will notice anyways. They’ll be too busy celebrating you and your partner!

Catering Conversations to Reduce Food Waste: It is good to ask your caterer what they do with they extra food, or any food left on the plates. You want to ensure they have a proper system to compost or a program to donate uneaten food to local shelters. There isn’t a clear standard for caterers when it comes to food waste, but the more waste conscious your caterer is, the better!

Conversations with your Venue for Recycling, etc: Communicate with your venue that you care about how they handle any waste created from your wedding (if any!). Do they recycle? Can they work with your Caterer if they also compost? Communication is key with all your vendors as they can either make your life easier or if harder - consider switching vendors. ;)

In-Season, Locally Grown Florals: Work with your florist to understand all the in-season and locally grown floral options you have. A lot of time florists will have to import blooms to meet specific requests, so it is best to avoid that. All florals are beautiful. All of them will elevate the experience. So just choose local and in-season.  

Leverage Resale Sites for Decor:  I HIGHLY recommend optimizing for everything to be rented as it saves you the headache and responsibility to take it all home after your wedding (trust me from experience… this is the last thing you want to do!). Plus rentals are the most waste conscious option… BUT if there are special touches that can’t be rented, sites like Craigslist, Tradesy or Facebook Marketplace are super helpful to find secondhand wedding decor. Have time to slowly thrift and gather items? This is also an option but again remember this all has to come home with you afterwards.

Resell Your Sourced Goods to a Vendor: Sourced a bunch of stuff for your wedding? Already plan where it will go afterwards. Ask your coordinator, ask your rental company, ask your venue. Maybe your coordinator wants to buy your vintage glassware collection for their future clients! You never know. So, if you can negotiate it ahead of time, post-wedding you will have made some money back and you won’t have the responsibly to clean the glassware and take it home the night of your wedding.

Buffet over Plated Meals: It may not feel as special, but this is the most cost effective and waste conscious option when it comes to catering. Not only does a buffet allow people to choose the amount they eat (which in turn reduces food waste), it is easier to donate or take home post-wedding. Worried about the experience? Honestly, with buffets people get to move around, chat while in line, interact more… This is a win-win. Just be sure to work with your caterer to source local, sustainable ingredients if possible.

Extra Tableware Rentals or Compostable Options for Vendor Meals: Your vendors will need to eat too! Most times caterers will take care of them, but this means using disposables. A lot of times it is either styrofoam OR plastic. If your vendor needs to be on the go make sure your caterer knows that you only want compostable options OR in case they have an area or break room to sit at, incorporate extra plate and tableware rentals.

Natural Dyed Linen Napkins (or More!): This is a simple special touch that I decided to make. I always came across soiled linen/cotton napkins and realized I could naturally dye them to create a second life. I ended up sourcing a bunch for the wedding dinner. Rentals would have been a great option as well, but if you’re like me… sometimes you want something different and special. Honestly, these special touches are what make your guests smile and realize the heart and soul you put into your wedding. Feeling gusty?! Go beyond napkins! You could do your table linens… runners… bridesmaid dresses. Disguise the limit with natural dyes.

Table Decor - Less is more: Sometimes it is easy to get a bit crazy and start adding a bunch of stuff to make your dinner tables look amazing and unique. But in the end this is where the conversations are happening, they’re eating great food… having laughs… A huge centerpiece, although beautiful, ends up obstructing views and getting in the way. Tall candlesticks? It is weird trying to talk to someone across the table that you can’t see. Your guests will remember who they met and the memories they created with others… they won’t remember the color of your candlestick. Opt for less when it comes to table decor.

And that’s a wrap!

Hope the series was helpful! A lot of tips can easily be applied to planning any event, large or small so keep all the tips and ideas in mind.

Here’s to your amazing wedding!!