Zero Waste Wedding

 
All photos, Corey Chattmann. Hair, Beauty by Mermaid.

Our wedding was as zero-waste as it gets: thrifted clothes, no rings, vegan hot dogs at a local sit-down restaurant after. It was, however, zero-guests- just me, my husband, and the officiant (a guy working that day took blurry photos via iPhone). That was perfect for us, but when my sister got married last month, she wanted a big party with all her loved ones. She is so sweet and friends with everyone and deserved the best wedding ever. My sister tried to reduce as much of the environmental impact as possible, and all 300+ guests had an amazing time celebrating. Thanks to her careful planning, and tireless hard work on the part of her and our family, the wedding came in well under budget- it didn't even cost half the national average- and stayed low waste, with most of the trash going to recycling. 

As Lindsay pointed out, having a simple, cost-effective, eco-friendly wedding isn't easy. My sister would have avoided a lot of stress if she hired somebody else to do everything. But it wouldn't have been as memorable- people are still talking about how perfect everything was, proving that a green wedding can be beautiful and wonderful. Here are the steps we took to lessen our footprint, along with tips on throwing a zero-waste wedding for a crowd.


Invitations


Paper invites aren't necessarily the enemy of zero-waste, as long as they are thoughtful, breathtaking, and printed on quality paper. My sister chose thick, FSC-certified black paper with minimalist black and white foil stamping on a single, 4x8 card. Recyclable and non-VOC, the small format allowed more invites per sheet. She collected RSVPs, food choices, and song requests via Anrsvp.com, with a Google Voice number for non-Internet users.


Attire


The couple chose simple, ethical rings, including a sustainably sourced recycled wooden band. My sister originally wanted a vintage Dior gown from Etsy, but settled on a dress from Allure Bridals. I enjoyed going to fittings with her, and the dress was gorgeous, so I wouldn't deny anyone the experience of shopping new with family and friends for that perfect white gown. There are other ways to make a wedding eco-friendly. For accessories, she wore secondhand Jimmy Choo's, my mom's vintage pearls, and a veil handmade by my mom. Instead of buying new suits, the groomsmen wore what they already had, as did most family members. My mom and I rented jewelry for the occasion, and Beauty by Mermaid did my hair water-only.


 

Venue


Finding a venue that let us do our own catering was tricky. My sister and brother-in-law wanted a place that reflected their style and our hometown. The venue they chose was uniquely Cleveland- the former Baker Electric Motor Vehicle and American Greetings factory, with century-old hardwood floors, exposed beams, freight elevators, and metal track doors still intact. Now a mixed-use art studio, workshop, and office building (the Pussycat Dolls recorded there), we were free to wander the galleries during the reception, while a repurposed jukebox printed designs by local artists. My sister had the brilliant idea of using a friend's pedicab for a memorable entrance / getaway vehicle, and the creative industrial space was actually cool with it!


 


Decor


My sister re-used items from friends' weddings and purchased other items, like silverware and table signs, secondhand. She selected cotton / linen tablecloths and napkins instead of polyester, which we washed, air-dried, and spot-steamed on tables to save energy. The couple decided on useful, reusable favors, glass tumblers designed by my aunt with the bride and groom's names and wedding date. Everyone loved them- we used them for water and cocktails during the ceremony, but people kept saying they were perfect for bourbon :)

Instead of paper backdrops or streamers, my sister re-used a giant pallet hand-nailed from reclaimed wood and a light canopy left behind from previous weddings. My stepdad, a carpenter, did a beautiful job on wooden signs for the head table and gift table. We hand-lettered reusable copper tags in lieu of escort cards, strung across a wall in the venue. The bride put sprigs of organically-grown lavender at each place setting, and instead of sprayed floral centerpieces, used a few local orchids floating in vases with candles and hand-painted glass candleholders. Setup and cleanup took only a few hours.

 


Food


This was probably totally crazy of us, but my mom made all the food with my stepdad, me, my aunt, and grandma as sous chefs. The menu was Korean BBQ- bulgeogi, Korean fried chicken, pulled pork, rice, and seven vegetables served Chipotle-style. To reduce packaging waste, we made our own Yum-Yum sauce (poured into reusable squeeze bottles) and soy sauce, buying giant slabs- over 200 pounds- of meat from a restaurant supplier, sliced at home. My stepdad barbecued everything using grills my uncle built from repurposed materials. We bought the veggies in bulk, close to 400 pounds transported on dollies, and cooked them with my mom's Nu-Wave cooktop to save energy.

My mom and I did a cookie bar, which included macarons on thrifted platters and cake stands. Family friends helped us make cake balls and donut pops, and one fried chicken on-site in the freight elevator :) The donut pops were the biggest sources of trash- there's no composting those little plastic sticks. My stepdad and stepbrother handmade a gorgeous cake pop stand using scrap wood. Guests stripped the dessert table bare before dinner ended!

The groom purchased kegs and his parents provided the wine bottles, which we recycled after. There wasn't really any food waste- there were some leftovers, which we ate. The only area where we really could have reduced our footprint was the hot sauce. We used 25 squeeze bottles, although making it at home was a false choice. You can't deny a room full of Koreans their Sriracha.


How to Plan and Throw a Zero-Waste Wedding


  • If digital invitations aren't practical for your guests, consider using tree-free hemp, DIY plantable papersreusable fabric, or mixed-media invitesCalligraph your own invitations using pretty paper and ink, as my friend Chelsie did, or choose a company that uses plant-based, low-VOC inks, water-miscible solvents, and renewable energy. 
  • Borrow, make, or buy secondhand, choose natural fibers instead of synthetic, and use non-disposable or compostable tableware and decorations. Crochet your own wedding dress. Repurpose a windowpane instead of a guestbook or menu cards. Instead of paper place cards, paint pretty stones or guest names on glasses. Try agate slices, vintage books, or vinyl records as centerpieces, and turn old wine bottles into table runners and numbers. Give useful favors: I love these sake cups, handmade by the groom's mom.
  • Skip the caterer and do a potluck, picnic, or barbecue. This is standard for French weddings, where the food is way better than catered dishes sitting out all day. Use kegs and serve bulk wine if you can, with real glasses or mason jars, and fabric cocktail napkins.
  • A green wedding doesn't mean skipping flowers. Services like Repeat Roses recycle wedding and event flowers, delivering nationwide. French people often cut flowers from their own gardens; one zero-waste French blogger told me her friends picked all their wedding florals from a nearby field. Use potted plants, as my brother-in-law's mom did at the rehearsal dinner, grow your own, or buy organic, local, and seasonal.
  • We didn't ask for gifts, and didn't take a honeymoon, and I don't regret it. However, your decision in this area is nobody's business but your own. Don't feel guilty if you want to register or get away together. If you have all the stuff you need, consider skipping a registry or including a charity, but it's also nice to pick things for your home as a couple, secondhand or not. I firmly believe travel is important for people to be well-rounded. You could ask family and friends to package gifts with reusable, non-disposable materials, like fresh flowers instead of bows, handmade cards, or canvas shopping bags and wicker laundry baskets. I usually give money in a handmade paper and wood roll, like the kind used at Indian weddings.
  • Hold the wedding in a mixed-use facility, garden, backyard, arboretum, conservatory, repurposed barn, etc. Chelsie, mentioned above, got married on the edge of a cliff found while hiking- how zero-waste is that? 



For more photos, visit Corey's Instagram. A former fashion photographer in Laguna Beach with clients like Wilhelmina NY and Ford Models LA, now Corey travels worldwide capturing weddings. His special for 2016: A complementary stylized couple photo shoot with the chance of it appearing in the Allure Bridals blog; plus, the travel cost will be waived for the first three weddings booked for 2016. For more information, visit his website.

Paris to Go

16 comments:

  1. I'm an event planner (formerly weddings, now corporate) and this is truly stunning. Nice job! My sister in law is Korean so her wedding was also a Korean BBQ buffet (died and went to heaven) but good lord, she didn't MAKE it all. Not sure how you did that. Her centerpieces were all handmade from upcycled wood into small crates and they planted them with succulents (which basically last forever in their S Cal climate) which they gifted to friends afterwards. Favors were seed packets. All to say- hooray for the DIY that actually looks stunning and is low-waste. I can only find one photo of the event on the instagram link (the rest seem to be other events) and I am actually quite interested in the other fun ideas y'all had. Thoughts?
    And one last thought for those of your readers who are currently planning events- there is always the option of renting the items. They're used over and over, it saves the effort of thrifting if you find that overwhelming or unmanageable on the scale you're planning for, and if you use a high quality vendor, they items are gorgeous (you do get what you pay for in this industry IMHO.) Also, dishes/ linens can be sent back unwashed!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Darcy, that sounds incredible!! Do you miss planning weddings ever? Sounds like sustainability is important to your whole family- who made the centerpieces? I would love to see them... or if you'd like to guest post on it that would be so interesting! In our area we couldn't find any caterer to do Korean :( plus with all of the food we can't eat (my brother and sister are celiac, and my sister can't eat certain other things like me) it just seemed easier to make it. I can't believe I forgot about renting, thanks for pointing that out. It isn't always realistic to buy the stuff and put all that work in cleaning everything. My sister sold her stuff on a wedding resale site, but it definitely took lots of time washing and transporting everything. My poor brother and husband were stuck in the kitchen the day before the wedding, scrubbing glasses and drying them !

      Delete
    2. Oh and for more photos, if you look at the hashtag #loroandkyle2015, there are lots of photos of people having fun, but, we didn't really get to execute some of her other ideas... at some point we got so busy she said just forget it :) We'll save those ideas for her tenth anniversary party or something haha!

      Delete
    3. Oh! A guest post could be fun, let me chat with her (might be me writing up her wedding.) However, I'm not sure how much I could add to your well executed event featured here. It was certainly not quite as zero waste as all of this (I think the focus was more on keeping costs contained bc it was a HUGE guest list than on zero waste per se but as often happens, zero waste can often be a bonus feature. My cousin actually also had a quite stylish wedding (think thrifted white milk glass vases, park reception, all BEFORE Pinterest existed. She oozes retro-style but comes by it honestly.) So let me talk to them and I'll get back with you! And good on your brother and husband.

      Delete
    4. Yes, completely understand just letting some things go. That was wise of her- better to focus on enjoying yourself than making yourself miserable by adhering to rigid "must do" lists. I always said if he 1. shows up and 2. says I do, it's a successful day.
      Re: weddings, I don't really miss it. It's super high stress (and event planning is already ranked as one of the top 10 most stressful jobs anyway!) Was very fun at first, glad to have done it, glad not to do it now ;)

      Delete
    5. Aw, thanks Darcy! Whatever you decide, I understand :) So funny what you said about Pinterest, my sister said a few times that she wanted to do things that weren't on Pinterest. I LOVE MILK GLASS. I never see it at thrift stores here, I feel like it's uniquely American (but I'm probably wrong haha). You sound pretty relaxed and balanced for having such a high stress job, I must say. It must put your clients at ease! I could never do it. I get consumed with every event I plan and I go overboard trying to do too much and shove too many ideas into a party. And you're right- my mom kept telling my sister that if you have a bride and a groom you don't need much else for a wedding!

      Delete
  2. I eloped for my wedding too (March this year, actually). We had the legal ceremony at the celebrant's house (who I knew from school) and two friends of ours, a husband-wife team, were our witnesses. The four of us went out for dinner after; I had bought a batik sarong and be-sequined kebaya top from Singapore the year before (admittedly new, but sarongs are versatile and I wore it with a different top to another friend's wedding a few weeks later), and he wore a suit he already owned. Our first dance was at home with the husband in ugg boots and me standing on his toes, dressed in our pajamas. Toward the end of the month we had the 'reception' which was just a party pretty much - speeches just from me and the husband, and a table of board games for the guests in lieu of loud speakers and dancing. My favours were unperishables I got off Etsy - crocheted cockatiels from the US (because we keep birds), up-cycled carabiners from Italy for the men, hand poured resin earrings for the ladies from Australia. The paper bags they were contained in were from my pole teacher who also runs a 100% natural beauty salon, and the centrepieces were bouquets of paper flowers, hand made also from Etsy, sitting in pottery wine carafes I found at the tip store. Altogether a very satisfying experience :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds amazing, congratulations! I like that you got things from all over the world. I think that's what a wedding should be about, it should show where you've been and where you're going. That sounds so cute for a first dance too, what a nice story to tell people, it's so romantic! And the crocheted cockatiels sound too cute. Thank you for sharing! I love hearing people's wedding stories and this one was amazing.

      Delete
  3. i n s p i r a t i o n !!! I know what to do now. We have a venue very near our hous, like 150m so no cars. One of my best friends will be making my outfit, fitting perfectly, and also something I can wear after. But I can see I can take it to the next level. Wow!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How wonderful that your best friend will be making it. That makes it so much more meaningful and every time you wear it you will remember your beautiful day!

      Delete
  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oops, Tamara, I erased this on accident, I'm sorry! But thank you, I agree, she was a gorgeous bride and the photographer shoots for magazines, so everything had an editorial look :)

      Delete
  5. Is that dusty miller I spot in your sister's bouquet? I never saw that in a wedding bouquet before. It's beautiful! Everything about this wedding feels original and fresh. The pedicab is a fabulous idea. I love Pinterest, but I think it's ruined weddings for me. They all start to look the same after awhile, but this looked truly different.

    Gina

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Gina, I agree with you about Pinterest. Yes, she chose dusty miller, it looked really beautiful. It's naturalized to NE Ohio, where the wedding was held.

      Delete