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.


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, with a Google Voice number for non-Internet users.


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.



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!



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.



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. Have guests bring their own jar if necessary.
  • 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

A Tale of Two Blowouts


J'ai peur des coiffeurs. The dentist? Pas de problème. No iatrophobia here, either. In my lifetime I went to the hairdresser, at most, once every two years. My mom cut my hair and tweezed my eyebrows until middle school; I was out of college before anybody touched my head again, each style more traumatic than the last. There was a period when the only haircut anyone in Cleveland did was Flock of Seagulls. Another stylist gave me what is perhaps best described as "pre-pubescent Golden Girls." Mixed-race locks are tricky. "Don't take this the wrong way, but... are you black?" one stylist asked me, confused. "Your texture is like mine, only, not soft." She wasn't wrong. If I'm not careful, my hair easily veers into Louis XIV territory.

It's been awhile since my last water-only update, and instead of boring cross-cultural comparisons, I decided to be your anthropological test bunny, examining the coiffures endemic to each country. There is, after all, no more faithful representation of humanity than its hair salons. "Brushing" in France is what a blowout is to Americans. Whereas blow-dry bars exist even in my Kraft Ranch-dipping, LeBron-loving birthplace, Paris has nothing of the kind. Rather, many women I know have standing appointments- a fact learned when my friend Claudine announced she found a new, cheaper salon than the one she visited for years, and the money saved on weekly styling could buy a bottle of whiskey.

Pre-blowout natural texture

In Cleveland, I did a banana hair mask and asked for water-only at the shampoo bowl. The stylist complied. "Probably ten years ago, someone would fuss about it. Today, we all know there's bad stuff in products," she said, pointing to her ponytail. "I wash my hair every two weeks- that's why it's up now." 

There's no denying she did a good job. She didn't flinch when chunks of banana flew out of my hair. She even complimented the cut, which I did with a safety razor in the bathtub. Still, I couldn't help but think I looked like My Pretty Pony. It was sleek and neat, but it didn't look touchable. I felt that, at any moment, I could be kidnapped and carried to Midnight Castle.

Blowout #1: Test-driving an Asian version of "The Rachel"

Finding a stylist in Paris was... intimidating. Maybe I'm overreacting, but some seemed like bullies. One pulled a grey hair from my scalp. "Your face is too fat for long hair," another pronounced. Finally, I found Saravy, one of four Paris salons carrying Aveda products (UPDATE: if you prefer a Korean salon, Dupleix Coiffure is amazing! I had a great blowout there for an amazing price- and my scalp felt squeaky clean). The interior was serene and calming. I arrived ten minutes early for my appointment, and Saravy, the eponymous owner, offered me a pot of mint green tea with fresh fruit.

French coiffeurs take pride in their consultations. They look at your clothes, face shape, and lifestyle before attempting a cut. I slipped into a silk robe and went to the sink, where Sandra, my stylist, elevated the footrest via remote control. Images of sunrise above a seaside mountain played on the wall. She massaged my scalp with water and started brushing. "I've never seen an Asian with curly hair!" she exclaimed.

I told her I lived in France three years, and that my French should be better by now. Sandra agreed. "I love the show Orange is the New Black," she said, curling my hair around a brush, shaping it with her fingers. "If I went to America, and asked for a wavy blowout, could they do it?"

"I don't think so. They only iron my hair. I prefer this. It's more natural!"

Blowout #2

I love the result! I feel like I'm finally in on the secret for perfect French girl hair. It's age-appropriate and matches my outfits. Best of all, Sandra didn't try to make me buy stuff or pressure me into unwanted treatments. For her, straightening was unthinkable. I made another appointment right away.

I like the French blowout better because Americans are always trying to make me look like someone else. They're always saying, "Why don't we do Victoria's Secret hair?" or "Why don't we try a Taylor Swift bob?" French stylists, in general, seem to prefer the natural texture and color of hair, which may be why Parisian highlights are barely perceptible. French women cut their hair more often, I'm told, so they can air-dry or wear their hair messy, and it still looks nice. P.S. Yes, that's a new t-shirt, $3 at Volunteers of America. Somebody poured bleach on my old ones, resulting in gaping holes, so I went to the thrift store and replaced them in seven minutes... I'll explain later.


29, Rue Saint Sauveur
75002 Paris

Paris to Go

Zero Waste, Plastic Free Alternatives Master List

Below are DIY projects, recipes, and plastic-free recommendations for common household items. This is meant as a reference, not to encourage shopping. Most plastic-free items today seem tailored to the sort of customer who drinks from a mason jar, attends "flower potlucks," and pays $250 for decorative twigs to festoon their reclaimed wood farmhouse table. If you already have plastic versions of these items, by all means, use them first, then make your own or hit the thrift store. Online shops like Buy Me Once or upcycled / reused marketplaces such as Kuttlefish are also good resources.

Arts, Crafts, Office Supplies

I save packing materials and reuse them, but when shipping things to the US or packing fragile items, clothes and sheets always keep glass and liquids safe. This last trip, my husband brought back a suitcase full of beer wrapped in socks and underwear and nothing broke! Vintage papers, notebooks, stationery, and arts and crafts supplies can be purchased at Au Grand Magasin in Paris 11ème.


People make fun of parents that buy wooden blocks and handcrafted toys for their children, but my brothers and sisters and I always had fun with them (if I'd gotten the metal pedal or wooden soapbox car I always wanted, I'd be a better driver today). Perhaps the problem is the kids are boring, not the toys. My friends buy plastic-free thrift store toys for their children, who are happy, creative, and well-adjusted. You might also consider joining a toy library or organizing a toy swap.

This goes for everything on the list, but borrow or buy household items, including electronics and appliances, used where possible. For example, when he met me, my husband took one look at my seven-year-old flip phone and gave me his old smartphone. You can even buy secondhand building materials from Habitat for Humanity (in Cleveland, i like salvaged materials from Metro Hardwoods). If buying secondhand isn't realistic, maintain and repair items instead of buying new, which is something I think everybody does anyway. I re-use a crate to hold recyclables, and a large glass jar for compost scraps. Lastly, there are plenty of post consumer recycled options, or high quality, low emissions products (like Evolve or Vermont Natural Coatings paints).

Personal care 

  • Anti-fungal cream
  • Beauty
  • Birth kit
  • Birth control: Not that I'm advocating or detracting from any form of birth control, it's a personal decision whether you use plastic of not, but some use a fertility monitor or practice natural birth control instead of hormonal options, others opt for an IUD
  • Bug repellent
  • Breath mints / gum
  • Breath spray
  • Blush / Bronzer: Beetroot powder (make your own, or buy a lead-free version) or cocoa powder
  • Concealer
  • Cough medicine: My doctor always said dark chocolate was the most effective cough medicine, and he's right! He graduated from Oxford and Cambridge with honors so it's not like he's some quack or anything. For homemade cough drops, click here.
  • Curlers: Rag or pin curls
  • Deodorant- baking soda
  • Dry shampoo- cocoa powder, cornstarch
  • Eyeliner: Kohl / kajal (not Middle Eastern or Asian, which can contain lead), cobalt ultramarine powder, Fat and the Moon eye coal
  • Eye shadow: Turmeric powder, spirulina, clays, sage powder, or cocoa works; click here for DIY
  • Hairbrush: Tek, rubber and wooden pin brush, bamboo, agave brushes
  • Hair dye: Nettle leaf, black walnut hull, sage, and henna color brown tones. Beet powder, hibiscus, rosehips, and saffron give a red tinge. Lemon, quassia chips, turmeric, and chamomile dye blond hair or highlights. Click here for instructions.
  • Hairspray- lemon / lime juice or sugar water
  • Hair ties
  • Heating pad: Fill a cotton bag with rice and warm it up.
  • Feminine hygiene- switch to a cup, natural sponges, or washable pads (for DIY instructions click here) and, though tampons are not ideal, reusable hemp tampons. Period panties are intriguing, but so far I could only find ones made of plastic.
  • Floss- Dental Lace, Vomel, Radius, neem or siwak
  • First aid / medicine
  • Hairbrush- wood and natural rubber
  • Lotion or lubrication- DIY mango butter, bulk oil, especially olive or coconut. Note: If your doctor or veterinarian recommended KY Jelly for thermometers, do not substitute.
  • Mascara
  • Nail clippers / file: Stainless steel, bamboo, or glass
  • Nail polish remover: Best to skip vernis ongles, but some soybean oil removers come packaged in glass
  • Perfume: DIY or refill your Le Labo bottles in-store (cruelty free), Call of the Vialed
  • Q-tips / cotton pads- I've never used Q-Tips- don't your ears get clean every time you take a shower? Try a hemp washcloth to remove makeup, or reusable cotton rounds. 
  • Razor / shaving cream- safety razor and unpackaged soap
  • Shampoo: water only, soap, clay, rye flour (for fine hair), gram flour (thick hair), bulk
  • Straightener: 6 ways to straighten your hair naturally
  • Sunless tanner: Henna, cocoa powder self tanning lotion
  • Sunscreen 
  • Tissues: handkerchiefs, cut up old t-shirts / scrap fabric / rags, or Hankybook
  • Toilet paper: soap and water, recycled (packed in paper), or family cloth
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste- siwak, bamboo, and baking soda
  • Tooth whitener: Turmeric or activated charcoal
Ellis Faas, Fat and the Moon, Elate Cosmetics, Ilia Beauty, W3LL People, and Kjaer Weis seem to be the favorite makeup brands in the zero waste community right now. Origins, Mac, Burt's Bees, and Aveda have takeback programs for their packaging as well (Origins is brand agnostic). 



  • Almond milk
  • Bean sprouts
  • Blender- plastic-free, or eat whole fruits and vegetables
  • Baby bottle: glass (that's what my mom used for all of us!) or stainless steel
  • Cling wrap- cloth towels, jars, or covered glass and stainless steel containers
  • Coffee filters- French press
  • Dish rack- I just use a cloth towel, but choose metal drying racks if necessary
  • Dish soap- bar soap or castile
  • Fish sauce
  • Flour
  • Food processor- mortar and pestle, ricer, plastic-free or secondhand food processor
  • Homemade food coloring
  • Ice cube tray
  • Kefir
  • Kombucha
  • Meat grinder- have butcher grind meat, then place directly into jars, or use at home grinder
  • Mustard
  • Nut milks
  • Noodle cups: DIY in a mason jar
  • Olive oil
  • Paneer
  • Paper towels- flour sack towels
  • Parchment paper / muffin liners- generally compostable, although I don't use aluminum foil or parchment when recipes call for them. Food turns out fine. My mom uses silicone muffin pans and macaron mats; silicone behaves as a plastic, but can be fully recycled. 
  • Pasta- buy in bulk, or, if celiac, make it fresh. When I have leftover mashed potatoes I make gnocchi out of it- add rice, almond, or coconut flour and one egg or vegan egg replacement (I like chia gel), then form with your hands.
  • Pickles
  • Popsicle mold
  • Quark
  • Refrigerator- click here to store food without the refrigerator, here for a DIY zeer pot.
  • Rice flour
  • Salad spinner- use cloth or plastic-free
  • Slow cooker- bring double-handled pot to temperature, then wrap in wool blanket and place in covered basket
  • Soy sauce- here or here, for soy-free sauce. Vegans can substitute vegetable broth for beef/chicken, or just use coconut aminos.
  • Sparkling water- seltzer bottle
  • Straws- DIY, skip, or buy stainless steel / bamboo
  • Starch
  • Tapioca pearls
  • Tea bags- teapot with glass or ceramic filter, tea ball
  • Tortillas
  • Vinegar
  • Water bottles- secondhand canteen or Klean Kanteen
  • Whipped cream- shake cream and sugar in a jar
  • Ziploc bags- glass or stainless steel containers (good for freezing), drawstring cloth bags. Click here for zero-waste food storage suggestions.

As for exercise equipment like weights, medicine balls, and yoga mats, I have a friend who is doing the Kayla Itsines BBG and she uses a towel and a big potted plant or big jugs of water instead. I walk eight miles a day and up / down seven flights of stairs carrying groceries so I hate working out, but I like plyometric routines and using a chair or table for tricep dips. For basic zero-waste food tips, click here. For everything I own, click here.

Paris to Go


I like Berthillon. I like getting a scoop in coffee, or basil en pot to enjoy at the side of the river, my legs dangling off the bridge. My idea of a perfect Saturday evening is walking to l'Institut du monde arabe, forcing a stranger to photograph me on the panoramic terrace, then heading to Berthillon and queuing thirty minutes for chilled delicacies. It's not my favorite ice cream place in Paris, though. My absolute favorite is Scaramouche.


Named for the stock clown character from commedia dell'arte, it's the kind of ice cream Thomas Jefferson might tweet about, and King Charles I would pay to keep secret. There is no Superman, no cloyingly sweet artificial strawberry, or fake vanilla in sight. Dubbed the best glacier in the Luberon, Scaramouche captures the biodiversity of the region, with flavors like rosemary, olive oil, and 1001 Nuits, a Raz El hanout-spiked ice cream.

This time, I tried basil, which has ribbons of herbs in every scoop. My favorite is geranium, an Iranian recipe containing pistachios. The Luberon truffle is surprisingly sweet, with actual chunks of ectomichorrhizal fungi throughout. Each flavor is all-natural, no artificial colors or added sweeteners. The lavender is delicate and appealingly white, like a Rodin sculpture. The mint green tea is milky and bronze. 

Down the street from Abbesses, Scaramouche looks like it sprang straight from Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's imagination, and you are its' bookish, misunderstood heroine with Stockholm syndrome and a predilection for anthropomorphized household goods. In the time it takes me to finish a bowl of ice cream (like, five minutes), no less than seven neighbors came by to chat with the man behind the counter. At first, he asked if I wanted two boule, and politely concealed disgust when I announced, "No, I'll take four." The scoops are consistently generous; they'd sate any American worth his weight in everything bagels.

D'habitude, the line extends down the street. Yesterday, though, two women from Staten Island sat in empty chairs next to me. "I don't want any ice cream, but if I don't sit somewhere right now, I'll die," one said, huffing and puffing after exploring Montmartre. The Scaramouche team smiled and let them rest, asking about their visit, offering advice on what to see and do in Paris. The owner's wife is from New York, they explained, so the ladies could stay as long as they'd like (they were talking about Elizabeth Bard, author of Picnic in Provence). The Americans asked where I was from, and we talked twenty minutes before I went down the street to Le mur des je t'aime


22 Rue la Vieuville
75018 Paris
Open T-W-Th-Sunday, 14h-20h30
Friday-Saturday, 14h-23h

Paris to Go