Born and raised in Hawaii, 27-year-old Kayla Carroll and her high-school sweetheart, Max Rowley, 25, got married at his family’s farm on Oahu last November. Nestled on the North Shore in Waialua, the tropical homestead provided a verdant backdrop for the couple’s DIY nuptials, which had been canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19.
“We had 115 guests coming and wanted to make sure our wedding didn’t harm the environment,” says Carroll, who works for a social-impact agency based in New York City. So she borrowed tents, created a dance floor from reclaimed wood and bought much of her wedding décor from Facebook Marketplace.
To avoid the food waste typically associated with a buffet, a chef known for local sourcing served made-to-order street-style tacos, ceviche and grilled corn, all on compostable palm leaf plates with bamboo cutlery. Food scraps were saved for the farm’s pig, and plates and cutlery got tossed in a composter the couple bought specifically for the wedding.
It bodes well that couples like Carroll and Rowley are planning more eco-friendly events, especially since an estimated 2.43 million U.S. weddings will take place this year alone. According to The Knot, value-oriented weddings (for example, those that focus on supporting local businesses) will be the biggest bridal trend of 2022.
“There’s really been a shift in thinking, as couples consider the broader impact (and sustainability) of their big day,” says bridal expert Hannah Nowack, an editor at The Knot. “Millennial, and even more so Gen Z, couples are approaching wedding planning with mindfulness and leaning into conscious consumerism.”
Ready to say “I do” to a more sustainable wedding? Read on for simple ways you and your beloved can make better choices, curb unnecessary waste and host a savvier, more climate-friendly wedding.
Where to Begin
Start by deciding what you and your partner value most. For some couples that means trimming the guest list and choosing a smaller venue, which is one of the simplest ways to cut waste and reduce a wedding’s carbon footprint. For others, opting for an outdoor location that doesn’t require a lot of decorative primping makes a lot of sense. Sarah Blanc and her longtime love, Matt Cafiso, tied the knot at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida, a little over two years ago. “The garden’s a stunning place to begin with, so we didn’t have to add much to get it wedding-ready,” says Blanc.
Other betrothed pairs are skipping paper invites, axing single-use plastics and focusing more on items they value, such as locally sourced flowers, organic booze and grass-fed beef. “Ultimately, it’s important to understand why each wedding item costs what it does and where that money is going,” says Nowack, who recommends that couples work with an experienced green wedding planner. “They’ll know just the suppliers to tap when it comes to sustainable goods and services.”
Tame the Paper Beast
With all the paperless options available, sending evites instead of printed save-the-date cards, invitations and the like is an easy green fix. You’ll save time and money—the average cost for wedding invitations and stationery is $590 plus postage—not to mention the enormous resources required to make and ship the stuff. If you can’t imagine not having a heavy-stock keepsake to send Grandma or show your kids someday, look for companies offering Forest Stewardship Certified recycled paper made from 100% post-consumer waste.
Little Ivy Paper Goods has many excellent options, and The Knot recently co-launched Bohemian Hoop, a suite of sustainable wedding invitations, with actress Jenna Dewan, who wants couples to know it’s possible to “have a gorgeous wedding and feel like you’re bettering the world.”
Another lovely choice: Botanical Paperwork’s plantable wedding invitations, which are printed on eco-friendly seed paper that breaks down when planted, leaving only wildflowers behind. To save even more trees, consider creating a special QR code your guests can scan with their phone on the day of the event to access info like the wedding program, seating chart or directions to brunch the following day.
Rethink Your Bling
Today’s couples have more sustainable jewelry choices than ever—one of which is not buying anything at all. Florida couple Blanc and Cafiso, for example, didn’t purchase new rings. Blanc dons a slim, diamond-encrusted band that belonged to her beloved grandmother, and Cafiso wears the same gold ring his paternal grandfather (and namesake) once wore. “We try to live sustainably, and we’re both extremely sentimental, so our rings connect us to the past and people we love,” says Blanc.
If a family heirloom isn’t an option, consider an antique sparkler: Trumpet & Horn offers beautiful, ethically sourced vintage pieces. For newer models, Melissa Joy Manning is a terrific source for handmade-to-order rings from sustainably sourced, recycled gold (mining new gold for a single ring can create as much as 20 tons of waste). Other less-traditional couples have matching bands tattooed on their ring fingers or exchange simple silicone bands, like the sleek, affordable options from Groove Life.
Food and Flowers
In a word, buy local. A shorter supply chain, especially one that doesn’t involve flying in salmon from Scotland, means a lighter carbon footprint for your event overall. Start by consulting sustainable caterers or florists who are transparent about their sourcing and environmental stewardship. Suzanna Cameron, an eco-conscious florist and the owner of the popular flower shop Stems Brooklyn, works predominantly with organic and regionally grown seasonal blooms and wildflowers.
“We strive for a lower carbon footprint across the board,” says the floral designer, who never uses floral foam (a nonrecyclable plastic that contains formaldehyde) or altered materials, like neon Pampas grass or bleached flowers. She also offers clients the option to partner with BloomAgainBklyn post-wedding. The nonprofit picks up leftover wedding flowers bound for the rubbish heap, then repurposes the blooms into new arrangements that are donated to women’s shelters and senior-living facilities.
If your budget allows, Cameron also recommends hiring an eco-cleanup firm like Garbage Goddess. “They swoop in at the end of the night, when everything is chaotic and no one wants to break stuff down, and make sure all your organic matter is composted and recyclables get to the right place,” Cameron says.
Skip the Party Favors
… and the personalized wedding swag. The unromantic reality is that the average wedding produces 400 pounds of garbage and 63 tons of carbon dioxide. In a greener world, couples would stop buying glow sticks, plastic sunglasses and commemorative T-shirts, which most guests either leave at the reception or toss when they get home. We’d also vote for canceling sparklers and fireworks, both of which emit toxic chemicals when ignited. The same goes for messy foil and paper confetti. For a prettier, more biodegradable send-off, consider tossing fresh flower petals or dried lavender.
Post-ceremony, Blanc and Cafiso sold the bulk of their thrifted décor to the caterer and donated extra provisions, including blankets and hand warmers used at the outdoor ceremony, to a local homeless shelter.
The New Asks
Instead of signing up for fancy blenders and 400-tread-count sheets, many eco-minded couples register for fun experiences, like surf lessons or a cooking class, on their honeymoon. Other lovebirds, like Madi and Taylor Thomas, who married last August in Nashville, Tennessee, skipped presents entirely: “We decided that instead of a wedding registry, we wanted our guests to donate what they could to a charity like St. Jude or another nonprofit in the community,” says Madi.
It’s also becoming more common for couples to list carbon offsets as a gift option on their registries. Companies, such as Terrapass, calculate the unique number of offsets needed to make a soirée carbon neutral, then use guest donations to fund projects, like wind farms, that reduce the environmental costs of a wedding.
Millie content is licensed from Dotdash Meredith, publisher of Millie, Real Simple, InStyle, Investopedia, The Balance and more.
Monica Michael Willis, a former editor-at-large at Modern Farmer, has reported on the environment for over 25 years.