Wedding season is upon us, and thanks to a slowly retreating pandemic, there seems to be more than ever. Whether you are attending a wedding this year or planning one for next year, it is important to recognize the environmental impact that such an event can have. There is an average of two million weddings a year in the U.S., and they are some of the most expensive parties thrown around the world. Between travel, single-use objects and food waste, weddings produce 400 pounds of trash and 63 tons of carbon dioxide per event.
The most environmentally-friendly option: do not have a wedding. But that is not the most fun option or even what you might want to do. Instead, there are a few changes you can make to your big day or to your wedding attendance that can limit your impact on the planet while still having fun.
Stay local with your venue and the companies you buy from
Though it may not be your first choice, staying close to home — within an hour’s drive of most guests — can cut carbon emissions by a lot. Many people may choose to drive in for the day and will not need to spend money on a hotel. Others may choose to stay close to the venue to walk or carpool over. Regardless of specifics, reducing travel time can make a big difference.
Of course, this may not be possible if you live far from your loved ones. The next best option is choosing venues that champion sustainability. These include LEED-certified buildings and even simply having a wedding outdoors and using nature as your backdrop. Additionally, hosting the ceremony and reception in the same or nearby places reduces travel time even more.
Whether close to home or not, a wedding brings people into an area, and it can be a boost to local businesses if you choose catering, photographers and florists close to the venue. This reduces their travel time, and you can encourage your guests to shop locally while they are in town as well.
Use recycled, reused or rented materials for decorations and invites
While it can take more time to thrift the exact dress or linens for your big day, it significantly reduces water waste and transportation emissions by doing so. Renting dresses and suits has never been easier, and there is a chance you can even borrow friends’ or family members’ clothes for the day. Your venue may have decorations you can use, or you can choose to decorate with potted plants to keep the space green.
When it comes to invitations, sending physical invites made of recycled paper is a good choice, but directing folks to your wedding website or sending digital invitations is even better. By having an online RSVP, people can more easily update their RSVP and you can stay informed. You reduce the amount of paper circulating and make it easy to find information leading up to the event, even if they do lose the original invite.
Invite fewer people
As stressful as it can be deciding who to invite and who not to, how many plus ones you are able to feed and whether to allow children, reducing the number of people in attendance is the easiest way to reduce waste. If you need more convincing: smaller weddings are on trend.
Smaller gatherings make your big day more intimate while reducing the amount of food that needs to be prepared and the size of the space you need to celebrate. With fewer people, they may even feel comfortable carpooling together.
If you are attending someone else’s wedding:
1. Stick to the gift registry
The bride and groom have spent many hours building their registry, whether it is for charity donations or specific things they want for their home. Please stick to that list. Just like when you receive a gift that you do not really want, they are unlikely to keep or use a gift they did not ask for. If you know the wedding party well, you can suggest guests contribute to their honeymoon fund or allow for digital gift cards. If you do wrap a physical gift, wrap it in brown paper or another material that can be easily recycled or reused.
2. Thrift, rent, reuse or borrow your clothes
If you have attended a different wedding, holiday party or fancy gathering in the last few years, chances are you already have something to wear. If you still want something new to you, try borrowing from a friend, renting or thrifting. These methods significantly reduce the amount of raw material and can save up to thousands of gallons of water. They also happen to be more budget-friendly and encourage you to pass your thrifted dress along to another friend later.
If you do end up with a new outfit for the occasion, try to search for environmentally-friendly materials such as hemp-based silk, organic cotton and other Fairtrade materials. Better yet, pick an outfit that you will wear again. Unless your friend’s wedding is black tie, it is likely that you can get away with an outfit that is reusable for brunch and date night, extending the life of the outfit.
3. Carpool, if you can
Especially if you know other people going to the wedding, try to carpool. This allows for more drivers to take turns driving if it is a long drive and reduces the number of cars on the road. Take advantage of group transportation if it is available. It is a fun way to meet other guests and reduce the driving you do all in the name of the environment. If you need to move yourself between the hotel, ceremony and reception, carpool if possible. Parking can be a pain, and with one car and several people, you can easily designate a driver to remain sober.
Eco-friendly options at weddings can appear to be more expensive at first glance, but a few small changes can be good for the planet as well as your budget. You do not have to give up your environmentalism for your big day, and who knows, you may even encourage others to incorporate sustainable practices into their weddings.
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