The Guide to Sustainable, Zero-Waste, Ethical Weddings
The Guide to Sustainable, Zero-Waste, Ethical WeddingsPublished: 19 April 2021
A wedding should be one of the happiest days of a couple’s lives. The event brings friends and family together in a celebration of love. Drinks flow, food is devoured and, hopefully, everyone goes home having had a great time. In all the excitement, it’s easy to overlook the impact a wedding might have on the environment. Sustainability is being spoken about more now than ever. Luckily, if this is something you want to take into account on your wedding day, you can. Let’s find out how, as we explore the perfect way to host a sustainable, zero-waste, ethical wedding. We’ll break down the damage a regular wedding has, before introducing alternatives for you to try.
Introduction to sustainable and ethical weddingsDo you know how much of an impact your big day could have on the world around you? Here are some startling statistics which might make you reconsider how you want your wedding to be. Waste generated by the wedding industry Everything we throw away which can’t be recycled has a negative impact on the environment. If something isn’t biodegradable, it could take thousands of years to break down naturally. Plastic is unsurprisingly at the heart of the issue. Reports suggest that 4,910 tonnes of unrecyclable plastic was used up and left behind at British weddings last year. That’s the equivalent to 47 Blue Whales. Individually, one wedding can produce as much as 20kg of plastic waste. What’s more, the black bags used to collect the rubbish are themselves potentially harmful. They can take as many as 90 years to break down under the ground. But it’s not just plastic which has an impact. Food wastage is also a common theme for most weddings. A study from Sainsbury’s reveals the extent of this. Their figures show that: On average, £488 is wasted on food at every wedding 15% of people would only eat one or two of their three courses The same number, 15%, of newlyweds would throw the remains of their cake away 37% of guests don’t eat edible wedding favours To put the wedding wastage into context, the average family home will throw away roughly £700 in food in one year. In other words, a few hours at one wedding can account for 65% of a home’s wastage across an entire year. The carbon footprint of wedding celebrations Rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere have directly led to warmer global temperatures, as warm air is trapped within the Earth’s atmosphere. As NASA highlight, this has directly led to shrinking ice sheets, warming oceans and a general rise in global temperature. Sadly, UK weddings are again one of the chief offenders when it comes to CO2 contributions. As many as 14.5 tonnes of the gas will be created during an average celebration. That’s a startling figure, given annual carbon emission per capita in the UK is just 9.1 tonnes. With roughly 250,000 weddings taking place every year, that’s a net result of 3,625,000 tonnes of gas being emitted. The worst sustainability offenders at weddings Some wedding troupes are more harmful than others. Here are a few common inclusions which you might not realise are having a negative impact on the environment. Balloons Often made of materials that don’t break down, balloons contribute to overflowing landfill sites. They also pose a serious choking hazard for wildlife like birds and sea creatures. Confetti Throwing confetti is a common tradition, but have you ever considered where it ends up after the celebrations are over? Unfortunately, this is another example of a material which won’t degrade naturally. That means it often ends up being consumed by animals. Exotic flowers It’s not something that immediately springs to mind, but transporting flowers which aren’t seasonal means you’ll need to move them from relatively far away. The net result is a higher level of CO2 emissions, as well as the use of potentially harmful chemical fertilisers which can pollute the soil. Decorations Paper comes in handy at a wedding, but it’s still worth considering where you can limit its use. Bunting, banners and even invites can use up resources which might not be sustainable. Either cut down on their use or make sure you’re only utilising sustainable materials. Don’t worry, though. These are all common aspects of a wedding - which means alternative, eco-friendly options, have already been created. In chapter two, we’ll look at exactly what those options are.
Planning an ethical and sustainable zero-waste weddingWe’ve seen what some people are doing wrong, but how can you combat that? Hosting a zero-waste wedding doesn’t have to be hard. Let’s discover how you can make each aspect of your big day more eco-friendly. Eco-conscious wedding attire Looking good at your wedding is a must. But that doesn’t mean you have to compromise when it comes to your sustainability efforts. There are a handful of ways you can take a green approach while still looking the part. Eco-friendly materials It’s easier than it’s ever been to find a wedding dress or a suit which have been manufactured from sustainable materials. Thankfully, satins, hemp-based silks, organic cotton knitted lace and general fairtrade products are all common bases of modern dresses. Renting your attire Renting your dress or suit for your big day is also a viable option. There are loads of branded designs available, and this means you won’t be responsible for the construction of a garment which isn’t made from sustainable resources. Choosing alternative attire If you’re not too hung up on having a traditional wedding, there’s also the option of dressing in something which you know is eco-friendly. Encourage your guests to do the same if you really want to hammer home the sustainable theme of the wedding. Ethical conflict-free rings Whether it’s your engagement or wedding ring, there are ways you can ensure the precious stone you’re using has been sourced ethically. Research the jeweller Find out as much as you can about a jeweller before you purchase from them. If you’re not sure what to look for, try to find signs like: • Funding for projects in communities where diamonds are ethically sourced • The supporting of initiatives which ensure the safe production of diamonds and precious gems • Open promotion about the fact their gems are sourced ethically Speak to them first If you can’t find any signs of their ethical nature, there’s always the option of reaching out and directly asking a supplier where their diamonds come from. Consider asking them to be direct with their answer. If they aren’t clear about the origin of their product, it might be wise to turn elsewhere. Avoid areas of conflict While most countries have developed a fair and ethical production of diamonds, some areas remain questionable. If you want to be completely sure you’re buying a diamond from a conflict-free zone, avoid producers like Zimbabwe, Angola, DR Congo, Ivory Coast and Liberia. You don’t have to compromise on the quality of your ring just because you’re choosing an ethical option. Many diamond retailers have made this a priority in recent years, so you’ll have plenty to choose from. Conscious consumer wedding registry If you’re asking your guests to come with a gift from a wedding registry, you can give them an entirely sustainable list of options to choose from. Here are a few examples of what you could include: Earth-friendly gifts If you want to take a more eco-friendly approach to life beyond the wedding day itself, this is a great opportunity to get a helping hand. You can ask for gifts like solar panel chargers, bamboo toothbrushes, electric lights or even a compost bin. Fairtrade products Looking for homeware which could genuinely make a positive difference to the lives of people in developing countries? You can find things like rugs, cutlery and even tables on websites such as Ten Thousand Villages. These items are produced from sustainable ingredients by people living in third world countries. As it’s fairtrade, they take a healthy cut of all profits made on anything sold. Small and local gifts Investing in local communities is good for everyone. But it’s especially handy if you’re trying to reduce your wedding’s carbon footprint. Purchasing from people in your community will mean there’s far less fuel being burned to get your presents to you. The key here is to think about how each item on your registry could have an impact on the environment. Is what you’re asking for going to come from a sustainable source?
Organic and low-impact flowersWhile all flowers are by their very nature “organic”, sustainability can still be taken into account when it comes to decorating your wedding. Aside from the carbon footprint you accrue when transporting flowers from across the world (most flowers used in Western Europe are grown in Kenya, Colombia, Vietnam and Ecuador), there can also be issues of exploitation in the supply chain. In extreme instances, it’s been reported that women in Colombia can work for 15 hours a day, earning just £24 a week. That’s less than half the living wage in the country. There are steps you can take to avoid funding these kinds of enterprises: Buy local and seasonal flowers Using a website like Flowers from the Farm, you can search for the exact type of flower you want, even specifying by things like pesticide usage. This allows you to make a conscious and measured choice about the distance your flowers have to travel and the impact you might be having. Grow your own A tried and tested method, there’s no harm in cutting out the middleman and growing your own. Even if the finished product isn’t as polished as what you might get from a professional florist, there’s a certain charm to self-grown decorations at a wedding. Check for certification Organisations like LEAF, the Soil Association and the Rainforest Alliance are all quality-checkers when it comes to the ethicality of flowers being sold in the UK. Look for their stamp of approval on any bouquet you’re buying. Find a sustainable florist As with most sectors, there are a growing number of florists who are making sustainability a priority. You can spot a sustainable supplier by looking for those who: • Don’t use floral foam or plastic • Source local or ethically certified flowers • Are transparent about how they work and where their flowers come from Who would have thought so much consideration went into something as simple as a flower? Make sure to keep all this in mind when choosing your bouquets.
Eco-friendly décorYou don’t have to compromise on your perfect décor just because you’re trying to make your wedding as green as possible. There are a number of clever techniques you can use to remain sustainable without sacrificing the aesthetic appeal of your big day. Lighting Make the most of the daylight while you can. Setting up solar panels during this period can help to make a big difference later in the day. Collecting enough energy at this point could mean your entire evening is lit by a sustainable source. Failing that, you could employ the use of hundreds of beeswax candles. These can hang from the ceiling and provide natural lighting for the reception. Place cards Any form of paper signage which you use can be sourced ethically, or even replaced altogether. When it comes to place cards, bamboo or recycled options are the best way to go. For your wedding invites, think instead about sending out electronic save-the-dates, and asking people to confirm their attendance online. If you know particular guests are not computer-savvy, reach out to them via the phone. Confetti There’s a relatively easy alternative to traditional confetti that comes in the form of biodegradable, dried out petals. These not only retain the aesthetic appeal of the original product but break down naturally in the environment without doing any damage. Other natural materials From the tablecloth to your napkins, there are a series of decorations which you can find made from materials like hessian, hemp or pure linen. When it comes to tableware, consider using rustic natural wood, sourced from sustainable forests. This extends to the likes of tables, bowls and even cutlery.
Eco-friendly wedding venuesYes, even the decision of where to host your big day can have a big impact on how sustainable it is. Once again you have a selection of options to choose from. Outdoors Having your wedding take place outdoors means you’ll be able to make the most of natural sunlight. You’ll be able to find botanical gardens and refurbished barns, which offer the perfect venue for anyone looking to ensure their wedding locale is having the minimum impact possible on the surrounding ecosystem. Centralised location for ceremony and reception Hosting both events in the same place means there’s minimal need for guests to travel from one place to the next. It sounds simple, but it’ll make a massive difference to your wedding’s overall carbon footprint. Green hotels Some hotels are greener than others. They’ll have a strong recycling policy in place, use energy-efficient appliances and operate using a lot of biodegradable products. These are all questions you can ask a potential host venue before you make a decision.
Sustainable and organic food and cateringThis is another factor we often overlook at a wedding. While it’s common to take guests’ dietary needs into account, not much thought is given to where and how our food arrives on the plate. If food wastage and sustainability matters to you, you can find a catering company who keep all of the following in mind: Locally sourced We’ve already discussed the benefits of localised sourcing when it comes to mileage. But it also helps smaller farming communities to thrive. In the process, it increases the likelihood of others being able to get produce from their local community in the future. Organically produced While pesticides have their benefits, they also carry harmful chemical pollutants which can have a negative impact on the environment. Make sure to ask your caterer if their products conform to the certified standards. Tableware offered You can always provide this yourself, but if you are relying on a catering company for everything, make sure they offer sustainable products. That means their cutlery is reusable, recyclable and biodegradable. Food waste policy Ask them what their policy is regarding food that is either unused or not eaten after being prepared. Most sustainable catering companies should offer food that hasn’t been cooked to food banks or charities. Meanwhile, food that didn’t get consumed can be turned into compost. Be sure to keep this in mind when choosing your caterers. Ask what their policy is on all of these factors before you make a final decision.
Ways to reduce your carbon footprintWe’ve looked at a lot of intricate ways you can make your wedding more sustainable. But what about more top-level planning? Here are a few suggestions to help keep your CO2 emissions to a minimum. A selective guest list You’ll want to share your big day with those who are important to you. Part of that means making tough decisions about who to include and who not to. Being more selective will have a directly beneficial impact on your carbon footprint. With fewer people travelling to your event, you’re going to naturally have a smaller impact on the amount of CO2 emitted as a result. Pick the right time of year It might be harder to find a free slot in the hotter months, but doing so will mean having to consume less energy. The natural heat provided by the warmer seasons will help to keep you and your guests comfortable, without needing to use artificial devices. Organise group transport The fewer cars on the road, the lower the level of emissions. To go to the next level, you could even swap out traditional methods for something like a horse and carriage. Planning an eco-friendly wedding isn’t easy. But if you follow the advice we’ve offered here, you’ll find it doesn’t have to be as much of a challenge as you may first suspect.
Getting help with planning your sustainable weddingIt’s normal to get help with the planning of a wedding, whether it’s eco-friendly or not. Let’s take a closer look at help you can get in the planning stages, as well as advice from experts. Finding green wedding planners and suppliers There are dedicated companies who work to ensure events are kept as green as possible. Here’s what you need to know when looking for and working with sustainable companies. Green wedding planners There are several wedding planners who specialise in providing a service for people looking to host a green wedding. They’ll take everything we’ve looked at into account, while also helping you to make sure your wedding falls within budget. The Wedding Planning Institute currently offers a certified course for green weddings. While you shouldn’t look for this as a requirement when making a decision, it’s worth asking about it. Finding sustainable suppliers From caterers to furnishers, you’ll want to work with companies who share your eco-friendly vision. Make sure to ask them questions like: • Where do you source your products from? • What sustainability standards and certificates do you have? • Do you have an environmental management system in place? • Do you have a recycling policy in place? • What happens to any food/stock which isn’t used? Green venues We’ve already looked at the kinds of venues which are able to host your special occasion. When it comes to choosing your location, you can use platforms like Venuefinder to narrow down your search. You can specifically look for green venues, and even specify the type of event, the maximum capacity needed and the location. Always make sure to visit a potential wedding spot before making any decisions. Ask them if they’ve hosted a sustainable wedding in the past, and find out if any special measures need to be taken to accommodate this.
Budgeting advice for your sustainable weddingSaving for any wedding can be a challenge. The Green Union provide a useful breakdown of roughly how much of your budget you should dedicate to each aspect of planning: 50% towards food, drink and reception 15% on your outfits and dress 10% on flowers 10% on photography 10% on entertainment Think about setting yourself a cap for each area of your wedding. If you find yourself overspending in a certain area, consider how you could cut costs, while remaining sustainable. For example: growing your own flowers, or renting a suit instead of having a new one made. There are always ways around needing to fork out a fortune, without compromising on quality.
Additional tips and adviceWe’ve looked in detail at some of the steps you can take to perfect every aspect of your special day. Let’s take a closer look at some smaller fixes which will help reduce your impact on the environment that little bit further. Go vintage where you can While not all vintage products were created with sustainability in mind, it’s better to repurpose them than letting them go to waste. Reuse vintage items of tableware, dress or decoration to cut out the need to have something new produced just for your big day. DIY where you can In any circumstances where it’s logistically possible, think about creating something yourself. We’ve already looked at the obvious example of flowers. It might also be possible to create handmade decorations, tablecloths and invites (all from sustainable materials). Think about what you can do yourself, or ask others to help you out. Book a local photographer Rather than asking someone to travel the breadth of the country to snap your big day, look for someone in the local area. It’s potentially a small touch, but it could make a difference when it comes to the wedding’s carbon footprint. Have a post-wedding recycle plan Set up areas where guests can recycle during the event. Also think about having a detailed plan in place for what you’re going to do with anything that’s leftover at the end of the day. Weddings to support green nonprofits Speaking of recycling your leftovers, this provides a fantastic opportunity to gift anything which hasn’t been used to a food bank or charity. You could even ask people to make direct contributions to nonprofits on the day itself. Let’s take a look at a few ways you can help support charities and other green organisations at your wedding: Gifts from your guests Rather than asking for presents for you and your partner, instead consider how they can make a tangible difference to a worthy cause. Even if it’s just a cash donation, this is a great way to casually ask for donations en masse. Charity-owned venues Some charities are fortunate enough to receive funds from their own venue. Assuming they promote sustainability, think about hiring one of these locations. This helps make what can sometimes be a steep fee feel less like a drain on your finances. You know the money is being used to help others. Make donations part of the reception Whether it’s simply by posting donation boxes throughout the venue or having a cut of the bar takings go to charity, there are simple steps which can help you collect funds. Even a tip jar by the bar for loose change would make a difference. Decorate to promote a nonprofit If a cause is particularly close to you, consider decorating with their branding in mind. This serves as a constant reminder to attendees, giving your chosen charity free promotion. Encourage guests to follow the charity on social channels, and use banners to show them where they can donate directly. Donate leftover food Anything which hasn’t been eaten and won’t perish can be donated to a food bank. Talk to the venue about this beforehand. If you don’t, there’s a chance they might automatically throw the food away. Planning an eco-friendly wedding isn’t easy. But if you follow the advice we’ve offered here, you’ll find it doesn’t have to be as much of a challenge as you may first suspect.
Useful advice, secondary sources and FAQsOther zero-waste tips and advice We’ve taken an in-depth look at what you can do to make the planning and execution of your wedding as sustainable as possible. Here are some simple techniques you can adopt to take a greener approach in all aspects of life. Consider the merits of second-hand We’ve already discussed the benefits of localised sourcing when it comes to mileage. But it also helps smaller farming communities to thrive. In the process, it increases the likelihood of others being able to get produce from their local community in the future. Think about packaging Try to limit the amount of plastic packaging you’re using. In a lot of circumstances, you won’t have direct control over this. As such, think about making a conscious shopping choice based on how a brand chooses to store their products. Lightbulbs and LEDs LEDs use a lot less energy than regular lightbulbs. If possible, think about replacing them where you can. They won’t burn as brightly, so you may need a few to account for the absence of the original bulb. Get food from a farmers’ market What better way to support a local cause, while also ensuring you’re not having too much of an impact on the environment? What’s more, with a farmers’ market you know where your food is coming from, from soil to plate. Repair damaged items before replacing them If something only has a mild tear or a small amount of damage, think about whether you could fix it before discarding it.
FAQsWe’ve covered a lot, but if you have further questions be sure to check out our FAQ section. Are green wedding planners expensive? No more so than any other type of planning service. You’re most likely to be charged an hourly rate, with the wedding planner attending on the day to ensure things run as smoothly as possible. Is it possible to have ethical fireworks? Not really. There are a host of reasons why fireworks aren’t the best thing to include at a wedding where you’re trying to be ethical: • Production of fireworks, which often takes place in poorer countries, can be dangerous (and often cause long term health issues for workers). • Animals are terrified of the sound and sometimes the smell of fireworks. • Sulfurs and nitrous oxide are often released into the atmosphere. • Guests could be hurt by malfunctioning displays. • There’s a high risk of fire. Is wedding insurance a necessity? Necessity, no. But it would be risky not to take out some kind of cover. Having this in place protects you against a number of factors: • Injuries or accidents happening at the event • Extreme weather conditions which force you to cancel • Problems with your venue or vendors • External events which could cause your wedding to be cancelled These fall under two brackets, liability and cancellation cover. Having both will ensure there are no unnecessary expenses. Should I encourage guests to stay over? It certainly helps with the aforementioned carbon footprint. Having people stay as close to the venue as possible will mean there’s less travel required as a whole. If there’s not enough room where you’re hosting the wedding, research other hotels or overnight accommodation which could also do the job. Useful green wedding resources & organisations Explore these useful resources to learn even more about what it takes to host and plan a sustainable wedding. The Balance look in detail at the importance of wedding insurance: https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-wedding-insurance-and-what-does-it-cover-4165273 Country Living takes a detailed look at the damage which UK weddings can do to the environment: https://www.countryliving.com/uk/create/country-wedding-ideas/a23730274/british-weddings-create-the-same-weight-as-47-blue-whales-in-plastic-waste-every-year/ Read our own resource on how to find and purchase jewellery which is ethical: https://ethicaljewellery.org/ Green Union provide a breakdown of how to properly budget for a wedding: https://www.greenunion.co.uk/planning-advice/3/Wedding-Budget LEAF is an organisation dedicated to ensuring sustainable farming practices are employed throughout the UK: https://leafuk.org/ Ten Thousand Villages is a scheme set up to deal exclusively in fairtrade items: https://www.tenthousandvillages.com/ The Wedding Secret provides examples of some of the best charity venues available: https://www.theweddingsecret.co.uk/magazine/charity-wedding-venues/