My Zero Waste Wedding

by Olivia Dorothy

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. – Aldo Leopold

All of my diplomas say “environmental” somewhere in my degree title, which is why, at most weddings, while in the midst of celebrating, I always stop at some point to cringe absolute massive amount of garbage that is generated during a typical American wedding.

So, when my now husband, Damon, proposed to me (with my grandmother’s resized engagement ring) I saw two paths. I could take my husband down to the courthouse and forgo all the festivities (you can’t have wedding waste if you don’t have a wedding!) or I could throw the cleanest, greenest wedding imaginable.

Me sorting the waste at the wedding.

Me sorting the waste at the wedding.

I scoured the internet and borrowed books from the library on green weddings. A lot of it was easy. No bridesmaid dresses, my ladies wore their own classy black dresses. I borrowed a wedding dress from a similarly sized friend. The groomsmen brought their own suits and Damon had an old suit altered.

We bought electronic save-the-dates, invitations, and thank you cards, which are totally worth the cost – don’t go with the free versions. And we set up a nice website that was mobile responsive and worked with GPS navigation apps.

We ordered real napkins and tableware and instructed servers not to distribute straws unless requested. We made arrangements with an organic farmer to take our table scraps after all the events. Our caterer, Fresh Deli by Nostalgia Farms, was a farm to table operation and worked with our favorite local, organic farmers to prepare fresh, wholesome food for our guests.

We gathered cloth towels from around the house for the bathrooms. We ordered a “recycle everything” bin from Terracycle, the New Jersey company dedicated to eliminating waste. All clean, inorganic garbage that couldn’t be recycled in the normal curbside program went in the Terracycle bin.

And I have never been more thankful for my high school florist job as I scavenged flowers from friends’ yards.

But I was still flying blind. All of the green wedding books and articles talk about reducing your footprint, not eliminating it. So, we still ran into a few problems.

1) Birdseed.

Since tossing rice makes a big mess and the rice needs to be swept up after the ceremony, lots of couples have their guests blow bubbles. But all those bubble wands and containers are made out of plastic and can’t be recycled. So, Damon and I decided to give our guests sunflower seed hearts to toss. No shell mess and the birds do all the cleaning for you. What could possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately, the art of tossing rice has been lost. Rice, and our substitute birdseed, should be tossed AHEAD of the couple, not AT the couple. By the time I got to the car I had birdseed in almost every crevice. We were still pulling it out of our ears the morning after. And, if you aren’t using food grade sunflower hearts (we bought ours from the bird store) you should definitely instruct your guests not to eat it.

2) 100 plus drunk guests who don’t know how to recycle.

While Damon and I made preparations for almost every kind of waste conceivable and set up a nice display at the reception hall explaining how to sort the waste, a lot of guests didn’t understand, pay attention or were just too drunk to care.

I think if I did it all over again, I would have paid the caterer extra to bus the tables and sort the garbage in the kitchen – removing the waste bins from the reception hall all together. It’s a lot easier to train five sober employees than 130 drunken revelers (actually a few of them weren’t drunk, they just refused to recycle, but that’s another blog/rant all together).

So at the end of the night, how did we do? I’m not so sure. My feet stopped working at 11PM.

I know that the only actual garbage that couldn’t be redirected included meat-juiced toothpicks and cupcake wrappers. All of that probably could have been crammed into pint glass.

So there you have it, my wedding produced one pint of waste.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. I know some of the food and other waste ended up in the big trash bins I tried to desperately to hide, which got picked up the following morning before we could get back to the reception hall and sort it.  And I’m sure waste was generated by the caterers and other contributors before it made it to the wedding.  But, I had to set some boundaries so I wouldn’t go crazy – I only worried about waste generate at the official wedding events over the course of the weekend.

Chickens at The Mad Farmers' Garden feasting on our table scraps.

Chickens at The Mad Farmers’ Garden feasting on our table scraps.

Here are the measurable results: Damon and I enjoyed a nice ride out to the country to give the Mad Farmer 10 gallons of table scraps for some excitable chickens. My mother-in-law delivered five trays of untouched leftovers to local soup kitchen. My step-father-in-law took home about 20 gallons of recycling for the curbside and 5 gallons of compost. And about 10 gallons will be shipped to Terracycle.

While I wasn’t able to achieve my zero waste goal; it was not bad for flying blind.


2 thoughts on “My Zero Waste Wedding

  1. Kristen Bergren

    I was so happy to attend my first green wedding…and it was lovely! Besides all the things that you mentioned in your blog, you also eliminated paper by not needing programs because the events were on the tv in the sanctuary which are in most churches these days. Hope you have a chance to share all you learned with other couples who strive to have a wedding that celebrates their love while still caring for our planet like Damon and you did! Congrats again!


  2. Jerry Neff

    I was so fascinated by your report on the green wedding that I read it a couple times. I was amazed that on the morning after, you were thinking of getting back to the reception hall to sort our more recyclables. The reception was wonderful. Congratulations



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