I have a confession to make; my guilty pleasure is the TV programme ‘Say Yes to the Dress’. I don’t know why, buying a really expensive dress to wear for one day is the height of single-use consumerism. Maybe it’s just the silliness of it all. It’s pure escapism, and for someone who’s uber pragmatic and sensible it’s lovely to park that side of me for 30 minutes. Anyhow watching this programme got me thinking about how to have a more sustainable wedding, and given the fact that a typical wedding will produced one third of a metric tonne of solid waste and 14.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide in just one day, it’s well needed so here are my suggestions.
Nowadays a lot of people are connected via Whatsapp, Facebook etc so rather than waste your money on printed invites why not download a digital one to circulate. There are plenty of websites where you can craft a digital invite, some free, some not so free. There are also new guest management websites and apps that allow you to send out digital invites and manage the RSVP’s and even the seating plans. Two have the same name, one is a website called BeOurGuest.co and the other is an Irish grown mobile phone app of the same name.
If you do need to print opt for recycled paper and envelopes and don’t embellish them with materials that make them un-recyclable like jewels, glitter, plastic tape. You could also seek out a more sustainable printer who uses vegetable oil-based inks and eco-friendly solvents on recycled paper, although the only one I knew of has closed down.
Nowadays a lot of people have already set up a home by the time they get married so it’s becoming more customary to ask for cash than register for physical gifts at a store. If you are planning on asking for cash gifts suggest that people don’t use plastic gift cards. Not only are they single-use and non-recyclable, you typically start to lose money on them after 12 months. If you would like to register for a gift list and are based in England consider registering with life-improving homeware brand Aerende. They have a wonderful collection of beautiful items made by socially beneficial enterprises.
The most sustainable option for a dress is to borrow or hire one, next is to buy a pre-loved one and finally to buy from a sustainable ethical clothing brand. If borrowing or hiring is not an option you can source pre-loved wedding dresses from charities Oxfam Wedding or Barnardos Wedding, or from private indiviuals on Sell my Wedding Dress and Adverts.ie, and here is a great post on beautifully upcycled / updated wedding dresses.
If none of the above result in an appropriate dress then check out Alice Halliday, an Irish based ethical fashion designer, specialising in unique made-to-measure Bohemian Bridal Couture & Event Wear. Or Celtic Fusion who create bespoke pagan inspired bridal wear in all natural Ivory lace, linen and raw plant fibres.
In England designers working in the field of sustainable ethical bridal wear include Katherine Feiel and Abigal’s Vintage Bridal, but you’ll find more extensive lists on the The Natural Wedding Company, Green Union and Ethical Weddings.
Anyone organising their own wedding will probably already have an engagement ring – if they’re going to have one at all – but if you’re still in the market for one you need to be aware of blood diamonds. These are diamonds mined in some parts of Africa, by rebel armies to fund their activities in the area. The Kimberley Process (KP) is a joint government, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of conflict and quite a few jewellers in Ireland will sell certified conflict-free diamonds including the Diamond Factory and Applebys. I’ve heard however, that the KP isn’t effective and that conflict-free diamonds are impossible to verify
I recently came across Gemfields, a company that claims to source gems sustainable and ethically. Their website gives details on how they do this and they do seem very committed to this endeavour but there didn’t appear to be any proof of independent verification.
There are a few ways to be 100% sure that you’re not buying a blood diamond and they include;
- buying a vintage ring from one of the many antique jewellers around the country,
- buying a white sapphire instead of a diamond – these are conflict free,
- buying a man-made diamond, which is said to be indistinguishable from a real diamond. Moissanite is one brand of lab-made (cultured) diamond and is available to buy from perfectring.ie in Dublin. Lark and Berry is another brand of lab-made stone jeweller in the UK. They also see 5 trees for every piece of jewellery they sell.
But before you go off shopping, consider the metal used to make the ring. If it’s made with new gold or platinum is it fairtrade or fairmined? Again you can avoid this issue by reusing an existing band or having a ring with your own gold or platinum. If you don’t have enough family members might want to contribute to your wedding by donating some. Alternatively you could opt for a ring from a few of the ethical jewellers in this market, including;
- Eire Eco Rings in Ireland (see photo above) design and create eco-friendly, socially responsible wood and alternative materiel jewellery rings using recycled, reclaimed sustainable products.
- Lilian Nash in the UK uses fairtrade gemstones, lab-made diamonds and recycled gold in her jewellery.
- The website Green Union lists 15 more UK-based makers / suppliers of ethical rings on their website and Fairgold lists retailers selling fairgold jewellery by country.
- The Ethical Market has a few fairgold rings on offer on it’s website.
I’ve see posts online showing how you can make your own confetti from leaves. It looks fabulous but, in my opinion, life’s really too short to bother with this. I’ve also seen rice or bird seed suggested as an eco-friendly form of confetti but from what I hear it hurts like hell when it hits you! Also in Ireland the bride and groom typically stand outside the church to greet guests as they exit so I’m not sure when you’d through the stuff anyway.
Crockery / Glassware / Cutlery
If you’re having your wedding in a hotel you’re more than likely going to be using reusable crockery and cutlery, which is the most sustainable option. If you’re using a caterer or catering it yourself then see if you can hire real crockery and cutlery instead of using disposables.
If you can’t avoid disposables you or your caterer can get very well priced compostable paper plateware from Klee Paper in Dublin 8 or palm leaf and sugarcane tableware from Down to Earth or Zeus Packaging. Be sure to explain to your guests and any catering staff that your cups and plates are compostable and should go into the brown bin and not the recycling bin.
In the past all hotels would have used fabric napkins but now quite a few have moved to paper napkins. Reusable fabric napkins are more sustainable than single-use paper ones, even if they are compostable, so ask your hotel if fabric napkins are possible. If they’re not and paper napkins are the only option suggest that they are used judiciously and not liberally spread all over the reception venue.
Your hotel / caterer may very well be using fabric tablecloths but even so a lot of hotels have started to a single-use layer on top for ease of cleaning. Ask them if it’s possible to forgo these top layers, and if that’s not possible make sure they’re paper and not plastic.
Most people don’t need straws and often get them out of habit rather than want so ask you hotel/caterer not to give them out automatically and when people do ask for them, ask that they give out paper straws instead.
Prevent hidden disposables like toothpicks and cocktail sticks by asking the hotel/caterer ahead about how things will be served / presented. If some toothpicks / cocktail sticks are essential, ask that they be wood, from managed forests (FSC certified) and composted with the food waste.
There is often a huge amount of food waste after large events. Carefully consider the quantity of food being suggested by the hotel or caterer. Just because they think they need to provide x amount of veg or canapes / sandwiches doesn’t mean they’re right. After all they’re getting paid based on the number of items they supply. Perhaps talking to another couple that used this hotel/caterer would give you a better indication of the actual quantity needed. It might also be worthwhile looking into charities near the venue that could benefit from any left over food that you might have.
Another way to make the food at your wedding more sustainable is to only have locally grown seasonal food served. Not only will it have lower air miles, it’ll be more nutritious and you’ll be supporting local businesses to boot.
Ask your hotel / caterer to serve draft beer etc and wine by the glass / 750ml bottle. This will generate far less glass waste than serving individual bottles of beer, wine, cider etc. It might also be possible to serve soft drinks and mixers by way of a soda gun instead of bottles, which would cut down waste even more.
I’m not going to start listing all of the possible venues available to people but there are two I came across that pique my interest. The first is Mount Druid in Westmeath, run by the Murphy family who run organic sheep farm, grow as much organic foodstuffs and fuel as they can and have planted over 200,000 trees. The second is a large yurt called Gyruem Lodge in Sligo, which can seat up to 75 people for dinner of organic, seasonal food.
The hierarchy of sustainable shopping for me is to borrow or reuse first, next buy pre-loved, then recyclable or compostable goods from a local shop, and finally recyclable / compostable from a ethical store online.
Borrow – Even if you buy solar powered fairy lights they’re not going to be anywhere as sustainable as borrowing fairy lights from friends and family – even if the borrowed ones are battery or electrically powered.
Reuse – Pinterest is a great resource for ideas on how to use things like jam jars or clean food tins as decorations and I’ve pinned some sustainable wedding decoration ideas on my own account. Whatever you do just make sure you’re up cycling efforts don’t affect the recyclability of the original material, i.e. putting glitter on a glass jar.
Buy pre-loved – If you’re doing a large scale event and want to decorate a space trawling the charity shops or online marketplaces like adverts.ie or donedeal.ie doesn’t just boost the sustainability of your event, it saves you a packet. You may want to rope in friends and family into this to reduce the time involved, and sure if they buy wrong, consider it a donation to charity and re-donate the ‘offending’ item. I’ve also heard of people using old books under vases as table centrepieces, which sounds like a lovely idea. There are also dedicated Facebook groups for buying and selling pre-owned wedding paraphernalia like Help I’m Getting Married
Buy recyclable / compostable goods locally – While I was researching sustainable options for wedding rings i came across a company in Ireland selling wood rounds, like those featured on some of the images pinned on my Wedding Board in Pinterest. They company are called Dalias Woodland and they’re based in Kilkenny.
Choose Sustainable Flowers – As much as I love flowers I know they are generally completely unsustainable. Most times they’re flow in, wrapped in plastic, having been sprayed with all manner of chemicals. There is nothing beautiful about all that, which is why I love what Kilkenny based The Wild Bunch, Leitrim Flowers and The Flowerfield in Wicklow are doing. They are all cut flower growers, offering seasonal, chemical free blooms and foliage. There are is a list of other cut flower growers in Ireland on the Find a Flower Farmer website.
Ban the Balloons – Most weddings don’t feature these bad boys, just as well as they’re terribly polluting, lasting for decades after use. I have seen biodegradable ones but they still take months to degrade and then only in the right conditions and while they’re degrading they could be a choking hazard to wildlife. Also helium is in finite supply and is running out and personally I’d much rather keep it for medicinal use like MRI’s than waste it on a bit of party frippery.
Forget the Favours – I know favours can be great fun to research and design but unless you have a very small number of guests or you’re buying them pre-made from someone, they are an absolute bugger to make. Plus, I’d argue that most guests don’t want them and giving something that is unwanted is hugely wasteful. Personally I’d rather see the money stay with the couple or go to charity. If you are hell-bent on doing favours then some ‘greener’ options include; organic wildflower seeds, organic seed bombs, organic flower bulbs, bird seed balls, succulents in terracotta pots, airplants, fairtrade chocolate, old fashioned boiled sweets, homemade potpourri, loose tea with a metal tea diffuser, handmade soap or homemade liqueurs.
Conscious Candles – Considering that candles are used for such a short time at wedding ceremonies consider buying second-hand ones online. Once they’re lit no one will know they were used before. I sold my own to a bride after my wedding. If you’re buying new I’ve written a blog post all about sustainable ethical candles so check it out.
Donate your decorations – If you’re based in the UK or the USA consider donating your wedding paraphernalia to a charity like Gift of a Wedding (UK) or Wedding Wishing Well (UK) or Brides Across America (USA). These organisations arrange free weddings for the terminally ill, in the case of the UK charities, and first responders and military personnel in the case of the America one. If you’re in Ireland and can’t donate to a charity then I’d strongly encourage you to sell your wedding stuff online, it’s the best way of minimising the consumption of resources.
Marking the occasion – It’s essential to avoid balloon or lantern releases these days so here’s a post with some great alternative ideas and to avoid nasty fireworks you could use drones in a syncronised flight pattern.
A huge part of a wedding is the planning, which seems to be endless for some weddings. I know when it came to mine I relished the planning and still have my wedding folder today. Here are a few websites that might be a good resource for an eco-conscious wedding couple.
- The blog of the Natural Wedding Company is a good resource for nature inspired decorations.
- The UK focused website Green Union is a good source for ethical suppliers, although i would say to reuse and buy local as much as you can.
- Sinclair & Saffron lists wedding related goods by UK based crafters that they feel are as ethical, responsibly-sourced and as close to minimum waste as possible.
- The real-life stories on Ethical Weddings also offers good food for thought.
- Zero Waster blogger The Rouge Ginger wrote up a very helpful guide to having a low-impact wedding
- The Wild Minimalist wrote a post on her own efforts to have a zero waste budget wedding
- American based zero waste blogger Going Zero Waste has written up a 8 posts on creating a zero waste wedding
- Another American zero waste blogger Waste Not Want Not has written 9 posts on the whole issue of zero waste weddings
Congrats on your engagement and don’t forget to enjoy this whole process, hopefully you’ll only need to do it once.