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, it’s well needed.
If you want to start your marriage off on the right low-carbon footing, here’s how to do it.
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Beautiful Eco Invites
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 invite to circulate, for at least some of your guests. There are plenty of websites where you can craft beautiful digital invites, some free, some not so free.
Invites with Guest Management
Going digital has another perk, they can be linked into guest management websites or apps that allow you to manage RSVP’s and the seating plan. Two I’ve found happen to have the same name, Be or Guest. One is a website, BeOurGuest.co and the other is an Irish grown mobile phone app.
Eco Tips for Printed Wedding Invites
If you do need to print opt for recycled paper and envelopes and avoid embellishments that make them un-recyclable like jewels, glitter or plastic tape.
You could also seek out a sustainable printer who uses vegetable oil-based inks and eco-friendly solvents on recycled paper, like The Factory in Offaly.
Sustainable Wedding Gifts
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 like We Make Good in Ireland or Aerende in the UK. Both have wonderful collections of beautiful items made by socially beneficial enterprises.
Sustainable Wedding Dresses
Hire your wedding dress
When it comes to dresses the most sustainable option is to borrow or hire one. Here are some wedding dress hire companies in Ireland
- Covet (Dublin)
- Designer Room (Dublin)
- The Ivory Closet (Limerick)
- Brides First Choice (Limerick)
- Eden Bridal (Wexford)
Second-hand Wedding Dresses
If hiring is not an option for you then the next most sustainable option is to buy a pre-loved dress. You can source pre-loved wedding dresses from
- Oxfam Wedding (Dublin & Belfast)
- Barnardos Wedding (Dun Laoghaire & Wexford)
- Bella Bleau Vintage Bridal (Vintage, Cork)
- Dirty Fabulous (Vintage – Monaghan)
- The Sustainable Bride (Vintage – Kerry)
- Sell my Wedding Dress (Online Marketplace)
- Weddalia (debs dresses, Online Marketplace)
- Adverts.ie, and
If you already have a dress and just need to give it a make-over here is a great article on beautifully upcycled / updated wedding dresses.
Sustainable Wedding Dress Makers
If none of the above result in an appropriate dress then you can buy from a sustainable wedding dress maker.
In Ireland we have Alice Halliday, an Irish based ethical fashion designer, specialising in unique made-to-measure Bohemian Bridal Couture & Event Wear.
And 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, and Green Union
Ethical Engagement & Wedding Rings
Conflict free diamonds
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 should add that I’ve heard that the KP isn’t effective and that conflict-free diamonds are impossible to verify. It also doesn’t currently acknowledge that the diamonds supplied by Russia fund the war in the Ukraine.
I recently came across Gemfields, a company that claims to source gems sustainable and ethically. Their website gives details on how they go about this and although they seem very committed to this endeavour there isn’t 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;
- buy a vintage ring from one of the many antique jewellers around the country,
- buy a white sapphire instead of a diamond, as these are conflict free,
- buy a man-made diamond, which is said to be indistinguishable from a real diamond. You now can even buy diamonds made from carbon extracted from the air. 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. You can read more about the pros and cons of lab grown diamonds here.
Fairtrade, Fair-mined & Recycled Gold
Or opt for recycled metal. A lovely way to allow family and friends to participate in your wedding is to convert their unwanted metal jewellery into wedding bands. If this isn’t an option your jeweller will most likely be able to sourced existing metal for you.
Preloved Wedding bands
An even more sustainable option to ethically mined or recycled rings is to reuse an existing wedding band. If you don’t have any within the family you will find quite a few on sale in antique jewellery stores, which a good jeweller should be able to personalise for you.
Ethical Wedding Band Makers
Here are some makers of ethical wedding jewellery that I’ve come across on my travels.
- 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.
- Ingle and Rhode in the UK use faitrade metals and synthetic gems to make their 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.
Biodegradable Wedding Confetti
Before we go through the options here it’s worth asking is confetti needed at all? 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 throw confetti, biodegradable or otherwise.
If you do need confetti then here are some low-impact options;
- Leaf confetti – I’ve see tutorials online showing how to punch circles out of dried leaves, which looks fabulous but would be quite time consuming.
- Rice or Bird Seed – This might well be an eco-friendly form of confetti but from what I hear it hurts like hell when it hits you!
- Rose Petal Confetti – This should be naturally compostable but without any information on how it’s grown or where it’s sourced from it’s really impossible to tell if it’s sustainable. Instead you could use dried lavender confetti, bought in bulk from the organic lavender farm in Wexford instead.
Whatever you choose make sure the confetti is put into individual containers that are reused, reusable or compostable, in that order.
Sustainable Wedding Parties
Zero Waste Wedding Tableware
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. This Dish Dolly has really cute vintage crockery you can hire.
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.
Zero Waste Table linen
In the past all hotels would have used reusable fabric napkins but now quite a few have moved to single-use 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 reusable 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 or lined with plastic.
Most people don’t need straws and often get them out of habit rather than want, so ask you hotel/caterer to give out straws on request only, and ask that they use paper straws instead of plastic ones – even compostable ones – as they’re less sustainable.
Low-waste other bits and bobs
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.
Sustainable Wedding Meal
Reducing Food Waste
There is often a huge amount of food waste after large events. Carefully consider the quantity of food you order in the first place. 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. Instead ask previous customers about the amount of food waste after their event.
There is likely to be at least some left over food on the night of the wedding. So be prepared and scope out charities near the venue that could benefit from any left over food that you might have.
Alternatively you can outsource all this thinking to Orla McAndrew Catering who now offers a 5 star Zero Waste Wedding Food Package, using surplus food from a range of Irish food producers and planning to avoid any leftovers. She also makes a 5% donates to the charity Peter McVerry Trust for every Zero Waste Wedding Package that’s booked.
Prioritising Local Seasonal Food
Another way to make the food at your wedding more sustainable is to prioritise 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.
Prompting Plant based choices
Also give plant-based options equal footing with meat-based dishes. Studies have shown that putting a wider choice of plant-based meals on a menu increased their selection. This is a simple way to reduce the carbon footprint of your wedding in a very positive way.
Sustainable Ethical Alcohol
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.
You might also find my article on Sustainable Ethical Alcohol useful
Picking a Sustainable Wedding Venue
I’m not going to start listing all of the possible venues available to people but there are some I came across that pique my interest.
Airfield in Dublin 14 is a beautifully managed urban farm in the suburbs of South Dublin. It’s has a walled garden and a historical house and plenty of farm animals on the 38 acres site. They prioritise sustainable gardening and farming practices and run a series of events to promote it. The venue is popular with local families so if you’re having a child friendly wedding I’d say it’d be particularly apt.
Hotel Doolin in Doolin, Clare was one of the first certified Carbon Neutral hotels in Ireland. They really are poster child for how to run a hotel sustainably. You can check out all they do in my article Sustainable Ethical Accommodation in Ireland and the UK.
Ard Nahoo in Leitrim is an eco retreat with a yoga studio, spa and eco cabins, which were built with local materials. They also source food locally and operate a zero waste policy.
Slieve Aughty Centre in Loughrea, Galway, is an eco-friendly equestrian and activity leisure centre set on 17 acres, on which it prioritises biodiversity. The centre runs on renewable energy and is designed to be energy & water efficient. Food is sourced locally and organic where possible and waste is kept to an absolute minimum.
Gyruem Lodge in Sligo can seat up to 75 people for dinner of organic, seasonal food.
Mount Druid in Westmeath is run by the Murphy family along with their organic sheep farm, who grow as much organic foodstuffs and fuel as they can and have planted over 200,000 trees.
Sustainable Ethical Wedding Decorations
The hierarchy of sustainable shopping for me is to 1) borrow or reuse first, next 2) buy pre-loved, then 3) recyclable or compostable goods from a local shop, and finally recyclable / compostable from a ethical store online.
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 Existing Items to Decorate
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 Decorations
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 Decorations 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.
I also love these beautiful wire words from Irish company Wired and Wonderful
Irish-grown Wedding 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. I don’t have data for Ireland but a recent calculation estimated that a bouquet made with imported flowers has a carbon footprint 10 times that of one made with locally grown flowers. There is nothing beautiful about all that, so instead buy locally grown flowers.
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, and if you’re in need of Irish grown eucalyptus there’s a grower in Wicklow
I’ve recently also come across the large-scale Irish flower farm Elmgrove Farm in Co Meath. They generate 20% of their energy from their own solar panels, they leave fields of wild flowers for birds, they’ve installed bird & bat boxes, plus protecting sand banks for solitary bees. They’ve also left a field to help protect heritage grasses and protect their hedges for wildlife. They’ve still use plastic packaging but are working towards making it plastic free.
Ban the Balloons
Most weddings don’t feature these bad boys, just as well as they’re terribly polluting, lasting for decades after use. Don’t bother with biodegradable ones either, 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.
It’s essential to avoid balloon or lantern releases these days so here’s an article with some great alternative ideas and to avoid nasty fireworks you could use drones in a syncronised flight pattern.
Forget the Wedding 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, so avoid wedding favours completely. 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 ideas for ‘greener’ wedding favours 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.
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 an article all about sustainable ethical candles so check it out.
Donate your wedding 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.
Inspiration for Sustainable Weddings
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.
- Zero Waster blogger The Rouge Ginger wrote up a very helpful guide to having a low-impact wedding
- The Wild Minimalist wrote an article on her own efforts to have a zero waste budget wedding
- American based zero waste blogger Going Zero Waste has written up a 8 articles on creating a zero waste wedding
- Another American zero waste blogger Waste Not Want Not has written 9 articles 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.