How to plan a zero waste wedding

Emma Gibbs is the author of the zero waste and sustainability blog A Life Lived Lightly. You can follow her on Instagram @a.life.lived.lightly.


Zero waste speaker and activist, and author of Waste Not: Make a Big Difference by Throwing Away Less, Erin Rhoads has been championing zero waste and sustainability since she completed the Plastic Free July challenge back in 2013.

How to plan a zero waste wedding

Today, she tours the country giving talks on how businesses, schools and individuals can reduce the amount of rubbish they generate, and cut back on their overall plastic usage.

With a growing awareness around how damaging plastic is to the environment, wildlife and our own health, many consumers are already leading the plastic-free charge. 

Shopping at bulk food stores, using a KeepCup instead of a takeaway coffee cup, wrapping food in 100% beeswax wraps instead of nasty cling wrap and opting for reusable shopping bags, are just some of the simple ways advocates of the movement are helping to make a difference.

If you’re keen to do your bit for the planet, even on your wedding day, read on for Erin’s tips on how you can plan a zero waste wedding.

How to plan a zero waste wedding

Erin, was it easier than you thought it would be to plan a zero waste wedding?

“Our aim for our wedding was for it to be plastic free and zero waste. 

“It surprisingly didn’t require too much extra work, as there were accessible alternatives to everything. Since we had been moving towards a zero waste life for a few years we knew most of the waste would be food, so there wasn’t much more we needed to worry about. 

“There are so many ways to reduce waste without even realising, like buying second-hand, using real cutlery, plates and cups instead of plastic, avoiding straws, hiring furniture and props, and avoiding plastic decorations such as balloons.”

Did you let your guests know you were planning a zero waste wedding? 

“We made the decision early on to not advertise our wedding day as zero waste or eco-friendly, as we wanted all the zero waste elements to be a normal part of the day, and prove that an eco-wedding can be had and enjoyed by all, even by people who are not that way inclined.”

What are some of the ways couples can ensure they have a zero waste wedding day (or at least low waste)? 

Catering

“Employ share plates so people can eat as little or as much as they like, and talk to your catering company about how you can compost the food waste.

“Try and use reusable cutlery, plates, etc… and avoid plastic. Also avoid glass bottles and perhaps dispense your alcohol in kegs, which can be reused at the end.

“Try to eat seasonal, local food as much as possible.”

Décor

“Ask friends if they have anything you can borrow. You would be surprised by what people will offer to loan you. There are many companies dedicated to party hire with a range of furniture and props.

“Also look at Facebook Buy, Swap, Sell in your area to see what people are passing on from their own weddings.”

Dress and bridal party attire

“There is a huge second-hand bridal dress market so check out Something Borrowed to start with. You could also hire a dress from Rent My Rack or Glam Corner.”

How to plan a zero waste wedding

Beauty

“I did my own make-up but had my hair done professionally. Look up SustainableSalons.com.au to find a low-waste salon to style your hair on the day. Often hairdressers will know of make-up artists with similar values.”

Jewellery

“Ask relatives if you can borrow jewellery or look at second-hand or vintage jewellery.”

Stationery

“Try paper-free electronic invitations and have your guests share church service programmes and menus.”

Flowers

“I foraged for flowers and other greenery from our local bushland, then added locally grown flowers that were in season. 

“I put them inside used jars with the help of friends. The flowers were also used in my bouquets. At the end we were able to compost them in our kerbside compost collection.”

How to plan a zero waste wedding

Cake

“We decided not to have a cake because we don’t really eat cake! Plus cake is usually served when the dance floor is just kicking off. 

“Instead we opted for a dessert table of Lebanese desserts, a nod to my husband’s heritage. That way people who wanted dessert could eat it and nothing was wasted.”

Gifts

“Instead of gifts request a donation to your honeymoon [or favourite charity].”

Erin’s Zero Waste Wedding Checklist 

Breakdown each category of your wedding day – flowers, invites, cake, etc – and ask the following questions:

  • Can we hire it?
  • Can we make it?
  • Can we borrow it?
  • Will anyone miss it?
  • Will we be sorry we didn’t have it at our wedding in five, 10 or 15 years’ time?
  • How was it made?
  • What will happen at the end of its life?
  • Can it be composted?
  • Can it be recycled?

Answering these questions will help you determine which elements of the wedding will be likely to create unnecessary waste; then you can come up with a game plan to combat the wastage.

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