It's no secret that weddings create a lot of waste. With the pressure on to create a picture perfect day, it's easy to lose track of the impact all the items you buy and choices you make have on the planet. (I certainly did when I got married- it is tough!) Rising carbon emissions, growing landfills, and reduced recycling opportunities are all increasing world problems, and though it will take a lot of work to solve these issues completely, I'm a firm believer that every bit helps. (And cutting down on waste does not mean you need to elope at a courthouse...unless you want to, of course!) Here are a few ideas that may help you cut down on waste and minimize your impact while planning your Cleveland, Ohio wedding:
1.) Invest in Ethical Brands and Venues: The money you spend supports and sustains those businesses where you are spending it, along with their business practices. Investing in fair trade jewelry (Brilliant Earth is one of my favorites!) is a great place to start. You can also source wedding wear from sustainable clothing brands and purchase items made from compostable/biodegradable materials. Be sure to ask thoughtful questions when looking at potential venues as well, like whether disposable versus reusable serving materials are used for meals or whether kegs versus cans/bottles will be used for serving alcohol.
2.) Stationary: Wedding stationary can be absolutely beautiful (and it's always a joy to photograph!), but it can also create a lot of waste. If doing fully digital invitations and save the dates is a step too far, consider at least doing online RSVPs or consolidating the information included in invitations onto as few pieces of paper as possible. Ephemora is a great sustainable stationary source, and Botanical Paperworks even offers stationary printed on plantable seed paper! EcoEnclose is our own go-to source for larger packaging needs.
3.) Practical & Charitable Gifts: How many times have you received a gift that you know you will never use? Don't be that gift giver! When deciding on gifts for your guests and bridal party, think about items that they genuinely need and can use, and that support ethical business practices. Handmade honey, local jam, and personalized flower seeds are a few favorite items I've seen given! If you're feeling more ambitious and feel comfortable forgoing physical presents, making a charitable donation towards a cause that's important to you is another great eco-friendly option.
4.) Consider Travel Logistics: Transportation is something that's easy to overlook. While destination weddings that guests have to fly to have the largest carbon footprint, even local events in the Cleveland area can have large transportation costs. Think about how you can cut down on the total drive time for your wedding day: this could mean holding your ceremony and reception at the same location, asking bridal party members to carpool when possible, or talking with your photographer about locations for portraits that are close to where you will already be. Reserving a hotel block at a hotel that provides shuttle services can be another great way of having guests drive (and stress!) less for your celebration.
5.) Shop Local: Shipping accounts for a huge amount of carbon emissions, so sourcing food, flowers, and other items locally can help cut down on your wedding's ecological footprint. Work with caterers who source their food locally from sustainable sources, and consider choosing dishes including crops that are currently in season. When choosing floral arrangements, look for blooms that are VeriFlora-certified, meaning flowers are not grown using harmful chemicals or in harsh working conditions. Don't want your florals to be go to waste after your big day? Rebloom and Repeat Roses are two companies that will pick up the flower arrangements and reuse them.
6.) Ask for Experiences: When I got married, I had already lived on my own for nearly a decade- I didn't need that much "stuff". Yet, I still added lots of items to my wedding registry because I felt like that was what I was supposed to do. In retrospect, I wish I had done this differently. When planning your registry, consider adding either quality items you genuinely need, or experience gifts like activities for a vacation or around town. Creating a registry on Honeyfund is an easy way to ask for money and gift cards to help cover airfare and activities on your honeymoon, for example. (Wrapping paper also isn't recyclable, unlike other paper, so the less of it is used in gifting, the less goes to the landfill!)
7.) Choose Compostable: Food and flower waste makes up a good portion of the trash produced on wedding days, and when this organic material is sent to a n oxygen-free landfill, it releases methane gas that is 72x as strong as carbon dioxide in its effect on global warming. How to avoid this problem? Check with your venue about whether they have a plan to donate or compost food and floral waste after your wedding- both of these options reduce the quantity thrown out. (Check out backyard composting as well outside of wedding planning- I was hesitant to try it for many years but I promise it isn't as hard or gross as it sounds!)
8.) Minimize Decor: The less you have to decorate, the less waste is produced. When choosing a venue, consider how many materials and decorations you will need to bring in to create the look you want. If your venue is already in a stunning location (think Cleveland's Hyatt Regency at the Arcade, Union Club, or Old Courthouse) or if it provides reusable decorations for events, that can save substantially on waste, as well as your time and money! Also consider reusing decorations throughout the day, instead of buying separately for each block of time- garlands can work at both churches and reception halls, and bridesmaids' bouquets can double as reception centerpieces, for example. Lastly, consider cutting out releasable items like balloons and floating lanterns entirely- they can cause considerable damage to nearby wildlife.
9.) Rent & Borrow When Possible: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, the old adage says. But who says you can only have one old and one borrowed item as you walk down the aisle? Renting, repurposing, and borrowing items for your wedding can help cut down on both waste and overall cost. Several local companies like Borrow Rentals have decorations and furniture available to rent for events. Reusing decor from your bridal shower, rehearsal dinner at your wedding can get more mileage out of each item. Furthermore, bridal resale groups abound on social media, and it's often easy to find gently used decor that fits your aesthetic to incorporate into your day (and then potentially pass onto someone else afterward!). Jennifer Elizabeth Photography provides clear, white umbrellas for your entire bridal party in case of rain as well- one more item that can be reused at all the weddings we shoot! (And who really needs 20 clear umbrellas who isn't a photographer, anyway? :))
10.) Cut Yourself some Slack: This is an important one! Your wedding day is not just about minimizing your ecological impact, it's also about getting married and enjoying the celebration! Don't be too hard on yourself for cutting a few corners in the interest of your day running smoothly. Thousands of people trying imperfectly to make a difference will do far more good than one person will doing everything perfectly.
Sustainability is important to Jennifer Elizabeth Photography! That's why we partner with the following green and ethical businesses: Finao (albums), EcoEnclose (packaging), The Confetti Post (gifting), and CarbonFund (carbon offsets for mileage driven). Looking to support other, non-wedding related sustainable businesses? Just reach out at [email protected] I'd love to share my finds over the last few years!