Eco-friendly couples reveal how to host zero-waste weddings

And the bride wore… fabric scraps! Eco-friendly couples go wild for zero-waste weddings, revealing how to put together a beautiful environmentally-conscious ceremony for just $200

  • Zero-waste weddings focus on sustainability and protecting the environment 
  • Lifestyle guru and environmentalist Bea Johnson held her small 40-person wedding on a yacht 
  • The 44-year-old woman, originally from France but living in California, runs a blog focused around promoting the benefits of a waste-free life 
  • California-based environmentalist Kathryn Kellogg threw her wedding reception on a $200 budget
  • She purchased bed sheets from a thrift store to use as tablecloths, and borrowed plates and dishes from family and friends  

Many environmentally-friendly couples are ditching expensive ceremonies in favor of cheaper zero-waste weddings that focus on limiting as much trash and waste as possible. 

Zero-waste weddings aim to recycle, reuse, compost and keep anything from becoming trash in a landfill site. 

Whether or not couples succeed in reaching the full zero-waste goal, ‘they’re certainly more conscious of the ecological impact of what they do, and are aiming for something as close to that as possible,’ says Rachel Sylvester, lifestyle editor at Real Simple magazine.

Eco-friendly: Kathryn Kellogg (left) and Bea Johnson (right) are both part of the zero-waste movement that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused

The key to success, experts say, is letting wedding planners, vendors and your reception venue know from the start that you’re serious about going zero-waste. 

Then be flexible enough to facilitate that. 

‘Flexibility and creativity are essential,’ Sylvester says.

Bea Johnson, one of the pioneers of the zero-waste movement, says, ‘You’d be amazed at what you can find second-hand if you’re open-minded and really look around.’

The 44-year-old California-based environmentalist, whose book Zero Waste Home has been translated to more than 20 languages, has been living waste-free with her husband and two sons for the past ten years.  

Her Zero Waste Home blog features a ‘bulk finder’ tab that helps locate businesses selling food, drinks and other items free of plastic packaging.

Focusing on quality instead of quantity also helps, Johnson says: ‘The smaller the party, the easier it is to make it truly zero waste.’

Her own zero-waste wedding was on a yacht, so space constraints limited the guest list to 40.

Kathryn Kellogg, who wrote extensively about her zero-waste wedding on her Going Zero Waste blog, hosted a reception for 60 people on a small budget of just $200 for everything. 

She bought bed sheets from a thrift shop to use as tablecloths and borrowed dishes, tables and seating from friends and family.

The California-based self-described ‘climate optimist’ also purchased her ring from a local pawn shop.

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A green wedding: Kathryn’s wedding cake (pictured) was bought in Whole Foods, and was transported in Kathryn’s own cake container to avoid using a single-use container 

‘We were on a tight budget, so we were married at city hall with our closest family there, had a separate reception for about 60 people, and decided to save most of our money for a really great honeymoon in Maine,’ she says.

‘Honestly, the hardest part was convincing our families to go along with it all.

‘My biggest tip is not to stress things, and to balance expectations with reality. 

‘Ours may not have been the perfect Pinterest wedding, but that didn’t make it less fun or meaningful.’ 

Kathryn shared the details of her eco-friendly wedding in two different parts on her blog: the backyard/BBQ reception, and the ceremony and reception brunch.  

Writing about her pre-wedding barbecue that was held two days before she and her husband tied the knot, Kathryn said that they used their own tables and chairs, as well as borrowing some from friends and family.

She wrote: ‘We pulled every chair and table we had out of the house. On the Facebook group, I asked if anyone had a couple of tables we could borrow. Of course, they did!’ 

Her white tablecloths were actually bed sheets she purchased for three dollars at her local thrift store. 

‘In fact, I’ve already dropped the sheets off at the thrift store again,’ she added. 

Flowers were bought at the farmers market that morning, and when it came to her outfit of choice, Kathryn opted for a vintage dress she had in her closet for five years. 

She concluded her blog post revealing that the entire party cost less than $150.

In her second wedding blog post, she wrote about her San Francisco-based ceremony and reception brunch. 

She and her husband got married in City Hall, and then had brunch at cozy eatery. 

Her wedding dress consisted of a corset that she bought for $35 on Etsy, and the skirt was a $100 Ebay find.  

Plastic-free: Kathryn detailed her almost plastic-free wedding on her blog Going Zero waste, where she shared details of her venue (left) and outfits (right)  

After both successfully proving that weddings don’t have to cost a fortune, and can be mostly waste-free, Kathryn and Bea both revealed their top tips for organizing waste-free weddings.  

When it comes to organizing wedding decor, cloth napkins, authentic tableware, glassware and plates are favored over disposables. 

Kathryn, who used mason jars for her reception said: ‘It’s easy enough to rent, borrow or find things at thrift shops.’

Picture perfect: Kathryn bought her wedding skirt and top (pictured) for a total of $135

Johnson added: ‘Sometimes an eclectic mix of plates and glasses can be fun.’

For food, Kathryn said: ‘I took my Crock-Pot to the butcher, had him put in four or five pounds of pork shoulder, and served pulled pork and pulled jack-fruit for the main dishes.’

She and Bea both recommend colorful displays of fruits, vegetables or even flower petals as table centerpieces that guests can take home and enjoy.  

‘Instead of traditional wedding gifts, we asked guests to each bring a side dish or something to drink, and contribute to our honeymoon fund,’ Kathryn said.

Other couples ask for donations to their favorite charity, or contributions toward a goal, such as a down payment on a house. 

‘I bought card stock and painted a design on the front, but these days I’d say or another e-mail option would be the best zero-waste option,’ Bea said regarding her wedding invitations.

If you’re set on paper though, ‘go for recycled paper with vegetable ink,’ says Real Simple editor Rachel Sylvester.  

Budget-friendly: French boutique Kamelion Couture created a wedding dress (pictured) made with scraps of fabric inspired by Bea Johnson’s book Zero Waste Home 

Reduce, reuse, recycle! The dress was made using pieces of material that otherwise would have ended up being thrown away 

Some papers are embedded with seeds, so guests can even soak the invitation in water and then plant it.

Like tables, chairs and linens, wedding dresses and tuxedos can be rented. 

Vintage or second-hand dresses are also popular, and can be tailored to size.  

Some designers now make zero-waste dresses using fabric scraps otherwise destined for the trash.

Laetitia Drouet of the French-based Kamelion Couture said: ‘Zero-waste weddings are a recent trend in France. 

‘This year I even designed for a client a wedding dress made from pieces of her grandmother’s wedding dress,’ she added. 

When it comes to flowers, locally grown, seasonal flowers are recommended. 

Ariella Chezar, author of the forthcoming book Seasonal Flower Arranging: Fill Your Home with Blooms, Branches, and Foraged Materials All Year Round, said: ‘certainly from a carbon-footprint perspective if not a waste perspective.’

To cut back on waste, make sure your florist isn’t using foam in centerpieces and other arrangements. 

Getting creative: Season Flower Arranging by floral designer Ariella Chezar gives 39 examples of flower arrangements for different occasions 

‘It’s one of those products that is non-biodegradable and is totally unnecessary,’ Chezar added. 

Next, Ariella said to plan how your florals will be repurposed after the event. 

Many organizations will pick up arrangements and give them to nursing homes and other institutions. If nothing else, make sure flowers are composted instead up ending up in a landfill somewhere.

Ariella added: ‘Or you can forgo cut flowers altogether in favor of potted plants, which can then be gifted or planted. There’s certainly no waste there.’

Centerpiece and other decor items, like flowers, fruits or vegetables, can double as gifts for guests, as can things like votive candles.

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