How to Have a Wedding that Doesn’t Kill the Planet (Episode 30)

Ep. 30 | How to Have a Wedding that Doesn’t Kill the Planet
Ep. 30 | How to Have a Wedding that Doesn’t Kill the Planet

I’m sure you’ve attended a wedding that blew your mind. 

It had everything – magazine-worthy decor, massive wedding party (how do they know that many people?), two-hour cocktail hour with passed hors d’oeuvres, million-course meal, super intricate cake, open bar, and all-night partying that left everyone praying to the Porcelain God the following morning.

It was one heck of a party, and you were so happy to be invited: you and 300+ of the bride and groom’s closest friends.

Celebrities and royal families aren’t the only people able to have grandiose weddings nowadays. Anyone with a fairytale vision and unlimited credit can throw the wedding of a lifetime.

But, what happens to all of the leftover food, dying flowers, and Cinderella decor when the night is over?

This wastefulness is the conundrum of the wedding industry.   

You can have a stunning wedding and save the environment. All you need to do is a little extra planning. 

No matter the size of your special day, I want to share a few tips (and lessons) that I learned hosting my sustainably-minded day of marriage.  

My wedding day in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Mackro Photography.


Tip #1: Buy as many things secondhand as you can.

It is totally possible to have a gorgeous, secondhand wedding. 

Social media platforms make it easy to search for items and connect with brides selling their wedding paraphernalia. 

Being open to “different” looks will make finding and purchasing things less stressful. My theme changed about midway through the planning process, but I was able to reuse most items or sell them online. 

These are the secondhand resources I used to find and purchase items:

  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Goodwill
  • ARC Thrift Stores

Here is a snapshot of items that I bought either from a bride or at a secondhand store. 

  • Centerpieces
  • All silk flowers except my bouquet
  • Table runners
  • Ribbon
  • Wood slices
  • Lanterns
  • Candles holders
  • Tea candles (given to me by a coworker)
  • China plates and dessert plates
  • Antique silverware
  • Vintage colored glasses 
  • Cloth napkins
  • Cool vintage travel items
  • Chalkboard signs
  • Postcard place holders

As you can see, the range of items is quite extensive! You may not find everything you need on FB Marketplace or in thrift shops, but the probability is high that you’ll snag quite a bit!

All decor, glassware, silverware, and plate settings were purchased secondhand.

Tip #2: Buy your dress from a bridal consignment store.

I know this one may be a little hard to consider, but search if your city has a bridal consignment store. 

These shops offer the same wedding dress shopping experience for a fraction of the price.

The dresses are either repurchased from former brides or are last season’s samples from other bridal stores.

I accidentally found my wedding dress while browsing a secondhand bridal store. 

I decided to swing by The Altar Bridal Consignment to see what types of dresses I might like before going dress shopping over Christmas with my family. 

As fate had it, I found a stunning dress for 70% off the original sticker price. I video called my parents, and they gave me big thumbs up! 

Dream dress without the holiday stress! Booyah!

I loved my slightly pink, lacy dress! I didn’t disappear into the white snow with the subtle color differences. Photo by Mackro Photography

Tip #3: Purchase wedding shoes that you’ll actually wear in your day-to-day life.

Pinterest and bridal shops advertise tons of cute, lacy white shoes that are perfect for the big day. 

However, these shoes are only appropriate on this occasion.

I purchased two pairs of shoes for my wedding: heavy-duty white snow boots for the ceremony and adorable, floral flats for the reception. 

I’ve worn both pairs of shoes many times since my wedding, and I receive compliments on them all the time. 

A lacy pair of heels would be collecting dust in my closet.

Tip #4: Borrow as many things as you can.

This one is good for the wallet and making loved ones feel included. If you need it, odds are someone you know has it. 

I borrowed all my jewelry (excluding rings, obvi) and several decor items. 

Try to remember to give the items back before the owners leave, or you’ll be mailing a lot of stuff. 

I know this is asking a lot once the wine starts flowing. Do your best ;).   

Tip #5: Hire a caterer that doesn’t use disposables and allows you to take home leftovers. 

Finding a caterer that allows you to take home leftovers might take research and possibly a couple of phone calls, but this will significantly reduce your food waste. 

I also skipped the heavy plated meals and provided a variety of tasty appetizers, plus late-night snacks. 

Everyone picked the food they liked best, and it was effortless to accommodate dietary restrictions. 

Many said it was their favorite wedding meal! No dry chicken or bland pasta!

Tip #6: Find a venue that has the same values as you.

Not all venues are created equal. 

Dive deep into websites and ask during your tour if the site provides sustainable services like recycling and composting. 

You’re going to be exhausted by the end of the night and won’t want to lug home bags of waste to process correctly. 

The more services a venue provides, the better.

Tip #7: Recycle family heirlooms or purchase sustainably sourced jewelry.

This may be my favorite wedding tip. Grandma will be ecstatic, and you’ll score gorgeous rings!

For my engagement ring, we recycled moissanite stones from one of my husband’s grandmother’s rings and placed them in a new setting. 

We hired a local jewelry store that specializes in heirloom facelifts and dang, did they deliver. The ring is stupidly gorgeous!

My wedding band is from my husband’s great-grandmother. Somehow my finger is similarly sized to hers, so I kept the band as-is. 

The text is too cool. It says “John to Dorothy June-10-32”. 1932! Un-freaking-believable!

My recycled ring set! Photo by Mackro Photography

Tip #8: Give consumable wedding favors or skip them altogether. 

I admittedly stressed out quite a bit over wedding favors. 

I didn’t want to give any but received flack when I said this (get ready for that while planning a sustainable wedding – more on that below). 

My first tip is to skip wedding favors altogether. 

Let’s face it, very few people want paraphernalia with your name and date in their home.

But, if you get cornered into providing wedding favors, I recommend giving local consumable goods. 

I offered “Mountain Survival Kits” for our guests since the ceremony and reception were at 9,000 ft in elevation. 

The products were well-appreciated, especially the next morning. 😉

Tip #9: Send digital wedding invitations.

Ah, yeah. You can skip that stamps run with this tip! 

Pretty much everyone and their grandma have email nowadays. 

Take advantage of technology and send your guest list a high-quality, digital invite. 

Sending digital invites also increases the likelihood you’ll receive a response from everyone. 

They need to either reply or fill out a quick questionnaire to let you know whether or not they are coming. 

It’s a win/win! 

Tip #10: Sell your decor and accessories to the next bride. 

The day will inevitably end just as quickly as it began. 

Once the honeymoon is over, and you’ve settled into routine life, you can recoup a substantial chunk of funds by selling any unwanted wedding items online. 

Lessons Learned.

Admittedly, I am hesitant to write this section, but I feel like I need to share the lessons I learned to prepare brides for the hard decisions they might face.

If you can pull it off, elope.

There it is – I said it. 

As much as I loved my wedding day (seriously, it was perfect in every way), I still think eloping is the way to go. 

We planned to elope, but our families kindly asked us to please have a more traditional wedding ceremony. 

We compromised and hosted only our immediate family and my best friend for a total of 22 guests. 

Even though this guest count is small, it significantly increased our wedding costs and planning requirements. 

90% of the tips above are irrelevant if you elope because you simply won’t need most wedding stuff

The day is about you and your partner binding your futures. This critical detail tends to get lost while selecting centerpieces, flowers, venues, music, guest list, favors, food, rehearsal dinner, reception, etc. 

I know that’s how I felt. I had to write my vows on my way to the ceremony because of incessant wedding planning.  

Just elope and have a huge backyard party with friends and family afterward. 

How mad can anyone be after the fact?

Some guests won’t understand your decision to skip wedding traditions for sustainability.

Luckily, my family knows I’m crazy about this stuff, but prepare yourself for pushback when you tell your family you’re skipping certain traditions. 

You’ll more than likely hear something like: “But a wedding must have ____ (favors, a bridal party, plated meals, DJ, etc.). How can you not have____?”

Kindly explain your decision (i.e., the wastefulness of traditional weddings), and why you are planning a sustainable wedding. 

They may not understand, and that’s fine. 

Stick to your guns. 

It’ll save you money and guilt in the long run.

You will end up purchasing new items and it’s okay.

Purchasing new items may have been the hardest for me to get over. 

I wanted so badly not to buy anything new – decor, wedding accessories, shoes, anything with a package. 

But to pull off the reception and to stay warm during the ceremony, I had to buy new. 

This realization came after spending hours searching online and in thrift stores for all of the items I needed. 

Having a more extended timeline will help with this. I planned our wedding in 2.5 months, and I simply didn’t have enough time to find everything I needed through my consignment resources. 

Do your best. And when you need to buy new, purchase from businesses you support.

Stay flexible.

Unless you have a particular image in your mind’s eye of your wedding day, staying flexible will give you the best chance of hosting a sustainable wedding. 

I was all over the place with centerpieces until I found a bride’s for-sale post. 

She had the perfect centerpieces, and I snatched up seven of them. 

I then added accent leaves to match the green table runners. 

Reception hall complete! 

At the end of the day…

Have the exact wedding you want, and keep the focus on you two. 

If you save plastic packaging here, a little food waste over there, then your sustainable wedding is a success.  

Photo by Mackro Photography

Check out other Rewildology episodes!

Ep. 29 Show Notes | Canines in Conservation: Protecting Wildlife & Communities with Jack Gradidge
Ep. 28 | Canines in Conservation: Detecting Scientific Data with Kayla Fratt
Ep. 27 Show Notes | The Most Interesting Man…On Safari with Jeff Trollip

Brooke Mitchell-Norman
Brooke Mitchell-Norman

Brooke is a conservation biologist that has traveled the world studying how to balance human activity and healthy wildlife populations. She’s met several inspiring people along the way. These are their stories.

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