Our (Almost) Zero Waste Wedding
When Gary and I became engaged, we couldn't decide between having a very small, intimate wedding, or a slightly larger one that included family and friends. In fact, we were engaged for almost four years before getting married. In the end, we decided to do both! We eloped last summer and spent a week road tripping down the California coast. While it was the most magical vacation I've ever been on, we knew we had to have an additional wedding to celebrate with family and friends.
Because of our elopement, we had a limited budget to work with for our second, "traditional" wedding. I set a goal amount to stay under, focusing on the things that were most important to us: a great photographer, delicious food, and an outdoor/indoor venue that didn't need much decor.
After years of baking wedding cakes, I'd been exposed to all sorts of weddings, but one constant was the amount of waste that would build up. Much of it would come from food like passed appetizers, but also little things like paper napkins, toothpicks, and garnishes added up. Most frustrating of all is that even in a big city like Los Angeles, there is no city wide composting! So even if many items are biodegradable, they would all be sent to a landfill.
In addition to the budget I set, my goal was to plan an elegant, yet casual, zero waste wedding for 70 guests. I'm happy to say we got pretty close! All of our landfill waste could fit into a standard grocery bag. I've written below a pretty detailed break down of our wedding planning process and I hope that there are some tips that can help you with your own zero waste wedding on a budget!
Before The Wedding
I knew from the get-go that I wanted to hire Cara Robbins as our wedding photographer. I'd been following her on instagram for a few years and fell in love with the beautiful tones and effortless style of her shots. I was even more convinced that we made the right choice when she took our engagement photos in the Arts District of Downtown LA and turned mundane backgrounds into the most beautiful scenery!? All the photos in this post are credited to Cara!
In addition to her gorgeous photos, it's so so important to find a photographer you mesh well with. I am an awkward person by nature but working with Cara was such a breeze. She was so great at getting us to move around in different poses that looked natural and always paused us very now and then to take a deep breathe and relax. Weddings can feel like go go go the whole day and those breaks really helped us from getting too tense.
We decided to go with paper invitations for a few reasons: 1. Receiving a real letter in the mail is so rare these days and truly feels special. 2. The majority of our guest list either receives a lot of emails that our invitation could get lost in, or they don't have email at all. 3. I love paper goods and crafty projects.
To save time and money, I purchased a template from Etsy and edited it to my liking. Everything was printed at home on Crane Lettra, a 100% cotton, tree free paper that I already owned. Envelope liners were also printed and cut out at home. I hand lettered names and addresses with a brush and gouache paint leftover from college art classes.
Zero Waste Tip:
If you like to DIY, there are a lot of invitation templates available on Etsy! This way you can choose a recycled content paper and can print as little or as many as you need. Letterpress is another great option as they are often printed locally and on tree free, cotton paper.
After countless hours of searching for an affordable venue, I came across the La Canada Thursday Club. There weren't very many wedding photos taken here that were similar to my particular style, and I was nervous that it wouldn't be a good fit. I booked it anyway because it was the only place remotely close to checking off my wishlist: within our budget, indoor and outdoor space, allows us to use our own catering and drinks, and their parking lot was a huge plus. The bougainvillea and Spanish style building really sold me, as I knew I didn't want to do very much decorating. Decorations are either often disposable or expensive to rent, and hey I'm on a budget here. (As a side note, I believe their rate has increased significantly since our wedding.)
One other option I almost booked was a beautiful mediterranean restaurant. If you are having a smaller wedding, I highly recommend looking into restaurants. Many will allow you to book the entire place out for private events. If it doesn't say on their website, it doesn't hurt to ask. Two of the biggest tasks in planning a wedding is booking catering and a venue, and with a restaurant you can knock two birds with one stone!
We kept our decorations relatively simple to show off the Spanish style venue. About one week before the wedding, I went around the neighborhood and clipped branches from gum trees. I only cut from trees on public property that desperately needed trimming (new shoots low to the ground) but were neglected.
Hair and Makeup
It was a tough choice, but I decided to do my own makeup. This was the perfect reason to finally toss (and recycle when available) all my very old makeup (we're talking unhealthily old here) and replace them with more health and environmentally conscious products. I purchased everything a few months in advance and practiced almost every day, so when our wedding day came I wouldn't be nervous or flat out terrible at it.
I was planning on doing my own hair too, but when my stylist caught wind of that she offered to do my hair as my wedding gift! Thank you, Christine!
Dress and Shoes
While I did search for a secondhand wedding dress, I ended up ordering one from BHLDN. On top of it being on super sale (if I told you how much it was you might get mad ;), I wore the same dress to our elopement the summer prior. Shoes were purchased new, but like every other addition to my closet, I make myself think of at least five different outfits I could pair them with before buying.
Wedding planner and coordinator
Because I am crazy (zero waste bridezilla?) and because of our budget, we didn't hire a wedding planner or an official coordinator. I planned everything myself, down to a multi sheet excel file that probably had way more information than necessary. I put together a very detailed timeline and hired my friend and fellow farm intern (who has never done any wedding coordinating before) help me execute day of wedding duties. I knew she would be the perfect person to do it and she really was. Thank you, Chika!
Florals were from Muir Ranch, a student run business at John Muir High School where all the flowers are grown right here in Pasadena, just one city away from our venue (and where I grew up). They decorated our wedding arch, sweetheart table, bouquets and boutonnieres, and provided the flowers for our wedding cake. Plus, they are grown without any harsh chemicals or synthetic fertilizers (good for the environment and safe to put on our cake!)
Our Wedding Day
Setting up recycling and composting
Before the wedding, I asked the venue how many trash cans they had (I'm sure that was a first!). I told them it was very important to have multiple trash cans to separate our waste. If there weren't enough, I was going to borrow some and bring them myself! Thankfully they had more than enough for our purposes.
When we got there, I put a sign on each one: RECYCLING (cans, bottles, cardboard), LANDFILL (plastics and non recyclables), DRY COMPOSTABLES (palm leaf plates, toothpicks, napkins), and FOOD WASTE (extra food and anything "wet"). I asked our Compost Manager at Sarvodaya Farms if I could bring all the compostables and she requested the dry and wet food waste be kept separate so they don't all turn into one big sopping mess. This also made it much easier while composting since we build piles by alternating layers of food waste and dry material (such as leaves and branches, or in this case, palm leaf plates).
Employees of our venue were quickly educated on what would go into each trash can. I'm happy to report that there were very few mishaps (Yes, I did go through the trash to make sure). I also went around the venue and hid all the extra trash cans around the venue so our guests wouldn't improperly throw anything away, ha!
Zero Waste Tip:
Plan ahead on how your waste will be managed at your wedding. Depending on where you live, you can hire companies to pick up your compost. Or search for local neighborhood gardens or gardening groups that compost. You may be able to work something out with them!
Before the ceremony
Because our wedding was in the middle of summer, I knew we'd need to provide cold drinks for our guests. Our venue offered a drink set up with pitchers of lemonade, water, and iced tea, but the package came with plastic cups. Sure, I could have rented separate cups just for the drinks, but this would incur an additional cost. Then I'd probably want to rent some cocktail tables so everyone has a place to set their glass. In the end we went with aluminum cans (like La Croix) and glass bottles (Pellegrino), two materials that have high recycling rates.
Almost all our furniture was rented directly from the venue. My mom's neighbor built our beautiful wedding arch for us! It is going to be reused for my friend's wedding, and then possibly turned into an outdoor arch for vines to grow up, or cut and reused for another project.
We hired a guitarist to play through our ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception and he was simply amazing! He totally set the tone and made the wedding feel just like I was hoping for, casual and elegant.
Like I mentioned earlier, I was not interested in bringing in additional decor to the venue. It would be a large additional cost, and I didn't want to deal with the logistics of bringing it all over. The only decor we added for the ceremony were the two palm trees at the entrance. They are now happily living in my mom' living room.
Zero Waste Tip:
Who doesn't love plants? Decorations that are live (leaves and branches, flowers, succulents, etc) can be reused or gifted.
My mom put together this beautiful charcuterie table! Everything was purchased from the farmers market, in bulk at a local Italian grocery store, or gifted from Sarvodaya Farms. We prepped the veggies in advance and assembled just before the ceremony. The table was rented, then covered with butcher paper from our neighbor's roll. Marble slabs were reused from my cake class days. Compostable palm leaf plates, toothpicks, and napkins were set out for guests.
Our venue allowed us to bring our own drinks as long as they were served by a licensed bartender. We served three types of wine (white, red, rose) purchased by the case from Everson Royce, and a signature cocktail mix (called the Relaxi-Maxi after our cat Max) made in advance by my mom's neighbor. Both were served in rented glasses.
Dinner tables were draped in rented ivory tablecloth, then decorated with little bouquets of flowers in kombucha bottles I saved up, potted herbs from the famers market, and foraged leaves/branches. We rented long rectangular tables instead of round ones to have a more casual, family style vibe. Tablecloths, cloth napkins, cups, plates, and forks were all rented from the venue.
Our seating chart was written with a metallic marker on a large mirror that I took from my brother's condo when he moved out of the country.
Zero Waste Tip:
See what your already have at home! More than likely, the style of your wedding will be along the lines of the style of your home. We were able to save a bit of money by using what we already owned.
This might be a little crazy but we made our own salads. The quality of the food we eat is very important to me so this was a priority. The venue manager commented that he'd never seen the bride and groom working during cocktail hour in the kitchen! Most of the ingredients were purchased package free from the farmers market. We made a fresh corn (elote inspired) salad and a grilled veggie mixed green salad, served on compostable palm leaf platters with sturdy, reusable metal tongs.
The salads were for everyone to eat while they waited in line for Guerrilla Tacos! I'm so happy we rented a taco truck. Everything was served on compostable plates. While they had plastic forks and paper napkins out for guests to use, I kindly asked to hide them so guests wouldn't absentmindedly grab one.
I know that it sounds like we used a lot of compostables, and it's true, reusable is more environmentally friendly over disposable. We couldn't have the truck use real plates (I can see tacos sliding off and plates breaking as they are handed through the high window already) but we had to balance between affordability and what worked with the style of our wedding. We knew a seated multi course dinner would be far too formal for what we were going for.
(Note: Since Gary and I both used to work in food, we already had the proper permits required for food safety reasons.)
Zero Waste Tip:
Save more than food scraps! Toothpicks, paper napkins, cupcake liners, and latex gloves are also all compostable. And as long as they're not lined or coated with plastic, paper plates and trays can be composted as well.
Everyone wanted to know if I was going to do this, and yes, I made my own dessert table. The appetizer table was moved outdoors to be repurposed for the desserts, then draped with the gauze fabric from our welcome table. Cake stands were already from my own collection. Our cake was placed on a large wooden slab that I purchased in Australia a few years ago which carries sentimental value. I made brownies, vanilla cupcakes with plum buttercream, chocolate chip cookies, and a three tiered roasted plum and vanilla bean cake. Ingredients were purchased in bulk (from my cake making days) and the plums were from the farmers market.
After the wedding
One of the best and unexpected help we received was from a venue employee. He commented on our trash organization system and I shared that I was aiming for a zero waste wedding. He totally "got it" and we talked about composting and worm bins and recycling. I was originally going to take all the recycling with us so we knew it would be properly taken care of, but by the end of the night we were exhausted and there was almost no room left in any of our cars. He let me know he would personally make sure they were properly taken care of and I am very grateful for it!
Compostables and landfill waste
The compostables and landfill waste were my responsibility and placed in my car. I stored the compostables in my garage for a few days until I went to the farm, and went through the landfill waste to make sure nothing was incorrectly placed in there.
Planning the whole wedding, while stressful, was surprisingly enjoyable and fulfilling to see all come together. It even made me contemplate starting a zero waste event planning company with my wedding coordinator!
Here are the biggest takeaways I learned:
- Choosing zero waste options are not that difficult, especially for weddings. Many items are rentable! But...
- Zero waste on a budget when you want a wedding that doesn't look like a budget is another story. Once you factor in price, it's easy to see how disposables make things much more affordable (but at what cost?)
- Zero Waste doesn't have to mean "rustic". It doesn't mean you have to DIY everything, make your own paper, or use burlap and twine. Simply being careful and mindful of your choices can make any wedding decrease the amount of trash going to a landfill.
Photographer: All the photos in this post are by our amazing photographer, Cara Robbins.
Venue: La Canada Thursday Club
Food Truck: Guerrilla Tacos
Florals: Muir Ranch
Dress: BHLDN, altered by South Lake Tailor
Suit: J. Crew, altered by South Lake Tailor
Hair: Cut and highlights by Christine, styled by Darlene at Knives Out Salon
Compostables: Palm leaf plates were ordered from Webstaurantstore.com. (They come in packs that are wrapped in plastic.)