Knowing that the average wedding creates a pile of waste the size of a car and pumps 62 tonnes of COs into the air can create a bit of angst before you’ve even begun the wedmin. But never fear – there are ways of dramatically reducing your impact while increasing the meaning and not breaking the bank. Here are our top nine tips for planning an eco-friendly wedding on a budget.
1. Location, location, location
The location choice will probably have the biggest impact on both your budget and your footprint. If you choose a place local to most of your guests, the reduced air and road miles will go a long way to diminishing your impact. This also makes it cheaper for everyone to attend.
When planning your eco-friendly wedding, try to use a building that already exists, such as a hall, barn or house, and doesn’t need transporting or constructing (such as marquee/marquise). Also, having your wedding in the summer can reduce the need to heat these spaces. Scout around your local village/town halls, museums, art galleries, sports clubs and hotels to see if there’s a space that speaks to you.
2. Food, glorious (local) food
If the venue is catering too, then talk to them early about your values and what you’d like to achieve. Try to enthuse and inspire the people who will be catering rather than mandating certain standards. If they feel like you’re all in it together, they’re more likely to try their best for you.
Seasonal, local food will reduce your impact the most, so get to know your local butchers and farmers or pop to your local market and chat up the store owners. Get them involved by asking their recommendations for meat and vegetables that will be cheaper, more plentiful and unpackaged around the time of your wedding.
Simple, good-quality food done well will go down just as well as (if not better than) fiddly posh stuff. Consider serving family style or bringing in some street-style food makers and make your own mini-festival.
3. Great Auntie who?
This is going to sound harsh, but you can reduce waste and expense dramatically by being pickier about who you invite. There may be pressure to increase the guest list from various angles, but there are big benefits to a smaller gathering. When you only have the people there who are particularly special to you, it can help create a wonderfully intimate atmosphere. You’ll also get a chance to speak to all the guests and you can spend more on catering per person. After close family, only invite people who you can imagine hanging out with when you’re 90. If some friends are being left out, apologise to them, say it’s going to be a tiny wedding and arrange to celebrate on a night out some time.
4. Get the guests involved
Planning an eco-friendly wedding solo or as a duo can be time-consuming and stressful. If you’re only inviting your special pals then they probably won’t mind helping a bit, especially if you make it fun. Can they grow some flowers for you to decorate with, dry petals into confetti or bring candles, lanterns or plants from home?
If you can’t afford catering, tell everyone to bring a favourite dish and create a giant potluck situation. This is a great way to get everyone involved in a friendly and informal way. Remember that a wedding is about bringing together all the people you love to witness and support the love between you two. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what other people had at their weddings or start to feel like it’s a competition. It’s not. It’s your chance to bring everyone together your way.
5. Day-proof your decor
Most venues will come with their own furniture, but when you’re choosing accessories, don’t choose anything throwaway. Paper tablecloths or chair bows aren’t necessary at all. If you’re outside, a hay bale creates a handy bench or table, but this only works if the local farmer is happy to lend them to you and then use the bales afterwards.
Use regular washable plates and cutlery, but if this is impossible, go for compostable versions. These are also much more attractive than plastic. There’s no need for fancy menus or cards on the tables. If you want to mark each table in a different way, pop a plant or a beautiful book on each one. (We put all our young cousins on the Where the Wild Things Are table.)
Lanterns, fairy lights and fabric bunting can all be rented, borrowed, sold on and used again, whereas balloons and paper décor cannot. Making your own pretty bunting is a cheap, high-impact option and can also create a bonding experience between you and the family and friends who you ask to help.
6. Pass on the postman
Paperless post and e-invites cut down the waste, but the cheapest option is to design a creative and personal invitation picture and email it to your guests. If you have a couple grannies who don’t do email and need something for their mantlepiece (like mine did), you can print the picture individually and paste it on to a nice card for them.
This is a chance to start setting the tone for the wedding, so let your imagination go. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t have an invitation video or song. There’s certainly no rule that says it has to be a lot of fancy paper that ends up in the bin.
7. Future-proof your flowers
Use locally grown, organic flowers if possible when planning your eco-friendly wedding. The British flower collective has a list of vendors. If these are too expensive or you seek a little more drama on your big day, borrow people’s pot plants or buy some which can be used as table décor and then given away as gifts to special guests at the end. Up for a gamble? You could even go for a country walk the day before and see what beauties you can find in the wild to craft your sustainable bouquet! Whatever flowers you choose, try to make sure they live on beyond the day. You could even donate them to a care home like the Duke and Duchess of Sussex did!
8. Do them a favour
Wedding favours for all your guests are a reasonably new tradition, and I would argue it’s one that isn’t necessary when planning an eco-friendly wedding. If you really want to do it, do something meaningful to you. Some of the nicest ideas I’ve come across is gifting a little sapling or seed packet that guests can go away and plant. Otherwise, something edible that creates no waste at all (like truffles or a personalised biscuit) is a nice option.
On the other hand, unwanted gifts given to you can also create huge amounts of waste. Register mindfully for items that will last you a lifetime if you want to reduce the chance of wasteful giving. If you’re set up with everything you need in your home, say no to gifts completely and ask your guests to donate to a charity or towards your honeymoon.
9. It’s not all about the dress
You don’t want to compromise on feeling lovely in your dress but that doesn’t mean you have to re-mortgage your home. Buying your dress second hand greatly reduces the cost and the environmental impact. Please don’t “trash the dress” afterwards as has become the fashion; ideally, pass it on so that more people can use it and have the joy that you did. If you’re buying second hand, check out Once Wed as your first stop.
If you’re not into second hand, you could also buy a white dress in a style that you would wear again if you dyed it, or you could commission a tailor to make you a bespoke dress out of organic, sustainable materials. If you’re looking for an eco-ethical wedding dressmaker, a few of our favourites are Wear Your Love, Celia Grace and Christy Dawn.
When it comes to the bridesmaids and groomsmen, mandating that they buy specific things just for your day is an extra expense and they are less likely to reuse them. Instead, set a broad theme such as “pastels” or “sunny colours” and ask them to find something that they love and will be sure to wear again.
Above all, keep it simple, keep it local. Keep it you. Ask for help when you need it, and remember what the day is really about. This way you’ll make memories, not mounds of rubbish bags.
Have a happy wedding day!
Tara Button is on a mission to change the way the world shops forever. In 2016 her little idea went viral and BuyMeOnce was born. After working ten years in advertising, she's now using her powers for good rather than evil. Tara lives in Hertfordshire with a murderous cat and a husband she gets to laugh at every day. Her first book A Life Less Throwaway is published with Harper Collins in the UK and Penguin Random House in the USA.