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Zero Waste Weddings vs Elopements


Last Updated on September 11, 2020

Alright, we’re past the craze of the holiday season. It’s now time for me to focus on planning this wedding. A zero waste wedding certainly feels like a daunting task. 

Zero waste weddings vs elopements from #zerowaste #weddings #elopment #ecofriendly #gogreen #sustainable #ecoweddings

And, with most things in life and especially zero waste, there are no right answers. There are rather an array of choices ranging from good, bad to worse. All of these decisions have to factor into your time, budget, and location. 

If we had a large budget, we’d easily be able to hire a caterer to take care of everything.

We are not this fortunate, and it will be more of a DIY wedding. In that case, time becomes our biggest hindrance.

Not the amount of time we have to plan, rather the amount of time we’ll have to spend transporting and cleaning up on the day of the event. 

Of course, I’ve wrestled with the idea of eloping on more than one occasion. Eloping would definitely be the easiest way to have a zero waste wedding.

It would be small, private, and you could just go out to a really nice restaurant afterward. Even as I type this, I dream of the simplicity. 

On the other hand, our families are scattered all across the US. This might be the only time they ever actually get to meet each other, and that feels really important.

But, instead of throwing a large bash, we’re going to focus on immediate family and close friends. 

I feel that this is the easiest way to keep it under budget and as low waste as possible. The average wedding has 150 people and produces 400-600lbs of trash! That’s crazy, and that’s only the trash leftover at the end of the night. I can only imagine what the upwaste stream on an event like that is. 

goals for a zero waste wedding: 

have under 2lbs of trash:

I honestly pulled this number our of thin air. I don’t think I’ve made two pounds of trash in the last two years, but I’d rather be proud of myself rather than disappointed.

I’m not going to be in control of a lot of aspects of the event… as much as I’d like to be. I’m relinquishing the power and letting other people handle it. I’d much rather relax and have a good time than worry about small details out of my control. 

figure out a way to compost all food scraps:

I don’t have municipal compost in my city. Instead, I’ll need to figure out a way to get it taken care of in a city that does have municipal compost. I can just imagine me and my bridesmaids running around town throwing compost into random people’s green bins. 

This is definitely a logistic I’m working on….

forgo useless party favors:

I mean, does anyone really need a favor? When I go to an event, wining and dining me is the best favor you could give. I don’t feel that there’s any reason I should be given anything more than that. However, I would love to hear your opinion. 

Is there a favor you’ve gotten and loved? Do you love party favors? 

buy second hand or borrow when possible:

The obvious things that come to mind are the wedding dress and decorations. We’re trying to streamline design as much as possible to reduce unnecessary resources being used for decorations. 

I think the best way to do that is to book a unique venue that doesn’t need to be dressed up too much, especially since we’ll probably be hauling everything. The first “r” of zero waste is to refuse. I’m going to let my inner minimalist shine. 

focus on people and loved ones rather than things:

I’m most excited about our families getting together. I think with so much love and happiness in the air, the decorations will be the least of my worries. I’m sure having plenty of wine will help too. I really just want to throw a fun party. 

stay under budget:

Oh, California. That’s all I really can say. I have been fortunate to find some pretty awesome vendors though and to have lots of amazing and creative friends. 

have fun:

The most important thing! HAVE FUN. I am going to have so much fun during this process. I’m going to make the most conscious choices that I can, but I’m not going to sweat it. 

Remember, it’s not about perfection it’s about making better choices. In fact, I’m considering getting compostable plates for the event, so I can spend time enjoying my wedding night instead of washing dishes. 

I haven’t made my mind up yet, but I’m considering it. I’m also still considering eloping. 

Have you been to or thrown a zero waste event? What tips would you give me? 

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  1. Hi Kathryn,
    Congratulations! We got married 17 years ago and whilst I wasn’t trying to be zero waste then, I realise that we were doing a lot of that already! We created our own homemade wedding. I never wanted a big elaborate wedding, so it suited me well. My mum made the wedding dress and my adult sister’s bridemaid’s dress (not completely zero waste as new fabric). I eventually donated my dress some years later, realising I was never going to wear it again!!! We prepared a buffet meal the day before, hired crockery, glasses etc and bought wine wholesale. We made our own flower arrangements for our venue (our home) but did get bouquets and buttonholes done by a local florist. (I would do my own nowadays). We employed some local catering college students to help with serving and wine/champagne pouring and washing up. Ours was a small ceremony and reception during the day at home, followed by a simple evening party at a local hotel that friends worked at. The invitation for the evening clearly stated champagne and cake only (we had our friend create pyramids of choux pastries with jugs of different sauces). This was our way of compromising on the numbers. We invited close friends and family to the ceremony and reception then had larger numbers in the evening, to keep everyone happy! We didn’t have a wedding list either but people gave us money as we were doing up a house at the time. Hope that gives you some ideas and good luck!

  2. If you don’t want to be wasteful, don’t have a wedding. Plus you can save up money for when little one’s come!

  3. I’m in the same boat! Just starting to plan, check it out at Also, pshhh no one needs favors (unless they are yummy and edible) šŸ™‚

    1. YES! I personally think favors are pretty dumb… unless it’s food… I was thinking of doing mason jars that everyone can drink out of all night, and then they can take them home so I have less dishes to do. šŸ˜‰

  4. We gave out flower bulbs as favours (tulips, anemones, etc) all in shades of red and asked people to plant them in our honour! Also dont feel bad about not doing paper invites (you wouldn’t believe the arguments I had with my mother-in-law…) and do your own decorations (we had an autumn wedding so I got pumpkins and pots of heather plants and nuts and leaves I collected from the park). We gave the potted plants also away after the wedding (huge hit!). I rented my dress and grew the flowers for my hair and our bouquets on our tiny balcony and made them the evening before the wedding myself with the help of my brother and sisters (hydrangeas grow back, every year I look at it blooming I think of my wedding! We had a tiny budget (about a 1000$) and produced absolutely no waste (no gift wrapping, insist on that!) because everyone knew beforehand what to expect (for example not to bring cut flowers etc) and we donated our food rests to a homelrss shelter (we arranged it beforehand and they came by after and picked everything up in tuppaware), plus we got a few lovely pictures from them! Congratulations and enjoy your lucky day!

      1. What an inspiring zero waste wedding! We had a variation on the flower bulbs gifts. You know these papers with seeds in it you can plant in your garden? We made them ourselves with cornflower seeds. We bought a whole lot of seeds and made our own paper to mix with the seeds. Then we gave scraps of the paper in small pots with a bit of soil, so the guests could plant at home. It was so nice to receive pictures afterwards from my friend and relatives of the growing flowers!

  5. Rent glasses, silverware, and plates for the wedding day +one day and ask relatives that they clean up/take back stuff instead of giving presents or money šŸ™‚
    Donate leftovers to a local foodbank or soup kitchen as one lady below suggested. Fantastic idea! Ask for no presents, favors instead of presents or money only. If you do need "stuff", prepare a "wedding table" in a local store. On this table put everything you would like and need for the rest of you life together. Pick small to large gifts/cost so everyone finds something. Discuss with staff that warpping must not be provided and put a note on the table to please honor the no wrapping policy.
    I think favors are overrated, but if it makes you feel good, collect pebbles and write name of each guest on a respective pebble, color the pebble or decorate and use as seating arrangement helper, favor respectively. This way the stones serve a purpose, come handmade and are not wasteful. BTW a friend of minde uses large riverbed stones as doorstoppers/to keep doors open. They come with flowery drawings and wording, e.g. "kit" for kitchen. I love the idea.
    My friends used ivy to decorate the tables, another wedding rented vases and decorated with summer flowers. A great tradition here are games and songs that friends prepare for the reception: they come up with personalized wording for a song and entertain guests that way, or/and they make the bride and groom do funny little tasks which are bound to make the guests laugh.
    It is also customary to ask good friends to bring a cake and put it on a buffet. That way we have a large variety of cakes and the friends outdo each other with presenting the cakes on nice glassware.

    General advice: To enjoy your day, do as little as possible yourself on they day, let friends do for you. Otherwise you’ll remember the day as panicky and hectic when you may want to bask in warmth and love šŸ™‚

    Have fun!

    1. I’m trying to find a company to rent the dishes from but everyone is charging so much. I think we’re going to have to haul them. A cake buffet sounds like the best thing ever, and those songs sound like so much fun! What a wonderful tradition.

      1. Do you belong to a local church or have a relative or friend that does? Perhaps you could borrow dishes and accessories from them, with a donation and promise to replace or pay for any loss. We’ve done this in our town for other occasions. I do know of a friend who actually had everyone bring dishes to their very informal wedding. I did not attend so I don’t know how it went over. Or a few friends with a few sets of dishes could work too. Each table could be set with a different set of dishes…

  6. Not a piece of advice per se, but you have got to check out A Practical Wedding. I think it may be up your alley, and it helped me TONS when I was planning mine.

  7. We chose to "elope but invite" — an idea I found on Offbeat Bride which felt inclusive without creating an intimidatingly large event (160 were invited, 40 guests came, intentionally planned only 2 months in advance for a holiday weekend). We did produce an impact with flying to Sedona AZ (we’re from NY) but for the experience of travel and adventuring it was within our values to make that exception — we wanted a vacation at which we got married & vows followed by a nice dinner. We rented everything, used no disposable cups/plates/napkins and picked a caterer who used primarily sustainable food sources. The wedding/elopement hybrid was a gift from my parents, and she wouldn’t budge on sending out invitations, but we used recycled paper and collected RSVPs using a wedding website on Minted. Our center pieces were planted succulents and blue glassware with dried wheat and lavendar, donated afterwards to a senior home & we didn’t do any useless favors. It was perfect in our book, and we got to explore with our friends/family as well as obviously just by ourselves for a whole week to the Grand Canyon, local hikes, etc to spend time with them instead of letting the day pass too quickly. AND my wedding dress will be worn on every anniversary (it was a convertible dress, so it’ll adjust as I wish it to) to be a little adorable and romantic/nostalgic and get more use out of it! The hardest part was navigating how to express our wishes without insulting parents. One of the expenses my mom chose to push was using an event coordinator, who really helped in mediating between our wishes and my mom’s insistence on being traditional as well as knowing all the local businesses which would pull together a sustainable dinner in an area we were unfamiliar with.

  8. I am with you on the wedding favors! I knew I didn’t want to spend money on something people would eventually toss out or forget about. What I did was decorate wine bottles. They served as center pieces at dinner tables and then favors for my guests. They took a good bit of time to make, but I liked that they served two purposes and hoped that the guests who decided to take one would value it more since I made them. It was also pretty easy to sell the last few extras. So keep an open mind, maybe you can find something that serves multiple purposes that works your wedding too!

  9. What a great set of goals for your wedding, Kathryn! My partner and I are also planning our wedding for later this year, so this was a great read. Ours will be very minimalist and as zero waste as possible, too! šŸ™‚

  10. Okay, not engaged yet but i go to a lot of weddings so obviously i think of ways that i would want to do things, lol.

    I hate the idea of cheap favors, but i do like the idea of giving, so I was thinking EITHER give out bottles of homebrew (in reused glass bottles that then can be recycled) Or my other idea was to do a KIVA ( loan and have us each pick one business to donate to and do a little write up about what we are doing, and then once the loans are paid back keep donating to different small businesses, that way, we can give a gift continuously to people who need it.

    and yes to using borrowed/second hand items! i def want to give people mason jars to use, and have home brew on tap.

    and the place i want to get married will have a cost of about $400 for the ceremony/reception.

    i suggested it earlier, def check out So Kind Registry, it looks perfect. Way better than Bed Bath and Beyond like everyone seems to do!

    1. I LOVE the Kiva idea, that’s such a great idea. So many of my friends (and me) own our own homes and live with our partners already, so we really don’t need anything more for our homes, and while money for ourselves is also welcome, we personally aren’t really in need, so this would be much cooler!

  11. Erin Rhodes (aka The Rogue Ginger) posted a lovely blog about her zero waste wedding with lots of suggestions that could be adopted.

    When my husband and I were married (17 years ago) we struggled with everyone wanting to get us gifts – we had been living together for 5 years and had all we needed. So instead, as it was before the digital era, we asked friends and family to contribute towards a photo album and asked the photographer to capture candid, fun shots of all the guests as well as the more traditional photos – it’s still my favourite keepsake as it brings back so many lovely memories!

  12. I have so many thoughts on this subject! We got married 5 years ago and our wedding wasn’t officially Zero Waste, but we minimized trash and bought everything we could second-hand. I learned even more afterwards as part of a network of wedding bloggers which I’m still a part of.

    I’d love to write a guest post on various ways to avoid waste from a wedding if you’re interested! (Just shoot me an email if so!)

  13. My now husband and I did not have an official zero waste wedding, but we did want to keep it as "green" as possible. Instead of renting glass ware, we had friends and family save jars. Mason jars, pickle jars, pasta sauce, etc. We used these as glasses for drinks and had them displayed on a table when the guests first came in explaining they would need to choose one glass and keep it for the night and they could then take them home. Only tip for this, that we should have thought of was to have your bartenders have a measuring shot glass for mixed drinks. We used friends of my moms to bartend, so having all different size and shaped glasses made a lot of the drinks stronger than they needed to be!!

    I also saved up clear white wine bottles from the bar I was working at and used these as decorative water pitchers. Glued some lace around the body of the bottle and voila!

    A friend of mine took a lot of the glassware for her wedding and the rest people took home for personal use.

    As for favors, I don’t think they’re super necessary. We gave Forget Me Not flower seeds. My mom, sisters and I made small Muslin bags to hold the seeds which could be planted along with the seeds. We had a little note on them saying to "forget us not" with our wedding date included.

    Have fun planning and even more fun on your wedding day šŸ™‚

    1. Great tip! Yes, we have to hire a bartender for the reception so alcohol can be served on premises. Hopefully they’d be a skillful at measuring. We’re just keeping to wine and beer though!

      1. Maybe have some lemonade or soda too, if anyone doesn’t drink. I went to a wedding that only had bottled water as a non-alcoholic drink! (I don’t drink, and I was also 6 months pregnant.)

  14. My favor wedding favor ever was a mason jar of canned pears the couple had prepared together. The lid had a paper label that said "A perfect pair" along with their names and wedding date. The pears were delicious and the jar is now used to store spices.

  15. I didn’t know about zero waste when I had my wedding. But my main tips aren’t about ZW. Make sure you get to eat and enjoy the party! We had a line (for greeting guests) and I didn’t get to actually enjoy my reception. Make sure to wash hands before eating/cutting the cake! We forgot and I got really sick on our honeymoon. And I didn’t do favors either. Happy wedding planning!

  16. I tried to be conscientious about how much waste was produced in my small (45 person) backyard wedding last summer. It was in Oakland, CA, where fortunately there is municipal composting. (you might considered hosting your wedding outside at a regional park in a nearby area that has composting!).We got bamboo cups/plates/utensils and they could all be thrown into the compost bins after people were finished using them.
    For party favors, we bundled dried lavender my husband harvested at the farm he worked at. We also designed seed packets from Sow True Seed and had them filled with a bee friendly mix of flowers. They came in the typical paper seed packets, but hopefully people recycled them once they planted their flowers!

  17. We’re planning our wedding too and going for something pretty intimate (read: tiny). We’re going to be married at the SF City Hall with only immediate family present and follow it with an early dinner at a restaurant close by. The cake will be delivered from a nearby bakery. We bought our dresses new, but chose colors and styles we like that we can reuse for formal events. Our wedding favors will be little rose quartz hearts so they can send us their love. That’s pretty much it! No flowers, no decor. We are looking forward to keeping it simple and spending quality time with our newly combined family.

  18. I just found your blog and this post and had to comment (2 years later). I just had a near zero waste wedding 3 months ago and it went fantastically! We only had 8 bags of recyclable or compostable trash (so almost no on-site trash). We composted everything (including dinnerware), did food recovery and donation, used all local vendors, our food was local and focused on plant based, got flowers from our farmer’s market, bought a secondhand (but stunning) BHLDN wedding dress off of, I DIY’ed all of the decor using antique store finds but we had it at a botanical garden so minimal decor requited, used seed paper & 100% recycled invites and then everything else was handled electronically on, we did a honeymoon registry instead of asking for stuff we didn’t need, and I spent a lot of time and research coming up with estimated CO2e for the event and offset it with renewable projects on Obviously had some waste (we had about 170 people…. My husband’s family is huge and mine is pretty large so couldn’t get around doing a small wedding) but I’m very proud with how it turned out and we were featured in the local paper and tv news station so helping to get the word out there! PS. I love your blog and so happy I found it!!

  19. 3 years later, and I can say all the same! This blog is so great. I based my wedding on this site and the other one, about more traditional things you have to also manage – That was my perfect combo šŸ˜‰