If you’re going to attend one of the more than two million weddings happening this year in the U.S., you may find the event is surprisingly eco-friendly. Wedding magazines and blogs are abuzz with ideas to help brides and grooms who want to take impact on the planet into consideration when planning their big day.
But whether a wedding is “green” or conventional, it’s easy to be an eco-conscious guest. No need to show up in a dress made from last year’s magazines. (While a fun idea, it would certainly grab attention from the bride, a definite no-no whether the wedding is eco-friendly or not!) Instead, simply consider each aspect of the wedding in which you’ll participate and think about how you can make greener decisions.
Start with the gift. If the couple signs up with an eco-friendly shop registry or asks for donations to a cause they support in lieu of “stuff,” you’ve got it made.
If not, check for eco-friendlier items on their registry. For instance, they may have chosen a set of bamboo bowls or wool blankets. Look for items that are locally produced instead of made and shipped from overseas. These may not have been selected because they’re eco-friendly, but who cares? If they are greener choices, you’ll feel great picking them and the bride and groom will be happy as well!
When giving a tangible gift, avoid conventional wrapping paper. The Carnegie Mellon Green Practices initiative says that “If every American family wrapped just three presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.”
Why buy paper from virgin trees when there are so many great alternatives–fabric made just for wrapping, silk scarves, a map from the honeymoon destination, tree-free or recycled papers, and seed embedded wrapping that can be planted once the gift is opened, to name a few.
And when it comes to ribbon, embellishments and cards, alternative choices can make your gift beautiful and guilt-free.
In many circles, it used to be considered crass to give cash for weddings, but these days, money really is green. Just be sure to offer bills or a check and not gift cards which, for the most part, are made of plastic, ultimately are tossed and never degrade. (Even if the plastic is made from PLA–theoretically compostable plastic–the card’s magnetic strip will stay around a lot longer than many marriages!)
Getting there the greenest way
One of the most impactful decisions you can make is whether to attend the wedding or not. Flying across the country for a day is not the most eco-friendly move you can make. But if you decide to go, you may want to purchase carbon offsets.
If you live close to the wedding venue, walk or carpool if possible. Even if you drive alone, you can volunteer to have other guests travel with you between the ceremony and reception.
When it comes to choosing what to wear, avoid buying new. if the event calls for more formal wear than you own, consider borrowing, renting or buying pre-owned. The web makes it easy to find designer labels in pristine condition. And if you simply must have something off the rack, search for outfits by eco-friendly designers made from sustainable materials. Whether you’re seeking clothing, shoes or a handbag, stunning greener choices are available.
Aim for low-waste
Food and wedding receptions go together and generally etiquette will trump green when guests are offered only paper napkins and plastic stemware. But just because paper napkins are available doesn’t mean you have to grab a handful. Choose to reuse plastic items like plates, glasses and utensils, rather than grabbing new ones each time you return to the buffet. And when you’re finished, be sure to ask where the recycling or composting bins are located and use them.
A lot of waste is generated from wedding leftovers. Volunteer to take remaining food to donate to a food bank or local nursing home (having called in advance to find out whether they will accept the donation), or to compost flowers, paper and food that cannot be given away.
Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and co-authors of Celebrate Green!