Published on February 17, 2019

Florals strewed around the ground. Plates of half-eaten cake, abandoned. Bottles of wine egregiously deserted (despite the fact that they still have a good glass left in them). No, we’re not talking about a criminal break-in. This is the aftermath of a wedding—and the decidedly unsustainable aftermath at that. While joyful occasions, weddings also produce an incredible amount of waste in every sense of the word: a heightened carbon footprint from airfare, uneaten food and drink that gets thrown away, and material consumption that, on a regular day, would leave any eco-conscious person reeling with immense guilt. It’s no surprise then that the International Wedding Trend Report for 2019 lists sustainability as the big trend to know for the coming year.

More than ever, couples getting married this year will consider an environmentally friendly wedding. As the report notes, both recent royal weddings were tinged with elements of sustainability. Meghan and Harry asked for donations to a pollution-fighting charity in lieu of traditional gifts. Princess Eugenie took it a step farther and opted for an entirely plastic-free wedding last October. This trend has the royal stamp of approval, and if they can make it happen with millions of eyes around the world scrutinizing their big day, there’s hope for anyone.

Of course, having a sustainable wedding doesn’t mean surrendering every luxury you had previously dreamt of in the name of saving the planet. Taking steps for a more eco-friendly wedding can be as simple as making a few easy swaps. Together, these small steps can make a difference.

For intel on how to make this work practically, we polled some of the leading wedding experts across the industry to see how they would throw a more sustainable wedding. From providing clear instructions to your caterer to using recycled stationery, here are 20 ways to cut down on your carbon footprint while celebrating your big day.

The Ring

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Photography by Jacquelyne Pierson

“Choose a jeweler who is committed to acquiring gemstones and metals that are responsibly sourced. Brilliant Earth, Tiffany & Co., and Bario Neal are all great resources.” — Brittny Drye, Love Inc. Mag

The Food and Drink

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Photography by Jacquelyne Pierson

“I love that more couples are choosing to serve incredible vegan and vegetarian food at their weddings. When done well, plant-based menus present so many opportunities to ‘wow’ guests with a range of rich flavors, seasonal menus, and Instagram-worthy presentations.” — Emily Gaikowski, Heartthrob Weddings

“We always recommend appropriate portions and menu sizes to eliminate as much food waste as we can. We’ve also noticed a huge shift toward ‘strawless’ weddings, with couples opting for alternatives to plastic by using bamboo stir sticks or paper straws.” — Heather Jones, Wente Vineyards

“Many of my clients are gravitating toward caterers who utilize locally grown proteins as well as vegetable-forward menus in general. It’s really an opportunity to have incredibly fresh and seasonal ingredients while also lowering the environmental impact overall. In NYC, Purslane Catering has committed to trash-free and carbon-neutral catering, which I see speaking to a lot of couples.” — Bethany Pickard, Modern Kicks Event Planning

“While it might feel crass to some, caterers that provide the couple with an option for takeaway containers are a favorite of mine.”— Gaikowski

The Flowers

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Photography by Boho Chic Weddings

“Repurpose your wedding arrangements. You can donate them to a local nursing home to brighten the residents’ day; there are organizations like Random Acts of Flowers dedicated to helping you do just that. Or you could simply offer them to your guests as the reception winds down.” — Joan Wyndum, Blooms by the Box

“By no means is floral design going away, but it is becoming more curated and purposeful. Also, floral designers are moving away from using Oasis foam and going toward more environmentally friendly ways of creating moments.” — Layne Povey, The Lynden Lane Co.

Repeat Roses is quite popular. This is a wedding service I wish I had known about when I got married because it’s so sad to think about the thousands of beautiful flowers that get tossed right in the garbage after a big event. Repeat Roses will break down your wedding flowers to donate the refreshed arrangements to local charities and then reclaim and compost the twice-loved arrangements.” — Jennifer Spector, Zola

“Working directly with a local flower farm means that you can embrace seasonal blooms instead of shipping in specific florals from across the world.” — Pickard

“We have seen a growth in using plants and trees that can be regifted or planted in the marital garden. These can be really lovely favors for guests or used to mark place settings. Herb plants, hydrangea plants, and olive trees are popular.” — Sarah Richardson, Leafy Couture  

Bouquets usually utilize a plastic zip tie or even a plastic bouquet holder, but you can make them more sustainable by utilizing raffia ribbon to arrange your blooms right where you want them.” — Wyndum

“Garbage Goddess is a brand-new green breakdown service company in New York City that works with floral designers to create a zero-waste event through proper composting. It also coordinates weekly pickup spots for natural dye artists to pick up the flowers the company gathers from events before they get composted.” — Drye

“Our couples love the idea of dried petal confetti, as it looks and smells beautiful and has a minimal environmental impact. This way, they are not leaving paper scattered all over the venue or church path. The natural petals are biodegradable, leaving no lasting mess to clear up.” — Richardson

The Stationery

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Photography by Kelly Berry

“When you’re announcing the biggest day of your life to the most important people in your life, an email doesn’t just fall flat; it risks insulting your guests. There are still plenty of ways to reduce the environmental impact of your wedding while announcing your wedding with major style. One of the simplest ways to reduce the environmental impact of your wedding is also one of the most elegant: Luxurious papers like Reich’s Savoy and Crane’s Lettra are tree-free. Their cotton pulp is made from recycled cotton fabrics and are recyclable. An even smaller impact can be achieved by working with a local papermaker to produce a stunning, sustainable handmade paper.

“One of the best ways to elevate an invitation is with stunning reclaimed elements from natural materials like wood and foliage to textiles and metals. Reclaimed materials can bring deep meaning to an invitation while lessening its impact on the environment.” — Matthew Wengerd, A Fine Press

The Vendors

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Photography by Jacquelyne Pierson

“We always recommend working with local artisans who choose to create with sustainability in mind. By supporting the growth of local businesses instead of big-box companies, you’re reducing the footprint of your event.” — Povey

The Registries

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Photography by Jacquelyne Pierson

“Some couples are even taking their registry to the next level by making it eco-friendly. Just as we’ll start seeing more paperless RSVPs and invitations, couples are also requesting e-gift card vouchers for travel accommodations, airlines, and more. Donations to charitable organizations will become more of a norm as well.” — Kylie Carlson, Wedding Academy Global

The Decor

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Photography by Jacquelyne Pierson

“Although our couples often share more maximalist tendencies, they don’t see a need to overuse new materials. Re-use is a huge aspect of the modern couple’s focus on sustainability. Anything from vintage cigar boxes that humidor stores literally give away to tattered Hardy Boys books, our couples take reinvention seriously. It becomes more than a way to infuse found objects into an engaging stationery design. It’s mostly about giving new life to something forgotten as opposed to consuming new resources.” — Kristy Rice, Momental Designs

“Glassware is a great alternative for couples who want to avoid the use of plastic for cocktails. Vintage glassware, in particular, can elevate your wedding’s theme considerably and you won’t be throwing that money away at the end of the evening.” — Carlson

“Couples are looking to make their wedding favors more eco-friendly, whether that’s going for edible favors to take home, skipping the gift bags and going paperless, or cutting down on wasteful items like coasters or plastic items that guests may forget at the venue.” — Jones

See more wedding stories:
Newlyweds Agree: This Is the #1 Wedding Registry Regret
The Cool Girl’s Guide to a City Hall Wedding
Mandy Moore’s Wedding Florist Predicts This Bloom Will Be Everywhere in 2019