7 Smart Moves for an Eco-Minded Wedding Day

Consider these thoughtful ways to reduce waste and plan your nuptials with sustainability in mind.
By: Natalie Gontcharova

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A “Greener” Reception

Not to put a damper on your wedding day, but throwing a big bash leaves behind a slightly larger carbon footprint than an everyday dinner party. But if you’d like to celebrate and be kinder to the environment, there are ways to minimize your impact and plan a delicious feast for your guests.

Clue In Your Caterer

Caterers are experts, after all — and they likely have some strategies and ideas for planning a waste-conscious wedding that you haven’t even considered. For instance, you might ask your caterer for advice on a menu that relies on locally sourced food and drink. This way you can minimize the amount of ingredients that need to be shipped from thousands of miles away, support local farmers and showcase the best regional flavors.

 

Caterers can also offer perspective on what menu items and setups (like passed hors d’oeuvres or snack stations) produce the smallest amount of waste. 

But Ask Questions, Too

Before you even hire a caterer or choose a venue, ask if they work with community-supported agricultural groups (CSAs) or regional organic farmers, suggests Kate Harrison, author of The Green Bride.

 

Dave Evans, president of green-certified La Prima Catering, agrees that you should ask caterers where they get their food — but also what they do with their waste. “Interview them about other green aspects of their business,” he says. “It needs to flow the whole way.”

 

Some caterers claim to be “green” but hire subcontractors who don’t recycle or compost and just throw everything away at the end of the night. So ask — and get ready to plan ahead. 

Consider Extra Planning for Composting and Recycling

Bring this up early; you might need to work ahead to make arrangements with your vendors, says Harrison. It’s hard to compost unless your venue is already set up for it, but you might be able to rent a compost bin and bring your compost to local facilities after the event. If you can compost, plan a menu that makes it easy — skipping meat, raw dairy and oily foods.

 

If your venue doesn’t have recycling bins, ask your caterer if they might do the collection work — or, if you’re really scrappy, enlist friends and family to help. But really, the best form of recycling might be “precycling.” Skip bottles and serve drinks from refillable carafes or a beer keg. And choose reusable linens, glasses and dinnerware instead of the disposable stuff.

Be Seasonally Smart

Choosing in-season foods helps you plan a locally sourced menu, and they also just plain taste better. For instance, strawberries will rarely taste as good in the dead of winter as they do in July. And if your guests’ food is bland or tough, they might be more likely to leave it on their plates.

Serve a Sit-Down Dinner Instead of a Buffet

With a buffet, the caterer doesn’t truly know which dishes guests will choose — so to avoid running out of anything, they likely will make more than you really need. A seated dinner (especially one where guests RSVP with their choice ahead of time) can help control the portions more efficiently.

 

Shake Up Signature Cocktails

A fully stocked bar can be pricey — and lead to a ton of empty bottles. Limit your drink menu, and include a signature cocktail or two (one for the bride and one for the groom!) to cut back on the ingredients and supplies needed. Plus, your bartender will be able to mix large batches ahead of time, so guests won’t have to wait as long to be served. 

Explore Donating Your Leftovers

Most states have restrictions on food donations (ask your caterer), but you may be able donate leftovers to food banks or hunger-relief programs, says Harrison. Sometimes caterers even have relationships with churches or shelters and can do the donating for you — just make sure it’s part of your contract. Or, find a local food bank at FeedingAmerica.org.