By Nina Bhattacharyya
Gainesville is an ideal place to plan a zero waste wedding. Our town is surrounded by natural beauty, we have thrift stores galore, and business owners are open and willing to work with customers that are looking for the sustainable option. I will be going over our experience planning a zero waste wedding and provide tips that are not only applicable to weddings, but events in general (because wedding planning is event planning!). We kept in mind the elements of zero waste: refuse, reuse, re-purpose, recycle and rot when we were planning the details. Many items used for the ceremony and reception were from our house, some borrowed from friends, and we scoured thrift stores and consignment stores for the remaining decorations. When we purchased things, we did so knowing that they would find a special place in our home.
I will start off by saying that there were two unexpected outcomes of a zero waste wedding - it cost far less than the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. and it was a very personal affair for our families. We have memories that go far beyond the big day; I will always remember sewing tablecloths with my mom, potting plants with a friend, and painting yard signs with my husband. For that alone, I encourage people to think outside the box when planning a party, business event, or wedding and find creative ways to reduce waste.
My husband and I have always loved Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. One of our first dates was spent hiking Bolen Bluff trail. When we learned the park had an amphitheater looking over Lake Wauburg, we knew it was the perfect place to have the ceremony. The area is naturally beautiful and as a result it meant that our decorations could be very simple. There are a lot of great spaces in our city so consider planning your next event in a location that highlights the natural environment or historic character of our area. In addition to Paynes Prairie, there are many state parks with spaces you can rent for events, like O’Leno State Park or Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park. Gainesville also has facilities and spaces both indoor and outdoor that work well for gatherings.
Invitations and RSVPs
Invitations and RSVPs make up a lot of waste for weddings and events, not only when it comes to the paper itself but also the carbon emissions used to mail them to guests. As an alternative, we opted to use Mailchimp to email invites to our guests. This is a free service for up to 2,000 recipients. They have great templates available or you can also make your own.
For RSVPs, we had guests fill out a form directly on our website and received an email notification once the RSVP was submitted. My husband designs websites and he used Wordpress for the wedding. There are simpler templates available like Squarespace (used for zerowastegainesville.com!) or Wix that include fillable form options.
The ceremony area included a console table from our dining room and a runner and candlesticks borrowed from friends. It was important to me to incorporate a special tradition from India and we decided to use my family’s Pancha Pradeep which is used in times of celebration in India, including weddings and Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.
We decided to forego the traditional flower arrangements and contacted Mariana Riehm at Ladybug Blooms to see what options were available. I let her know we didn’t want the traditional cut flowers, but rather something natural with local grasses, evergreens and herbs. She created a truly beautiful bouquet and boutonniere which also had the added bonus of smelling amazing!! She foraged for plants, choosing native flowers and herbs commonly found in the area, and also (importantly) worked with us within our budget. We wanted greenery for the back drop to the ceremony, and she suggested a DIY greenery bucket which was the perfect addition. Ladybug Blooms will also compost any leftover flower or greenery arrangements!
Table Decorations and Linens
We knew early on that we wanted to make our own table decorations. Weddings typically have a color scheme, and we opted to let availability of material dictate our decorations and colors. We found beautiful fabric from the Repurpose Project that we sewed into tablecloths (and plan to make into reusable bags). The rest of the decorations consisted of doilies borrowed from friends and found in consignment shops in High Springs and pine cone flower bouquets made by my mom (with pine cones gathered by friends and family). We purchased fresh herbs from Garden Gate Nursery to intersperse with the pine cone bouquets, and brought back the plant containers to the nursery to be reused again. We decided not to have wedding favors and instead guests took herbs and pine cone flower bouquets home with them. There are a lot of great ideas for DIY table decorations and many of the items needed may be around your house or outside (just google pine cone decorations for a bunch of ideas - some easy, some more involved). In terms of linens for an event, there is always the option of renting through a local company or asking the caterer to provide them. For smaller functions, there may be people attending who can bring tablecloths and napkins.
There can be a lot of waste associated with food at an event, whether it be leftover scraps or the disposable plates and utensils often used for serving. We considered a few things when choosing a caterer. In addition to having delicious food, a priority for us was to find a caterer who would be able to supply reusable dishes, serving ware, and utensils. We had attended events catered by Elegant Events Catering and got in touch with Sandra Carlisi, the owner. Sandra was great to work with - she understood what we were looking for, worked with us to build the menu to fit our needs, and once we finalized details we did not have to worry about the food portion of the event. There are a lot of great restaurants and caterers in the area, and it’s important to start the conversation early about reducing waste so that you can work out the details.
For our wedding cake, my husband and I have always loved the tres leches at Emiliano’s Cafe. They sell it in sheet cakes, and we contacted Wanda DePaz to see if it would be possible for them to bake the cakes in reusable metal cake pans. Wanda was great communicating about cake pan sizes and logistics. We delivered the metal pans to the restaurant before the event and the cakes turned out wonderfully.
Finally, we made sure to provide recycling and compost containers to the caterer to gather any food scraps and recyclables during the reception. We also brought containers to store the leftovers and re-served them at brunch the next day.
There are other options available for events to reduce the amount of waste associated with food. Consider having guests bring their own plates and silverware for smaller functions, or find an event space that supplies dishes and has a dishwasher. If you do not have an active compost, Beaten Path Compost will take your food scraps. Their drop off locations are the Union Street Farmers Market or their garden at the corner of SW 4th Ave. and SW 3rd St., next to Humble Wood Fire and Opus Coffee.
One of our favorite hobbies is to go birding and we decided to incorporate our love for birds in the reception. We printed Audubon’s high resolution Birds of America prints for our table assignments, which were displayed on a cork board we had on hand. The cards were set in plants on each table using a wooden stick. The paper was recycled after the event and the sticks were composted. We placed our bird ID books and binoculars in locations for people to make use of during the reception.
We also displayed pictures of my husband and I through the years - with friends and family, and then photos of us from the start of our relationship. We now have those photos in an album to always reflect on, and it added a personal touch that guests really enjoyed.
Whether it be a birthday party, work function, or community event, think about ways to incorporate something personal. There may be a creative way to highlight an organization mission, work product, or individual that reuses or re-purposes material around you.
Honeymoon Registry and Carbon Offsets
The last items I wanted to touch on are the wedding registry and carbon offsets. A big part of zero waste is refusing what you don’t need - we took that to heart in planning our wedding and decided to forego the traditional registry for a honeymoon registry. We went through Traveler’s Joy and guests gifted us special experiences for our journey. We also decided to purchase carbon offsets for the wedding and honeymoon through We Are Neutral. The organization’s carbon offsets currently support native tree plantings on conservation lands, energy-efficient upgrades for low-income residents, and methane capture at our local landfill. As you are budgeting for an event or trip, consider including an amount to reduce your carbon footprint.
I hope sharing our story gave you some new ideas for planning your wedding or next event. We would love to hear from you! Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.