Zero Waste Wedding

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Zero Waste Wedding

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Guest post: by Isabel Yanes
Isabel is an Assistant Editor based in L.A. and fellow Waste Warrior.


“We’re going to do a Zero-Waste Wedding!”

“We’re doing a what!?” said my fiancé. And so began the planning of a non-traditional, out-of-state, inexpensive wedding with Zero-Waste principles. It wasn’t perfectly Zero-Waste, but dagnabbit we tried! Here’s what we came up with:



We sent out 15 paper invitations for close family that wanted printed ones, but everyone else was invited via a Facebook event, phone call, or text message. We only sent invitations (no save the dates) because we got engaged less than 8 months out.


Family Days

Since we live on the West Coast and both our families live on the East Coast, we decided to forgo a large reception in lieu of multiple family days leading up to the wedding.

This gave us quality time to spend with our loved ones and immediately cut the cost of the wedding since the reception is the most expensive part. We had homemade meals prepared by our families and served at the dinner table with no waste to be found! 


zero waste wedding ceremony

Photo credit: Pom Photo Co



I rented my dress and veil from a local small business that specialized in bridal wear and my husband rented his tux from Men’s Warehouse. I wore comfortable flats that I already owned because I hate walking in heels and didn’t want to be in pain all day. I found some jewelry pieces at the Renaissance faire that I could wear with other clothes I currently own and we bought our rings on Etsy.

We decided we didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on our rings because it didn’t make sense to us to invest that much money in small, easily-lost items. *cough* I lost my ring set less than 2 months later in an airport bathroom and was very thankful we’d made this decision! I had my aunt do my hair and my mom do my make up the day of to save on the cost of a hair dresser and make up artist.


“…the greatest advantage to spending so little on our wedding was paying off all our remaining student loan debt – almost $15,000!”



We had a whopping 3 photographers, but we only paid for 1. I will admit this is a crazy situation that’s hard to replicate, but we were fortunate enough that my mother-in-law is a wedding planner and had connections to photographers who wanted to repay her for all the recommendations she’d given them over the years.


The Ceremony

We had a ceremony on our university’s campus where we met. We rented two buildings: a Chapel for the ceremony and a student organization building for me to hide in and store food. The Chapel is beautiful in its own rite and didn’t need much decorating. My mother-in-law brought a few decorations from her business: lanterns and garland, string lights, mini columns and vases, a box for cards, a sign to turn off cell phones, cups for the toast, and a display for our donuts.


Although we definitely lucked out with his mom’s treasure trove of goodies, these items can be replicated using decorative items in family member’s homes. (Don’t forget to check Christmas decoration boxes!) My mom and grandmother arranged the flowers for my bouquet, my husband’s boutonniere, the flower girl’s tiara, wreaths for outside the chapel doors and 2 vases next to us during the ceremony. These were supposed to be donated to a local children’s hospital but my husband didn’t follow through on getting them there. Woops!


zero waste wedding bride and groom

Photo credit: Pom Photo Co


Before the ceremony started, we played a slideshow of pictures with accompanying love songs on the projector inside the Chapel so our guests would be entertained and enjoy the countless moments we shared over the past 6 years together.

For our “bridal parties,” we asked 3 people to stand on the stage with us, no specific color or dress required. Same went for our guests – whatever you owned works well enough for us!


zero waste wedding donut stack

Photo credit: Pom Photo Co

The Cake

Instead of a giant wedding cake that would need cutting, plating, and utensils, we chose to do a donut display, so our guests could pick whichever donut flavor they wanted (we had 8 different choices) and wash their hands in the bathroom afterwards if needed. We also got a small 6-inch cake from our local grocery store sans decorations to be eaten after lunch with family.

We topped it with two flowers and foliage left over from the flower arrangements. We finished the ceremony with a send off using wands made of sticks and colored string that were collected and are now being reused at other weddings the same way.


zero waste wedding cake


(No) Gifts

We specifically asks for no material gifts for our wedding because (1) there was no way to take it back home on our flight without incurring large charges or risk losing items during shipping and (2) we live in a tiny 1 bedroom apartment in LA and are transitioning to a minimalist lifestyle. 


The Luncheon

In order to still have our first meal as a couple with our family, we invited our parents and grandparents to our favorite restaurant after the ceremony to eat lunch and try to finish off our cake. It didn’t happen – we were stuffed!


zero waste donuts


The After Party

The most unusual part of our wedding was definitely a “friends only” after party that we hosted at our AirBnB house. This was our way of spending quality time with our friends, most whom we hadn’t seen in 3+ years! We purchased alcohol and taco ingredients the day before to serve to all our friends using the tableware found in the kitchen.

Other than 2 broken glasses (sorry!!) which we offered to pay for, everything went great! We set up a friend’s bluetooth speaker with a house party playlist I curated and outside our AirBnB had great tailgate party games set up like cornhole/bean bag toss. It was a great night and we were able to catch up with all our friends in a more relaxed setting than a reception.


If I could go back…

Here are a few things I would do differently:


  • Borrow Jewelry from family members or friends instead of buying them new.
  • Provide real glassware for the toast. Despite my attempt to reuse glasses from a previous family event, these little plastic toasting glasses made it in.
  • Nix the luncheon. Our family members were tired after an early morning of getting ready, taking pictures, and enjoying the ceremony.
  • Assign someone to donate flowers other than the groom. He’s got a lot going on that day!


Budget Breakdown

Transportation from West to East Coast – $670
Tux Rental – $135
Dress Rental – $300
Nails + Jewelry – $190
Rings – $290 + $230
Photographers – $1,000
Chapel, Student Hall, AirBnB Rental – $1,215
Donuts, Cake + Party Food – $350
Flowers – $300
Grand Total: $4,680


I joke that the total is still way too high a number for me, but realistically I know we dodged a financial bullet when the average American wedding costs $35,000. While we did spend a pretty penny on our honeymoon to South Africa, the greatest advantage to spending so little on our wedding was paying off all our remaining student loan debt – almost $15,000! Living debt-free has really changed our financial outlook on life. To us, spending quality time with the people we love over having an expensive traditional wedding was so worth it. 



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