15 ways to throw an *affordable* eco-friendly wedding

goats eating the seating the day before

Often times, okay, for the most part, eco-friendly means CRAZY expensive. And though you may not be able to afford the organic soy votive candles, or the disposable bamboo plates, I have compiled a list of actually affordable ways to go green on your wedding day. Some of these tips may seem a little strange to your guests, but since we are offbeat brides, we're not afraid to look a little strange in order to help the Earth, amahright? So let's get down and dirty…

  1. Email your invitations and direct guests to your wedsite for all your wedding info. And for the very few non-internet friendly people out there, invest in a few sustainable and eco-friendly paper invites.
  2. Wearing my mother's dress
    "Wearing my mother's dress" by Aga Images
    Rent, buy used, or purchase wedding clothes that you know you'd wear again. Look into wearing your mother's wedding dress, or, if your mom's dress looks as ugly on you as my mom's did on me, see if you can't create a new one out of the fabric.
  3. Ask your friends and family to donate a piece of their old gold jewelry to the environmentally-friendly jeweler, greenKarat, instead of giving gifts — greenKarat will then melt them down to make your wedding rings. This has the added benefit of, not only being eco-friendly, but also enabling you to keep a piece of your family and friends close to you at all times.
  4. Recycle bottles and cans to pay for your wedding.
    IMG_5132
    From Isa & Clinton's bush wedding
  5. For bouquets, use wildflowers that you gather yourself. Common sense alert: make sure you're picking flowers that aren't endangered, someone else's property, etc.
  6. For centerpieces use potted plants, especially ones that you already have. One OBB used the succulents from their own collection as the centerpieces.
  7. Repurpose stuff — Go thrifting for your decor, use the bridal party bouquets as centerpieces for the reception.
  8. Choose a venue in which you can hold both the ceremony and reception to cut down on traveling. If that's not possible, then make sure the two venues are within walking distance from each other.
  9. Buy local and organic products and foods whenever possible. Weekend farmers markets are great places to get ahold of such things.
  10. Request only digital prints from your photographer — no wedding albums, no proof sheets, etc. And then ONLY print out the few photos that you're going to have framed.
  11. Have your wedding in someone's backyard. We have tons of backyard weddings to use as inspiration.
    DSC_0111
    From Sara and Matt's summer camp wedding.
  12. Set up composting bins during the reception.
  13. Use thrift stores dishes and silverware at your wedding and then donate them when you're done.
  14. Instead of favors, make a donation in your guest's names to eco charities, or use Ariel's "muglies" idea.
  15. Repurpose your seating. One Offbeat Bride started collecting chairs, stools, etc. that had been abandoned. Another one asked the school she works for to let her borrow their chairs, and my favorite example — use hay bales instead of seats, then let the goats eat them!

Like always, if you have more suggestions, feel free to leave 'em in the comments!

  1. finding your linens in grandma's closet or your cake plates in your auntie's attic is not only cost effective, but can be intimate and even fun. and since chairs are mentioned, I will share that for my sister's at-home wedding, folding chairs were borrowed from the local funeral parlor. plain white, no one would have guessed it.

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  2. …so something borrowed doesn't have to be only one thing.

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  3. These are all really good! Except on #5, make sure you find out what plants in your area are endangered and/or protected.

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  4. Recycled or thrifted tablewares aren't the only option. We used bamboo plates and cornstarch cups and silveware at our wedding.

    We composted the cups and forks ourselves.

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    • ooo, I like that idea! How well did they compost? I mean, how long 'till they degraded?

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  5. Another way to get around the invite thing is to thrift them. In Canada we have places called "St Vincent De Pauls" thrift stores that sell cards for 10cents a piece, and you can get super amazing retro ones if you shop often enough.

    As for the place to have it, some conservation areas have outdoor pavillions you can rent for $50 or less a day, and the money goes to a not for profit organization!

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    • FYI, St. Vincent De Paul is a world-wide organziation. Search for them online and you'll likely find that they have a store in your area. Other thrift stores may also have cheap cards. You can also repurpose used cards by printing your information on the back of previously used paper and glueing that to the inside of the old card.

      For our "guest book", we're collecting unused postcards from random people. At the reception, our guest will choose a card, fill it in with well wishes and drop it in a mail box.Our two closest friends will then separate the stack and mail us a few each month leading up to our 1yr anniversary. So far, we have tons of travel postcards from around the world and dating back as far as the 1970's.

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  6. Although we didn't plan for an 'eco' wedding, reading this I realise that quite a few of our choices were pretty eco friendly – yay!

    Our wedding and reception venues were in walking distance of each other, our caterers are specialists in locally sourced produce, we hired gorgeous vintage china. Instead of formal florals we had flowers in enamel jugs (new, but handed out to friends and family at the end of the day), vintage glass vases that I bought from charity (thrift) shops and old jam jars. Also, my veil and shoes were borrowed and my hair accessory was made from vintage jewellery.

    My dress was new but I've decided that it will be my family heirloom and a I really hope a future daughter, niece or granddaughter will wear it. I absolutely love that photo of the labels sewn into the hem.

    Hope this is inspiring for any brides not going all out for the eco wedding but maybe wanting to go some way towards it.

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  7. Most of the eco-friendly stuff we did was probably in the mid-range on expense: it was vegan; we rented our tables, chairs, linens, dinnerware, and vases from the venue, caterer, and florist; the guys all rented their tuxes. We had paper invitations (by Crane, which is supposed to be a "greener" paper company), but we skipped the inner envelope for the reply card and just had the one return envelope. Myself, my mom, and one of my bridesmaids got prettied up at an Aveda salon, which is all cruelty-free and eco-friendly.

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  8. You could try taking public transit instead of renting a limo (depending on where you live, of course). There's always car sharing (zipcar, autoshare…), borrowing a friend's car, etc.

    Our wedding involved a limo/public transit combination. I rented the limo mostly to satisfy our parents but it ended up being impractical as our venue was downtown in a major city (limited parking, too much traffic…we ended up walking anyways!)

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    • We own a hybrid, but it's beat up, so we might rent a Prius. I've heard of places that rent hybrid limos, but they're sparse, expensive and too fancy for us.

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  9. For seating, you can have a BYOLC (bring your own lawnchair) event. If they don't have lawn chairs, they can always bring a blanket.

    For dishes, cups, cultery, etc you can order compostable! (here is where we are ordering ours from http://www.greenshift.ca/index.html)

    Skip Reply Cards and add a phone number or email address. Saves time, paper, and you don't have to worry about the post losing the RSVP.;)

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    • We're doing a picnic-style wedding, so asking guests to bring a blanket is a wonderful idea!

      We're considering renting dishes, since they'll be reused over and over again.

      We're asking guests to RSVP by phone or on our website.

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  10. Find a venue that provides tables and chairs, this way you won't have to buy them. If your venue provides china and tablecloths even better. Pick a venue that tries to be green and ask them what they're doing to be environmentally friendly.

    This is a bit more doable if you have a wedding with a 10-20k budget, but look for a B&B that offers full weekend rentals. This way you don't have to find a venue for the rehearsal dinner and everyone is already on site and you may not even need to leave for the entire weekend. Also, more time to hang out with friends and family!

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    • We're doing a local-destination-weekend-wedding for this reason!

      We originally wanted a camping, all-DIY, lowest-possible budget weekend, but when we factored in the needs of guests (older or handicapped guests, kids, 1/3 of the guest list flying in, weather woes, etc.), plus the extra costs and time of full-DIY (tent, table, chair rentals, organizing potlucks, extra bodies & trucks needed, etc.), it became evident that going slightly higher in budget and finding venues open to negotiation was a better option for us.

      I loathed the venue research, but I loved the negotiation process, and now that we're ready to sign the contract and put down the deposit, I'm thrilled with how it is looking. The poor economy means vendors are more willing to negotiate, even our venues' vendors, so everybody saves. We'll get to have the Friday rehearsal through the Sunday brunch all in one location, with indoor & outdoor gathering spaces (no tent rental needed!), local food distributors who source from nearby farms & wholesalers, and a variety of sleeping options (thrifty, plush, or rustic). FTW!

      For us it comes down to time vs. cost vs. eco-responsibility — where can we save the most of all 3, and where do we have wiggle room to lean more in one direction?

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  11. I am all about wedding clothes we can wear again – FH is wearing a black light wool suit instead of a tux, and my dress, while too formal to wear often, will be wearable on several occasions in the future at formal functions. The main decorative element is a gently used vintage Japanese obi (I love old fabric).

    Because my mom's wedding dress…well, I just didn't like it. And even if I'd gussied it up a bit it would have still been a ivory colored dress, and I wanted nothing in any shade of white.

    So this was the best compromise I could find between re-using instead of buying new, but wanting a dress with color!

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  12. Regarding #8: My FH and I actually lucked into taking this a step further. Not only are we having our wedding and reception in the same place, but we have a choice of reserving guest blocks at either of two hotels directly across a very quiet street from our venue! Pretty darned nifty.

    And as for #5: If you have a green thumb and enough lead time, you can start your own centerpiece flowers from seed. (Petunias for the win!) We're even doing this for our wedding favors; each of our guests will be taking home their very own morning glory start, and we're using plant row markers for our placecards.

    Folks who want to try this, though, keep in mind that it's good to have some seed-starting experience, and research the flowers you want to use. You don't want to spend weeks coaxing seeds into plants to find that they're still refusing to bloom by the time the wedding rolls around!

    In my case, I'm still more than a year out from my wedding, so I'm doing a "test run" of my petunia seed starts this spring to time them. The glories should be easier, as I don't plan to have them blooming by the wedding, just big enough to be ready to plant out in peoples' gardens when they take them home.

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    • Be very, *very* cautious about which variety of morning glory you are using. Some species are so virulent that they quickly become invasive, destructive weeds.

      When I was in high school, my parents spent the better part of two years trying to get rid of a morning glory infestation. Periodically we had to pull the vines out of the breaker box and the siding. They finally bit the bullet, sprayed herbicide and re-seeded the lawn.

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  13. Three things that I think are great
    1. Package/Donate your leftovers. Instead of throwing away all the extra food, have your caterer put them into individual food containers for your party to take with you. Or, arrange to donate extra food to a food bank. Many food banks are 24 hours and will take any sort of food.

    2. Donate your flowers. Local trade school (like florist schools) love getting flowers so they can practice arrangements, or donate to hospice or retirement homes that will rearrange your flowers for people in need.

    3. If favors, make them edible. People will appreciate food more than that candle, i promise.

    Less trash is ecofriendly!

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    • I work for a food bank in Sacrament, CA. The definition of "food bank" varies from area to area, but for this area it means a place that provides free take-home (not-prepared) groceries to those in need. If you plan to donate leftovers, be sure to call around a month or more ahead of time to the food banks and free hot-meal services in your area to see if they can accept your food, when and under what conditions.

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  14. Doing this kind of thing is actually the "theme" of our wedding — everything is super-local and hopefully more invested with meaning than if we bought it. Besides doing most of what's on this list, we are also growing our own flowers from bulbs, which in Cali doesn't take much advance planning.

    When we priced it out, though, renting basic dishes comes to about half the price of thrifting them, and is arguably greener, because you don't have to drive around town for weekends on end piecing together an appropriate collection to feed 100 people.

    Also, for those who don't need to custom design their rings, estate wedding jewelry rocks both the cheap and green categories.

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  15. Unrelated to going green, but I totally want to see goats in a wedding. My cousin was married in a cow field, but the cows were so far away. More farm animals in weddings!

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  16. Our flowers were hand-knitted so they were kept as souvenirs. Our centrepieces were stacks of videos that we bought from charity shops, and asked our guests to take away as favours.

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  17. Picking flowers — make sure you get them from a place you're allowed to pick them from, and that you aren't picking anything endangered or protected.

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  18. I wasn't sure about e-mailing my invitations. I was worried it would be considered tacky, lol. I used a template from designbetty.com. I have been looking for utensils at thrift stores and on ebay. I just found some great ideas for diy cake stands. I think it is an awesome idea to be more eco-friendly (I already matched up most of the thing on the list). One idea for the flowers is to plant some of your own and then use them at the wedding.

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  19. We went the thrift-store dishes route, and it didn't end up really saving us any money. I went to the thrift store on their sale days, and it took a TON of trips to find enough dishes (and I was buying pretty much anything that wasn't all chipped up that was on sale). $wise, we spent a little more than renting would have been, and I had a lot more trouble selling them on Craig's List than I expected. We recouped some of the money that way, but it cost a lot more than I expected going in.

    I don't regret it, though, because it was way prettier than renting matching dishes. (and my MIL even ended up washing them all for us, which was amazingly sweet of her)

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  20. We weren't going especially green, but we managed to do a few things.

    Something I would say is if you do have potted plants as table decorations (like we did) be aware they may wilt and need regular watering to rescue them.

    I also had an origami bouguet, which I can keep forevers!

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    • I agree about the wilting plants. Maybe make this someone's job! We had the same problem. :/

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  21. I bought my FH's ring from Green Karat and was able to trade in broken and unused gold jewelry for more store credit than any local jeweler had offered. Plus we got a one-of-a kind ring (look at the "Maitri" ring on their website).

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  22. I finally found an inexpensive source for decent recycled paper invitations (sealandsend.com), but now I'm looking for thank-you cards. Anyone got a source for recycled ones that are reasonable priced and not hideous? Would like to not spend hundreds of dollars on those!

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  23. Another note for some of the comments above–oftentimes the companies that make "wildflower" paper get cheap seeds from plants that can be problematic in some areas (They often reseed like crazy and crowd out natives). Make sure to ask what the seed content is and do a google search about the plants to make sure they're not trouble-makers. Morning glories are actually a seriously invasive plant, and if you can switch out for others that would be a very eco-friendly choice. There are lots of native flowers that you can grow from seed easily, depending on what area you live in and what colors you want. Feel free to contact me if you'd like advice.

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  24. We were going to give away tree seedlings as favors, but realized that most trees wouldn't be planted, would die soon after the wedding due to guest's plane and car trips home, and may not survive in all of the areas where our guest are coming from. Instead, we opted for a "make your won tea blend" station and flower/vegetable seeds (we're gathering these from random people and buying them on sale).

    Also, borrow, borrow, borrow. We're borrowing tables, platters, drink dispensers, etc. from friends and family that live nearby. It saves money and is eco-friendly! We're also asking for lots of donated items- from fabric to throw pillows- which we will reuse or donate to local charities after the wedding.

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  25. I love these ideas, my aunty is great at hosting parties and her house is massive. I think we might hire a small marquee and tell people to bring there own blankets – fingers crossed the weather holds out! Really great ideas from this site – every time I visit.

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  26. I asked my friends to collect glass jars they would normally be recycling. Then I had a craft party/bridal shower, and everyone helped paint the jars, which will be used as cups/glasses at our wedding. No plastic or paper cups necessary!

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  27. I'm doing some planet friendly stuff without aiming to be "green." Centerpieces will be simple flowers in thrifted vases, simply because I am a thrifting freak. Cards will be hand made linocut prints without inner envelopes or tissue simply because those things are relics from an era when printing was a messier adventure than printmaking ink and lazer printing is now. The City of Boise will be providing reusable ceremony decorations simply by their having really pretty parks. There will be no favors because I think they're really useless, instead FH and I each are picking a charity (JDRF for him, Elton John Aids Foundation for me) then we'll flip a coin to see who gets our "favors." Not so friendly stuff will be three venues all requiring car travel. One of those cars will be an emissions exempt vintage mint condition Corvette Stingray. Also the array of family flying and driving in and our half-a-pacific-away honeymoon should throw some jet fuel on the fire. And I am unafraid of giving my DJ all the juice he wants for the system, as an electronic music nerd, I can't help but want to indulge.

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  28. We made an effort to make our wedding as eco-friendly as possible–here's what we did!

    1. Potted NATIVE plants from a local greenhouse (I contacted them ahead of time and told them I wanted local wildflowers and they grew them from seeds!). Worked as decor and favors–guests took them home! And it's cheap, cheap, cheap–40 plants (variety of sizes) for $550.

    2. Cookies bouquets! Yum!!

    3. Recycled paper invites that use the least amount of paper possible. Postcard save-the-dates with no envelope. Postcard RSVP (smallest size available). One envelope for the whole invite. Etc.

    4. Buy your dress used! I got mine at a consignment store for $200. Then, donate it when you're done!

    5. Recycle your programs, water bottles, etc. Or, give water bottles as a favor if you're having an outdoor wedding. Provide for a way for guests to refill them throughout the weekend.

    6. DIY. Everything you can!

    7. Borrow everything you can (as many people have mentioned).

    8. I agree about recycled metal rings! Even if you don't know someone who will donate some metal to you, many jewelers offer this option as well as many Etsy sellers. It's awesome!

    I found finding locally-sourced food to be the biggest stumbling block. It was SO much more expensive (like, 3 times as much) so it was the one thing I had to let go of. :( I guess you can't win 'em all!

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  29. I'm also on the 'used dress' route. The dress is from a local designer and the first owner lived just a few miles away.

    To afford our wedding at a farm guest house with a gourmet restaurant where all the food is home grown and organic, we narrowed down the guest count to 25… that also saved a bit of paper for the invitations…

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