From the flowers and linens to decorations and attire, high costs aren’t the only thing that traditionally come with weddings. The amount of waste can be pretty high, too.
According to the Botanical Paperworks site, the average wedding generates over 400 pounds of garbage. With an estimated 2.5 million weddings per year, that’s about 1 billion pounds of trash from weddings and receptions alone.
Northfielder Kimberly Haroldson set out to plan her backyard, sustainable wedding with zero waste. Her Sept. 4 wedding included items either purchased secondhand, rented or borrowed.
About six to seven years ago, Haroldson stumbled upon a book by Bea Johnson about living in a zero waste home. On board with the zero waste approach, Haroldson texted her friend Ashley Kennedy, who was also game for trying it out. They started a private Facebook group in hopes of getting tips on how to reduce waste. Much to her surprise, she became a leader of the group and researched on her own how to go about minimizing what she discards.
Soon after that, Haroldson said they started receiving messages from others wishing there was classes taught on living a zero-waste lifestyle. With Kennedy’s experience as a teacher, the duo began teaching classes. They soon expanded their work, becoming zero-waste activists and even going to the Capitol to talk about the banning plastic bags.
Haroldson says it was easy to work zero waste into her wedding an easy one. Prior to moving to Northfield in May, Haroldson lived in the cities. During that time, she began collecting stemmed glasses and coffee mugs from “Buy Nothing” groups in the area. After realizing Northfield did not have a Facebook page similar to the one in the cities, she quickly created a place for people interested in giving away items to those searching for them. Along with the coffee mugs and and stemmed glasses, an arch and hutch were gifted to her from Buy Nothing groups.
Traditional wedding items like decorations, consisted of flowers from the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market, with arrangements put together by Kennedy.
Part of the zero-waste lifestyle, Haroldson says is to refuse everything first, and compost as a last resort. Instead of using cans, Haroldson opted for kegs of beer and rootbeer, and offered wine in bigger bottles. While she could have gotten compostable plates to use, Haroldson rented dinnerware from a local company since it takes a lot of energy for that many items to compost. Flatware and cloth napkins were also rented, while cake stands for pie were purchased from Goodwill or received from the “Buy Nothing” group.
Other decorations used to accent Haroldson’s decor, like a chalkboard that directed guests to pick a glass to use for the night, was an old piece slate of her grandma’s. The wooden border for the chalkboard was made by her father for a Christmas gift 10 years ago. Pallets, which were used to hold the unique collection of coffee mugs guests could use, were found in a dumpster in Faribault, and stained by Haroldson.
Haroldson’s wedding dress came from a consignment store, and her bridesmaids’ dresses were rented from Rent the Runway, ranging anywhere from $32 to $100.
The suit jacket her now husband, Ross, wore was bought a number of years ago for the first wedding he attended. Focusing on the passion Haroldson and her husband have for the earth, instead of asking for gifts at the wedding, they asked for donations toward a greenhouse or their honeymoon. For those who wanted to buy gifts, Haroldson picked out a few items that she could use from a registry site that allows for the addition of secondhand, handmade and experience gifts. Instead of purchasing wedding favors, the newlyweds made donations to Pheasants Forever and opted out of paper programs and wedding invitations.
The meal, catered from a local establishment, was vegan. Though not following a vegan lifestyle, Haroldson was pleased with how it fit into her goal of zero waste.
Kennedy added that there’s value in reducing the amount of meat that is consumed, especially for such a large gathering, as she says a lot of energy is involved with eating meat (including land, water, shipping and space). Food scraps from the meal were also composted.
Throughout her months of planning and collecting items, Haroldson said it’s been fun hearing the stories people share and relating to them through similar experiences.
After posting a photo of her wedding ring with sentimental value on the Zero Waste Advocates of MN Facebook and Instagram pages, Haroldson said she received messages from so many brides who also shared that their ring was secondhand, and people grew very excited to share more about it. Haroldson’s wedding ring was her grandmother’s, a ring that she remembers trying on and always finding so unique.
Finding that the whole world changed during COVID-19, as people found new ways of doing things, Haroldson feels people are getting more comfortable with change.
Planning a zero-waste wedding is pretty easy, Kennedy said, adding that a zero-waste lifestyle can be applied to many aspects of life.
“There’s so much excess in existence already that there’s no need to add to the waste stream by purchasing new items,” said Kennedy. “The idea is that we all have things we don’t need that others need.”
When beginning the wedding planning, Kennedy says they took a step back and focused on the three important things wanted at the ceremony: good friends and family, good food and good music. She says Haroldson was able to add personal touches by being creative, without having to purchase new things.
“This is something anybody can do,” said Kennedy. “It actually alleviates a little bit of stress to step back and think about what’s really important.”