How I Successfully Had an Eco-Friendly Wedding

Updated: Sep 30, 2019

I was engaged to Houston for just over a year, but I have only been trying to live sustainably for 10 months. (For those interested in learning about my decision to live sustainably, click here). My journey to sustainable and low waste living has been great so far but deciding to change my living habits while planning a wedding felt like a disaster. I mean THINK about it: the plastic forks, spoons, plates, and plastic cups at the reception. The wedding dress and bridesmaids dresses being made by workers who work in rigorous conditions so westerners can get a cheap price. The showers, the gifts, the reception... I had a lot to consider. It changed my whole entire process of planning my wedding.

BUT what I do want to say is that my wedding was almost entirely waste-free. And honestly, it wasn't near as hard as I thought it would be- it was actually kind of simple. Low waste living does not mean living a harder way, it simply means forming different habits. And that's what I did to have a sustainable wedding.

Before I tell you all the wonderful things about my wedding that were sustainable, I'm going to list the unsustainable things first. Like I mentioned previously, I started living sustainably 2 months after I got engaged, so some items were already in place for the wedding.


1. My Wedding Dress

I worked seasonally at Anthropologie during college. So I got my dress 6 months before Houston and I even got engaged (lol) because I got a discount at BHLDN while working at Anthropologie during the Holidays. The dress cost $230 with my discount and I can't find where it's made which I think speaks for itself.

2. My Jewelry

Some of my jewelry was amazing and meaningful. My engagement ring has antique diamonds from my great grandmother's ring. I also wore a ring that my grandma passed down to me on my right hand. And the most meaningful of all, My aunt gave me a pair of earrings (that I wore in my second holes) from my grandmother who passed away due to brain cancer just one year ago. It was so, so special to me.

Those pieces of jewelry are so meaningful, but there were two pieces of jewelry that were cheap and definitely made in third world countries- my headpiece and my main earrings. These items were both bought before trying to live sustainably.

3. The Food

A friend of my mom's had offered to do the food right when I got engaged. Since someone was being generous enough to take on part of the wedding for us, I didn't worry about the sustainable aspect of it. I didn't learn about the impact of food until 2 weeks before the wedding, so it didn't seem like the right time to go and change the menu for the reception. I said I did not want beef, but there was still chicken, shrimp, and cheese served (for those who don't know the environmental impacts of food, watch Cowspiracy on Netflix).

Also, of course, a lot of the food was prepackaged in plastic. The reception was "Zero Waste" because none of the guests created any trash, but there was no way to avoid the plastic packaging for preparing the food behind the scenes.

4. My Nails

My nails are something I allowed myself to do. I didn't know of a sustainable option and wanted my nails done for the ceremony.

5. Wrapping Paper for Gifts

This was another aspect of the wedding where I didn't want to be too intrusive on others. I appreciate the people that got gifts for Houston and I's future, so I wasn't going to tell people how to wrap their gifts for me. Although many people wrapped their gifts sustainably or didn't wrap them at all, there were many gifts in traditional wrapping paper.


I had Invitations made of Recycled Paper

Invitations were an aspect of the wedding that was important to me. Obviously e-cards are better for the earth, but I wanted physical invitations. So my amazing wedding planners found a brand called Paper Culture that makes invitations out of recycled paper and plants a tree with each order.

My mom grew my wedding flowers

This is something I have wanted for my wedding for so long. My mom is an amazing gardener and she is the reason why I love flowers so much. I didn't want flowers that were shipped to me from across the world, I wanted the flowers that came straight from my mom's garden. They turned out beautiful and meant the world to me.

We did purchase hydrangeas, but the rest was homegrown.

The flower girls' dresses were dresses they already owned

Both of my sweet nieces already owned white dresses, so there was no need to purchase new ones.

My favorite little people :')

The flower girls had peddles that were from my mom's garden

My mom and I collected flower peddles the week of the wedding and the day of for the flower girls.

Houston and I registered for sustainable items

This was one of the more difficult parts of the wedding process because Houston and I both wanted these items to last. We made sure that every item we registered for was made of natural materials and would last for a long time. It turns out Target has a ton of great options that are made of sustainable materials, but I'm the most impressed with Amazon. Many small businesses have their products on Amazon so it's pretty simple to find the sustainable items you want.

We rented the tuxes

One of the best rules for the wedding- rent, borrow, reuse, never buy.

The bridesmaids' dresses were second hand

I highly recommend this idea to any girl who is looking for a sustainable option for their wedding! Buying second hand cut the dresses' prices by 1/3 and looked brand new. This was incredible because back in May of 2018, I picked out these EXACT bridesmaids dresses before I even knew about the environmental impacts of clothes. I easily found everyone's size and color on Poshmark and I found every dress for an average of $35.

My makeup was natural and in bamboo containers

Elate Cosmetics is so amazing and I've been using their brand for about 6 months now. I loved my make up on my wedding day and it was completely natural and low waste thanks to this amazing company.

My table decor was wildflowers, repurposed wine bottles, and jars

My parents and their friends saved wine bottles for the last year. I waited tables for almost my entire engagement, so anytime my customers would order a mimosa bucket, I would take the empty champagne bottles home with me for my wedding. My sweet grandma even saved her yogurt jars for me for candles on the table.

I mean, my decor was literally free and I think we all had fun saving the glass for the reception.

My mom grew a wildflower patch in part of her yard and those are the flowers we used for the tables. She also has greenery everywhere in our yard so we used that too.

The cutlery and plates were made of bamboo

I don't remember the brand I used, but I love the brand bambu for anyone else who wants to do this. This is the reason why my mom was able to compost everything after the wedding was over. Honestly the plates and cutlery being compostable made everything so easy and aesthetically pleasing as well.

The cups were mason jars from my mom and grandma's houses

My mom and grandma use to can produce seasonally, so they had plenty of mason jars for the wedding. My grandma also found a ton of them at her church's yard sale.

We borrowed tables, table cloths, and lights (did NOT buy)

Again, One of the best rules for the wedding- rent, borrow, reuse, never buy.

We opted buying gifts for the wedding party by paying for the tuxes and dresses

There's no need to buy a gift that our party might not even use, so we bought their attire for the wedding instead. Almost all Houston and I's wedding party were college students, so we thought this was the best way to give them a gift- by taking the pressure of buying wedding attire off of them.

My mom donated her cut flowers after the ceremony

This had nothing to do with me, she's just that great of a person. She gave bouquets to nursing homes, friends, and family to extend the life of her flowers.

All of the plates, napkins, cutlery, and food were composted & Glass and aluminum drinks were recycled

This is honestly a dream come true to me. I can't believe that all of the waste from the wedding did not end up in a landfill. This was my main goal from the start.

All the dinnerware (bamboo) was composted. The wine bottles (for decor), beer bottles, and canned drinks were recycled.

Questions from followers:

Could I ask how much money you spent on your low waste wedding?

The whole wedding cost $5,000 and an average wedding in the US cost $10,000. I had a $10,000 budget, but I simply didn't need it!


Ugh, it was amazing. My extended family owns a Christmas tree farm that my parents' house is right on the edge of. The wedding was in the Christmas tree farm and the reception was in my parents' front yard.

Funny enough, we all forgot to pin up my dog Cheeto before the wedding, so she was there front and center for the whole ceremony!

What type of decorations did you use and how were they packaged?

I love this question because I didn't even think about the packaging. There was NO packaging since I reused wine and champagne bottles along with yogurt jars for the candles. The only other decorations were flowers from my mom's garden as well as a wreath made of magnolia leaves from my grandpa's tree.

How do you encourage low-waste showers and parties thrown by others for you?

I was nervous about the showers, but I was so surprised. I told all the people who threw me a shower to not feel pressured to make it sustainable because it is my journey and not theirs. To my surprise, every single shower had compostable or reusable dishware, some people didn't wrap their gifts, and everyone was more than happy to purchase sustainable items for me and Houston. I think it goes back to leading by example, not by your opinion.

What about your exit?

I have been to several weddings where they fake their exit ceremony for the pictures, so I didn't feel like having a grand exit in general. I just wanted to leave when I was ready, so we didn't have anything special when we left.

What were some difficulties?

To me, the food problem seemed impossible. I just didn't even know what to do. Granted, I didn't know the problems of the food industry until about 2 weeks prior, so there was no time for proper planning. If there is enough time to plan for sustainable food, I'm confident anyone can make it happen!

What did your guests think about the wedding?

People seemed so enthusiastic at the wedding. It really surprised people how beautiful a wedding can be while being low budget and low waste. People kept coming up to me to talk about how truly breathtaking the ceremony was.

How long did it take you to plan?

I was engaged for about a year, but seriously, the wedding can be planned in any amount of time in my opinion. I think it could've been planned in about 3 months.

Did guests know the wedding was going to be sustainable?

Since I have a blog and Instagram about it I assume most people knew, but it wasn't an announced thing. But I only had 100 people at my wedding so most people knew me very personally.

What about wedding chairs?

They were rented!

Does it have to be small? Lots of people want to celebrate love and I want them to be there!

Of course not! I always wanted a small wedding. I chose to have a small wedding before sustainable living. I think anybody you want at your wedding should definitely be there.

Final Thoughts:

My wedding day was the most special day of my life. Houston and I felt so loved by all of our friends and family and it was just such a special day for us. I love Houston's family so much and I feel so honored to be apart of that family now. My family loves Houston and has treated him like their own for years. I feel so overjoyed to finally live with my best friend and experience life together every day.

As far as planning a sustainable wedding goes, I did it and, in my eyes, my wedding was perfect. I didn't feel like I needed to spend more money, I didn't feel like cutting back on waste meant cutting back on the beauty of the ceremony, and I felt like I got to celebrate Houston and I's relationship while also staying true to our values of living sustainably.

So here's a ton of pictures of me and Houston's wedding!

Thanks for reading,

Jessica *Clifton*

Impact for Good


Impact For Good