Approximately 2.3 million couples get married each year in the US, with almost 380 million guests attending these weddings.[1] The "American Wedding Study 2006," produced by The Conde Nast Bridal Group, estimates that over the last 15 years, there has been a 400 percent increase in the number of destination weddings, and the number of weddings per year has increased by 200,000 since 2000. Although green weddings are still relatively rare, they are on the rise thanks to a push from the wedding industry and an emergence of eco-consciousness couples looking to include the planet in their lifelong commitment. A completely eco-friendly wedding may seem daunting, but luckily there are numerous individual ways to incorporate sustainability into holy matrimony: it can start with the engagement rings and the invites and continue on to the choice of limo that whisks you away to your honeymoon.

Although a wedding can be rendered green right down to the tiniest details ( soy candles surrounding a vegan cake) travel, traditional wedding finery and jewelry, and decorations are three areas responsible for the greatest environmental impacts.

Saying "I don't" to carbon emissions

The carbon emissions generated by travel and transportation top the list when it comes to a wedding's negative impact on the earth. The average wedding has about 50 out-of-town guests, and 90 percent of couples will fly off on a honeymoon following the ceremony.[2] Jet travel in the US contributes about 10 percent of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions (or about 2.7 percent of all US greenhouse gas emissions). Destination weddings in far-flung venues, rack up additional air travel-related carbon emissions. For example, flying a small wedding party to Paris and back from the US contributes 3 to 4 tons of CO2 per person. That’s more emissions than 20 people in Bangladesh produce in a year.[3]

The carbon emissions produced by a wedding multiply even more if food or flowers are imported. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), 70 percent of all flowers sold in the US are imported from Colombia or Ecuador, where they are grown using pesticides.[4]

And the bride wore green

Traditional wedding dresses, which are very rarely worn more than once, are typically made from synthetic petroleum-based synthetics, like nylon or polyester, or wood-based fabrics, like rayon. The production of conventional cotton—a fabric likely to make an appearance in gowns and other garb—involves several serious environmental problems—overuse of chemicals and water being the two biggies—most of which the organic cotton industry is trying to solve. Vintage bridal gowns that require no new resources while breathing new life into a piece of coveted clothing is one green alternative. Dresses made from sustainable fibers like organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and silk are also rising in popularity.

Aside from the dress, weddings are also focused on the dazzle. Mining for gold—a popular metal for engagement and wedding rings—is one the most polluting industries in the world and its biggest threats include acid mine drainage, cyanide spills, and heavy metal pollution. In the western US, mining has polluted the headwaters of more than 40 percent of watersheds.[5] The weight of the waste produced by mines in the US is almost nine times the weight of the garbage produced by all of America's cities and towns combined.[6] Another engagement and wedding staple, diamonds, are not heavily mined in the US, but are the source of social unrest and environmental destruction in other areas, specifically in Central and West African countries. Again, going the vintage route is an eco-friendly option as is buying ethically sourced diamonds and green gold.

Traditional wedding trappings and trash

Although marital fêtes with all the traditional trappings— decorations, favors, food service items, and the like—are still more popular than minimalist events, paying mind to what happens to wedding accoutrement after the party is over is another way to express love for the planet. Recycling and reusing decorations and favors turns what would otherwise be discarded into usable resources. Additionally, no new resources or chemicals are used to make new products. The reuse and recycling of decorations also prevents products from ending up in landfills where they can leach chemicals into the ground and water.

For sometimes large-scale events like weddings, using disposable dishes and cutlery is often more convenient than relying on reusable ones. But throw-away dishes create mountains of waste. For example, Americans toss out about 25 billion polystyrene cups per year.[7] If their eventual resting place is in a landfill, they’ll take hundreds of years to break down. But many petroleum-based plates, cups, and forks don't make it to the landfill—they instead end up polluting our waters and beaches. The Alguita Research Institute notes that the ratio of plastic to plankton in the oceans is 6:1 and rising.[8]

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