Something borrowed, something green: Tips for a sustainable wedding
Kristin Waller spent more than a decade working as an environmental engineer, so she was well aware of just how large a carbon footprint the typical wedding can have.
As her own big day approached, Waller did everything she could think of to ensure the July 3, 2021 ceremony and reception went easy on Mother Nature.
She and her groom, Thomas Staskowski, handed out a unique wedding favor: reusable stainless steel straws engraved with the couple’s names and wedding date, and accompanied by a cleaning kit. Groomsmen received gifts of fishing poles. Waller’s wedding shoes were Rothy’s, a brand that crafts footwear from plastic water bottles. But the piece de resistance were the wedding menus, programs and place cards that were printed on seed paper.
Guests were instructed to take the paper products home and bury them in a sunny spot of their yards beneath an eighth of an inch of moist soil. Friends and family members who followed these directions were rewarded a few months later with lacy white native wildflowers.
“We wanted our wedding to be not just one day, but for many, many days out that would carry forward into the future,” Waller, 32, of Millersville, said. “We were recycling our joy.”
Wedding industry experts say that the interest in sustainable, ecologically-friendly weddings has grown as members of the Millennial generation reached marriage age, and as awareness has increased about the toll weddings take on the environment. An often-quoted statistic from Kate L. Harrison’s 2008 book, “The Green Bride Guide: How to Create an Earth-Friendly Wedding on Any Budget,” concludes that the average wedding produces 400 pounds of garbage and 63 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).
More recently, the interest in sustainable weddings has received high-profile boosts from England’s trendsetting young royals.
Meghan Markle, the American-born, biracial Duchess of Sussex, used locally sourced flowers for her 2018 wedding — much of it taken from gardens and parkland. Prince Harry’s cousin, Princess Eugenie, banned the use of plastic at her wedding later that year, while her sister, Princess Beatrice made headlines in the United Kingdom when she borrowed a vintage wedding dress from Queen Elizabeth for her 2020 nuptials.
“Couples in their 20s and 30s who are getting married today are very aware that their everyday actions affect the environment,” said Emily Blackman, the wedding and events coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
“They are very careful and thoughtful about their choices because they want to make sure that their wedding has a purpose.”
Venues like the Foundation’s Philip Merrill Environmental Center in Annapolis make that planning easy; the facility has solar water heaters, cisterns that collect rainwater and no-flush, composting toilets.
“We have an on-site recycling center, so everything that the couple doesn’t take with them will be recycled at the end of the night,” Blackman said.
And while not all engaged couples are as determined as Waller and Staskowski to make every aspect of their nuptials Earth-friendly, many couples incorporate environmentally-beneficial elements into their celebrations, whether it’s throwing a COVID-appropriate “micro-wedding” with a small guest list, walking down the aisle in a family member’s heirloom wedding dress, or making table centerpieces from wine bottles, scraps of ribbon and dried flowers.
For example, when Dave Kostkowski married Jordan Craig last October at the Annapolis Maritime Museum, the couple made it a point to support small local businesses, from their photographer to their makeup artist. (Shopping locally protects the environment because less fuel gets consumed during shipping.) Guests received reusable gift bags containing hand sanitizer, insulated drink containers and fully cooked, miniature hamburgers. (Experts consider edible gifts to be environmentally friendly because they are consumed and then break down naturally.)
“We live on the water and we got engaged when we were out on our boat,” Craig, 32, of Severna Park said, “so it was important to us to have a sustainable wedding.”
The couple found a used wedding arch for sale on Facebook.
“We took a trip together one day to squeeze the massive wooden arch pieces into my car,” Kostkowski, 31, wrote in an email. “We cleaned the arch up, wrapped it in flowers and it had a second life. We also then gave the same arch to a family friend for their wedding so it will now be reused at least three times.”
Natasha Murdock is in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, so it was second nature for her to tie the knot with her now-husband, Jatwan Murdock, in front of 30 guests and aboard the Annapolis Maritime Museum’s 1940 skipjack, The Wilma Lee.
“In the Coast Guard we deal with pollution and the health of the bay,” Natasha Murdock, 35, said.
“We were really cognizant that anything we took on the boat we would have to take off, so we kept the wedding decorations simple: garlands for the railings and a ‘just married’ sign on the back.
“The captain took us out to the middle of the bay. He cut the engine and we said our vows. After that we had a catered dinner. It was the best day of my life.”
As more couples are opting for environmentally conscious weddings, businesses and nonprofit groups are springing up to serve them.
For instance, Maryland Wedding Consignment is a Facebook group with nearly 42,000 members that offers used wedding attire, décor and supplies for resale.
“People sell all kinds of things there that can be reused,” said Paige Skrickus, wedding and events manager for Annapolis Maritime Museum and a member of the group. “There are welcome signs, hurricanes for floating candles, table numbers ― you name it.”
The Louisiana-based Something Borrowed Blooms creates silk flower arrangements that couples rent for their wedding and then return. Volunteers with the nonprofit Petals for Hope, which is headquartered on Kent Island, will collect wedding bouquets once the ceremony is over, make them into new arrangements, and donate the used blooms to hospices and homeless shelters. ReVased, the eco-friendly florist operating out of Baltimore, sells bouquets of dried flowers sourced from environmentally responsible growers.
Brides in the market for vintage wedding dresses can scour such popular online marketplaces as 1stdibs and Etsy, while specialty shops, such as the New Market, MD-based Vivian Elise Vintage, offers restored and restyled gowns, veils and headpieces dating from the 1910s to the 1980s.
Joanna Young, owner of Evergreen Antiques and True Vintage in Annapolis, said that engaged couples often browse her store searching for wedding accessories: “fur stoles, old lace, antique pearls, a rosary.”
A recent graduate of St. John’s College bought an Edwardian engagement ring made from 14 karat gold for the woman he loved. The stones in the ring had been damaged, so he went to a local jeweler’s and had them replaced with an antique old mine diamond and sapphires from the 1950s.
“That ring is a knockout,” Young said.
She thinks that the beloved Victorian wedding rhyme: “something old, something new/ something borrowed, something blue” contains within it a message about recycling.
“We get married as part of a community and ritual is built into all of our wedding traditions,” Young said. “It’s nice to have that continuity from 100 years ago or more carried over into today.”
Sarah Lubawski, the senior catering manager at Annapolis Waterfront Hotel, often recommends that her couples eschew traditional wedding favors. Instead, she encourages them to donate to a meaningful cause in their guests’ honor.
It’s a practice that Lubawski found especially meaningful while planning her 2015 wedding. Her husband, Tom Lubawski, had built houses for Habitat for Humanity as a young man, so that became the groom’s charity. For the bride’s charity, she chose Girls Rock! DC, a foundation started by a friend of a friend that seeks to empower girls and nonbinary youth through music programs.
“It meant a lot to our guests,” Lubawski said. “They told us that we were helping them invest in the future in a way that felt important and meaningful.
“And isn’t that what a wedding is supposed to be about?”