eco wedding

Getting hitched? Why not have an eco wedding?

Getting married is big business. Wedding planning is estimated to be a $2-billion-a-year industry in Australia with the average wedding costing AU$36,000. But in among the big wedding hype and even bigger budgets, there is a more authentic, eco-friendly trend emerging, one that offers an alternative to the high toll of traditional ceremonies on the hip pocket and the environment. An eco wedding.

Begin with intent

Breaking the traditional rules — and costs — of a wedding starts with the bride and groom being very clear about their intentions for their big day. The trend towards a more Earth-friendly and authentic event has to come from the clear vision of the people involved, as Lee Holmes’ recent wedding reflected. As an author and nutritionist with a passion for protecting the planet, Holmes and her husband-to-be wanted their wedding to be a reflection of their shared passions.

“It was important to us that we took the non-traditional route and avoided all the wedding clichés,” says Holmes. “Although we wanted to make a statement, it wasn’t the kind of statement about how awesome we are, or how lavish and stupendous, but a statement of love, family, community and friendship.

“We also didn’t want to spend months stage-managing or filling up an A4 ring-binder file with wedding inspirations and we didn’t want to spend a fortune on unnecessary formalities. We just wanted to stay true to ourselves and keep the day as simple as possible without grandeur or fuss.”

Central to the theme of Lee and Justin’s day were Lee’s memories of growing up in Canterbury in the UK and the importance of the village hall. By using the Australian equivalent — the classic Aussie bowling club — as their venue, the bride managed to pull together the event in just four weeks and for a mere AU$5000 in total.

"I'm seeing more conscious people coming together who have a very evolved understanding of their union. There's no keeping up with the Joneses any more."

“As I’m so into food, herbs and keeping things as natural as possible, it became really important to us to have a green-style wedding,” she says. “I mean, I’m a minimalist and I wanted the least impact on the environment.”

Journalist Amy Molloy and husband Kurt, an environmental scientist, also based their celebrations on what was important to them and their passions in life. Having met as part of a volunteer group collecting rubbish off the beach every Sunday, the couple created a unique, eco-friendly event for 70 people on a beach at Kiama on the NSW South Coast and then in their own backyard close by.

“Our whole relationship was built on a certain level of environmental care and so it just made sense when Kurt suggested our wedding fit in with this,” says Molloy. “We still wanted it to be a bright and flamboyant wedding, because that’s our personality, so we modelled it on a music festival. But most of the planning was done while [we were] travelling through South America and in particular through really poor areas like Bolivia and the Amazon where they have a real make-do mentality. This really influenced our thinking about it.”

Celebrants have a bird’s-eye view of what’s really happening in weddings, though, and celebrant and energy healer Patty Kikos has been “holding space” for couples for more than 10 years. She agrees that, in many couples she sees, the intention behind marriage is changing.

“I’m seeing more conscious people coming together who have a very evolved understanding of their union,” Kikos says. “There’s no keeping up with the Joneses any more. There’s no boring clichés, no annoying jokes, no inappropriate anecdotes, no feeling obliged to certain relatives, no drama, no outdated traditions and certainly no tired old readings or poems.

“They are more clear on their boundaries, stronger around their parents’ or society’s demands on them, and the intention of the event is changing.”

Planning for the planet

With more than 118,000 couples tying the knot in Australia each year, the amount of waste produced by these happy events alone is mind-boggling. Think about the level of leftover food, plastic, paper, imported flowers, confetti … all of which, come the morning after, is left behind for our planet to absorb.

These eco-warrior couples, however, with their passion for the planet and lots of creativity, are showing that you can create memories without the hangover for the planet — or guests.

“In the planning stages we really only had a couple of prerequisites, one of which was to ensure we were supporting sustainability and local producers,” says Holmes. “All our food, flowers and drinks were from local producers or growers and we even organised a contra deal with our photographer for some cooking classes!

“My flower crown was sourced from local flower markets and my bouquet was founded on food and stuffed with kale, echinacea, rosemary, parsley, pineapple, wheat and mint and garnished with sprigs of baby’s breath and chrysanthemum — which was then cooked up the next day and turned up on the family dinner table! The remainder, which wasn’t being used, ended up in the composter to be put back onto our garden.”

"My bouquet was founded on food and stuffed with kale, echinacea, rosemary, parsley, pineapple, wheat and mint and garnished with sprigs of baby's breath and chrysanthemum – which was then cooked up the next day."

Email-only invitations, recycled old curtains and sheets as tablecloths and upcycled jam jars with tea light candles were other ways the couple reduced their environmental impact. And, at the end of the night, guests piled into the kitchen, scraping their dinner plates into a makeshift compost bin. Any leftover cake and food was delivered to the Wayside Chapel and the homeless at Bondi Pavilion by family on their way home.

For Amy and Kurt, the first thing they decided was that they didn’t want any single-use plastic. “We put a ban on any use of plastic cups and instead put on our wedding invitations for everyone to bring a ‘ridiculous drinking vessel’,” says Molloy. “People brought fireman’s helmets, petrol pumps, so many different things! It was one of my favourite parts of the day — and meant we had no cups to clean up the next day.

“We also didn’t want a load of food waste, which is often the case with big sit-down meals, so instead we had a kebab stall: two big spits of meat, two massive salads and bread wraps. No plates or food left around as everyone served themselves.

“Even the decoration for our huge backyard was upcycled with second-hand picnic rugs. We spent the weekend before the wedding searching all the second-hand shops around the area for every cushion and rug we could find and covered our backyard. It was so bright and colourful.”

Rethinking tradition

There are plenty of other areas of the big traditional wedding that can benefit from an eco-twist when you consider its cost and long-term effect on those involved and the world around us. Clothing, gifts, music, makeup — it’s all open for reinterpretation these days.

“Our dress code was ‘Come in whatever you’ve got’!” shares Molloy. “We didn’t want anyone to feel pressure to buy something new. My husband wore his old jeans! And many of our guests were in bare feet.

“We just had this rule against unnecessary spending. When someone asked if I was having flowers, I said no because it’s just not important to me. I don’t like cut flowers — I’d rather buy a plant that keeps on giving — so it wasn’t important to spend money on that for us.”

And when it came to that other big expense on the day, the gifts from guests, Molloy says she and Kurt asked for money — which was then put towards solar panels for their house. “So we had a solar panel wedding fund!”

Lee and Justin also came up with inventive ways of not only keeping the costs down but also involving their guests in the day as much as possible. All invitees were asked to bring a dessert for the shared dessert tray, which Lee said was one of the highlights of the night, and also to suggest a song which meant something to them for the wedding playlist. The couple suggested carpooling to the event to save on the impact of cars as well as taxis home while the bowls on the tables were handmade out of bark.

Makeup artist Emmily Banks, who specialises in using only organic and environmentally friendly products, agrees there’s a move away from the excessive, extravagant, consumer-style wedding of the past.

"We put a ban on any use of plastic cups and instead put on our wedding invitations for everyone to bring a 'ridiculous drinking vessel'. People brought fireman's helmets, petrol pumps, so many different things!"

“The weddings that I’ve had the privilege of providing makeup artistry for are much more intimate and nature driven, which obviously means less environmental impact,” she says. “Couples aren’t seeking a mass-produced affair; they want it to be special and unique. I know a lot of brides (and their lovely bridesmaids) who have been really proactive in creating their own decorations and opting for recycled, which is not only more environmentally friendly but much more meaningful and personal.”

Together with that, Banks says, many women are choosing to switch to only natural and organic skincare and cosmetics for their big day. “I’m getting more and more requests from brides not wanting to risk toxins on the day they want to shine the most.

“Brides want to look like the most naturally beautiful version of their true selves these days — and that’s one of the brilliant things about going natural: you’re not hiding your skin, you’re highlighting it. This is one of the most important things when it comes to bridal makeup and natural makeup allows them to achieve this.”

A growing number of celebrations are even going “dry”, the couples deciding that alcohol-free better reflects who they are and what’s important to them.

“I’ve seen people make this decision after one of the couple, for example, has battled alcoholism or, say, an uncle has just come out of rehab,” shares wedding celebrant Patty Kikos. “The couple have said, ‘Look, everyone, let’s support them in this,’ and have declared the event dry.

“Sure, sometimes that means you’ll have people who won’t come — but that’s OK! Smaller, intimate weddings are so much more beautiful to be a part of. I think we can get lost in a big sea of people and tend to not respect the day as much. But in a smaller event, by the end of it, I feel like I’ve got 50 new friends.”

Everyone wins

None of these couples had money at the centre of their intention; however, cost is certainly one of the flow-on effects of an eco-friendly wedding. While Holmes’ wedding was pulled together for less than 30 per cent of the average spend, Molloy says the budget was an added bonus to their big day.

“Our aim was never to have a super thrifty wedding,” Molloy says. “Money was not our motivator. We spent a lot of money on a marquee for our garden and a cool roaming jazz band. Sure, we saved a tonne of money on food and drink with my husband’s home brew and kebab stand but this was about creating something that reflected us.

“We kept thinking, ‘Should we have more? Should we make it fancier?’ But, in the end, our friends are quite simple and that’s all they really needed — they didn’t need more courses or fancy food. They just wanted to be with us, celebrating.”

Which, Kikos adds, is actually all it’s about. “There are a lot of couples saying, ‘Let’s get married on a Friday or a Thursday and then actually spend time with our loved ones.’ Gone are the days when the bride and groom get married, go to the reception then disappear. It’s the after party nowadays that is so important: it strengthens the bond between the couple and their closest loved ones.

“I’ve attended a couple of ceremonies that were just the couple and immediate family, as they didn’t want the pressure of the big event with everyone there, but then everyone turned up later in the day for a weekend get-together. There was camping, log fires, flowers were recycled as everyone got to take them home. It was just such a beautiful way to honour the union.”

In the end, as Holmes describes it, it’s all about “capturing the spirit of love and community”. What a way to start a life together.

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz is a journalist with more than 15 years' experience, specialising in health, mindfulness and motherhood. She is also the best-selling author of Happy Mama: The Guide to Finding Yourself Again, and is the creator of the website Happy Mama.

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