As anyone who's worked in the food service industry knows, serving a fancy dinner can generate a lot of behind-the-scenes waste. If you want to keep things green for your wedding, there are some easy ways to ensure your reception dinner is as earth-friendly as it is elegant.
Ruling Out Waste
As you're choosing table settings, rule out anything disposable and opt for real cutlery, plates, and napkins. Yes, these do require energy to clean, but you can minimize it by running EcoStar (or other energy-saving brand) dishwashers with full loads and using biodegradable soap. If you don’t have enough matching cutlery and glassware on your own, and you don’t want to borrow mismatched sets from friends, don’t despair. Party rental companies will rent you as many as you need in whatever styles you like.
To cut down on the amount of laundry (which uses a lot of water and energy when you're hosting a large number of people), skip the tablecloths entirely. Many upscale restaurants are doing away with old-fashioned tablecloths and are opting for beautiful table surfaces instead. Look for venues with elegant wooden tables, glass and wrought iron, or similarly attractive surfaces you won't want to hide. You can also rent tables for the occasion in any style you wish.
If you want to avoid wasted food, pay careful attention to food safety rules. Keep all cold foods refrigerated and all hot foods up to temperature at all times, and remember to keep all dishes covered when not in use. If you avoid food safety slip-ups, you won't run into a situation where you're throwing away whole platters of food uneaten because they've spoiled.
If you're concerned about eco-friendliness, make a solemn vow to cut plastic bottles out of your wedding. Serve filtered tap water instead (which is equivalent in health and taste to most bottled waters). Elegantly-shaped water pitchers at the table, or poured by catering staff, are a classier touch than plastic bottles, anyhow. For party favors, you can give guests their own reusable water canteens.
Setting the Table
For unique, biodegradable placemats, use banana leaves. You can cut them to any size and shape you want (squares and rectangles are classic options). They are durable, exotic, and wipe clean easily between courses. Plus, leaves are the ultimate no-fuss disposable option. Simply throw them in the compost when you're done!
Instead of buying special centerpieces you won't know what to do with later, look for items that can be dismantled and used after the fact. Centerpieces of artistically-arranged fruits and vegetables can look very elegant when paired with beeswax candles, and you'll have your refrigerator fully stocked later (or add them to the food donation).
Reuse all materials when possible. Does your favorite drink or food come in an interestingly-shaped bottle or package? Stock up a few months before the wedding and start collecting for flower holders, centerpieces, and more. Another great centerpiece idea is using works of art. If you want to start a sculpture collection in your home or garden, use your wedding as the perfect excuse to invest.
Potted flowers are another striking option for eco-friendly table décor. Hearty flowers, like chrysanthemums or cala lilies, will last even if you purchase them months before the wedding. Also look for ornamental peppers and cabbages, which are more colorful and decorative than their edible counterparts. You may also turn to potted shamrocks if your wedding will be incorporating an Irish flavor.
Use recycled paper for your menus and place cards, or get creative by writing people's names on objects that represent the theme of your wedding; for example, mini flower pots for a garden wedding, or the seed pods of an interesting tree. Many stationery companies specialize in eco-friendly paper products using plant-based inks, so you can "green up" your invitations and thank-you cards while you're at it.
Serving the Food
When planning the menu, look for caterers that serve organic, local, and in-season food. If you're not using a caterer, you can often save money by buying ingredients directly from local farmers' markets, which cuts down on food packaging as well as price. If you're trying to conserve money by only buying a few organic items, put the emphasis on fragile produce like lettuces, peaches, grapes and berries, which are traditionally grown with heavier pesticide applications.
Wondering how to serve dinner? Present your guests with a buffet. Since everyone can choose exactly the foods they want, they'll be more satisfied with dinner, and you'll have less wasted food at the end of the night. You can also ask charities ahead of time what their policies are about donated food, so you can be sure your wedding complies. Being able to feed hungry mouths is much more satisfying than throwing away mounds of leftovers, and it starts your married life on a charitable note.
Above all, don’t get overwhelmed. Even if you can only do one or two things on this list, you'll still be making a difference in the impact you have on the planet, and you'll be doing a favor for the health of your guests. After all, a wedding ceremony is all about celebrating your future together. So why not be a little forward-thinking?