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The Secret Waste That Weddings Leave Behind

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The best kept secret at a wedding isn't that the groom slept with one of the bridemaids, it's that a wonderful celebration about love and new beginnings produces an enormous amount of waste. It seems like a decidedly unromantic notion, but it's the truth. The average wedding costs roughly $28,000, for what amounts to a six hour event. (That averages to around $4,667 per hour.) During those six hours, a wedding produces roughly 400-600 lbs. of waste -- that's based on a guest list of roughly 100-120 people.

Here's the problem with an eco-conscious wedding: The advice you receive about being green is usually counterintuitive to what is intended to be the "most" special day in a newly-married couple's life (and in their respective parents' lives). You want to indulge the best you can afford to buy. You want the cachet of the right dress, the right suit, the right chapel, caterer, flowers, band and honeymoon. The advice most eco-conscious couples (and I use this term loosely as we're really talking about brides) is usually as follows:

1. Print invites on recycled paper... or better yet, don't print invites and just use a website.

2. "Recycle" an old wedding gown. This does not mean buying vintage couture at Decades and having it tailored to your body. It usually involves shopping for a used wedding gown and making it your own.

3. Find an heirloom ring at an antique jewelry store and have new stones added. (I read one article that said "don't buy a blood diamond" as an example of eco-consciousness -- seriously? Don't buy a blood diamond, period.)

4. Add eco-friendly gifts and brands to your wedding gift registry.

It's all rather numbing advice that can make a wonderfully indulgent day feel forced or structured -- particularly since even in their totality these concepts don't really put a dent in a wedding's carbon footprint -- if we want to use the typical method of measurement.

If you consider the travel alone -- that's fossil fuel (unless some of your guests are Amish and they're coming by buggy) -- for guests attending your wedding the entire green thing is right out the window. Nearly 20 percent of weddings involve airline and car rental travel for a third of the guests.

Let's talk about what you can do to have a positive environmental impact with your wedding:

1. Don't let any food go to waste. Insist that the hotel, restaurant, or wherever you have your wedding dinner give leftover food to a local foodbank, or have it used for compost. Put it in their contract.

2. Ask the hotel or restaurant what kind of environmentally friendly products they use to clean. Weddings make a lot of mess: dishes, stemware, table linens. Make sure they're being cleaned with eco-friendly products.

3. Bring sustainability into the décor or service. Mason jars are homey but still chic, and ideal for table floral arrangements or cocktail service.

4. Ask for either unwrapped gifts sent directly to your home, or gift cards, to minimize wasted wrapping paper and ribbon.

5. Better yet, in lieu of gifts or as part of the gift, ask guests to donate a small pledge in the new couple's name to an environmental charity. An organization I like is 1% for the Planet.

6. Minimize air travel for your guests. Destination weddings (exotic or not) are incredible, but if you're really concerned about the celebration's impact on the environment, minimize flights.

7. Work with your caterer to source organic and eco-friendly food and wine vendors. You don't necessarily want a vegan or macrobiotic wedding dinner (I attended the former... all I can say is thank goodness for the wine), but you can make an extra effort to extend the concept of a green wedding to all the vendors (like the florist -- make sure the arrangements are used for composting).

And of course (brace yourself for the egregious brand plug), toast with a VeeV Acai Spirit cocktail. A percentage of every bottle you purchase goes to 1% for the Planet.