My Zero Waste Wedding, Part 1



By Jess Drawhorn, Be Zero

I never thought I would be the type of person to get really hyped over having a wedding. Actually, I’ve sworn that I would never get married and even if I did, I wouldn’t have a dumb wedding and spend a lot of money and a year of my life planning a big, stressful party.

And here we are, with 200 or so days to go. And I’m so into this. Of course I am, I love hosting parties. I love my friends and family. I love feeding people and dancing under twinkle lights.

The planning process has been really fun so far, and I’d love to share my wedding with all y’all zero wasters as a resource for your future party planning. This post is called Part 1; I’ll cover what I’ve planned so far, and some of the workarounds I’ve come up with to avoid waste. In Part 2, I’ll share the results (and surely the mishaps along the way). I’ll be as transparent about cost as possible, because I am a money-saving queen and I want you to be one too. I’ll also try to estimate how much waste each aspect of the event will create, even if said waste is recyclable or compostable. This is a long one, stay hydrated!


You’ll never hear me dog on anyone else’s wedding style. This post is all about the intersection of my personal tastes and values, and I’m really just here to explain how I’m pulling it off.

I encourage all of you to really consider how your wedding can be a reflection of your own values, rather than automatically falling in line with the wedding trends heavily marketed to us.




Backyard ceremony under a big tree, 70ish guests, my dog is there in a bow tie, lots of lights and greenery, native wildflowers, one long dinner table, blankets and pillows on the ground for lounging, dance party on the deck, donuts, all my out of town friends are reuniting and meeting my in-town friends, my family gets to see my new home and of course, my partner Austin is there and we’re stoked to be married!

NOT IN THE PLAN: Waste, kitschy single-use decorations, over-the-top consumption, sexist traditions, unethically sourced food and clothing.


Austin and I went to brunch one morning and put together our whole wedding website, which will serve as a digital save-the-date and invitation. It’s also got info about accommodations, travel tips and our honeymoon registry. At one point in my life, I would have spent hours designing my own invitations, obsessing over paper types and painstakingly hand printing them all. Doesn’t seem as important to me these days. I was happy enough to insert the relevant details into a template and call it a day.

BUDGET: $1.17 for a domain registry at TRASH: Zero, what a victory!



I am already eternally grateful that my friends Tyler and Cortney will be hosting our wedding in their beautiful backyard! That cuts the costs by thousands of dollars. In exchange we’re helping them build a deck and plant some garden beds. That’s a fair trade right? Seriously this is the best. This also ensures that I can have more control over how this whole thing goes down, and more of an opportunity to take my time. If I had a traditional rental, I’d be rushing around at the last minute trying to get deliveries in the right spot and I’d most likely have to make value related compromises (like eating take out and buying things new!) for the sake of time and convenience. No thanks, I’d rather spend the weekend before hanging lights and dropping off boxes so I can spend more time with my guests while they’re in town!

BUDGET: Day after cleaning service $80 TRASH: None? I’m sure we’ll come up with something.



I snapped my dress up on eBay for a cool fifty bucks. I thought my low budget would mean I’d end up wearing whatever crummy old white dress I could find secondhand, but I happened upon a beautiful J. Crew dress in exactly my size! eBay is overcrowded with cheap, new dresses, so I spent a lot of time scrolling through resale sites like Poshmark and Tradesy, which specialize in pre-owned clothing. When I found a style I liked, I cross-referenced eBay and other sites to find the right price and size. I struck out more times than I’d like to admit, but eventually found a great dress. My ring was actually purchased new from Meadowbelle Market on Etsy, but we literally found Austin’s ring on the ground at a park…so I think it evens out. (We tried, and will continue to try, to find the original owner!) I haven’t decided yet if I’ll wear a wedding band as well as my engagement ring, but if I do, I’ll buy a matching band from Meadowbelle.

Keeping my eye on a pair of wooden-heeled sandals from No. 6 shoes on resale sites. I may end up asking a friend very nicely if I may borrow her pair that fits me perfectly….

For hair and makeup, I’ll just do my own, using what I already have! I will need to buy some waterproof mascara, because y’all, I am a big time crier.

Austin’s attire is up to him! He has a great sense of style, and I couldn’t care less what he’d like to wear. I’d marry him in gym clothes.

BUDGET: $200 TRASH: Shipping envelopes and packaging for the ring and the dress.




Here’s another area where I got pretty lucky. At my day job, I plan events and have been working with the nicest caterer of all time for about a year now. He agreed to prepare a vegan buffet for my guests at $10 per person! Wild, right?? You could try to recreate this luck by reaching out to companies who cater corporate lunches, especially in government offices. The price per person for events like that is typically around $15, so you may be able to negotiate a lower rate by requesting a plant-based meal and nixing any add-ons like sodas or dessert they’d normally provide. Even if you’re not a full-time vegan, it wouldn’t hurt to run some numbers to check out the cost savings. But more important than cost, plant-based foods are kinder, healthier and less wasteful.

BUDGET: $600  TRASH: Fuel canisters for the chafing dishes.

I love to cook and briefly flirted with the idea of cooking all the food myself, but that clashes with my priorities of 1) not stressing myself out and 2) spending plenty of time with the people in town to see us! As a compromise, I’m planning on making some appetizers that can be prepped ahead of time- like hummus, salsa and vegan cheeses. And in order to save even more, we’re ordering a buffet for about 70% of the total number of guests and supplementing with apps, dessert and late night pizzas.

BUDGET: $125 TRASH: Packaging from chips and crackers, pizza boxes.

My fiance is a photographer, and he’s trading a baker friend of ours a family photo shoot in exchange for our cake! I also really want to order several dozen donuts from Beet Box, but I need to check with them to see if we can work out a trash-free method of getting our hands on those.

BUDGET: $75 TRASH: Possibly boxes for the donuts


A huge way that we’re cutting back waste is by serving our beer, wine and sparkling water all from kegs! Kegged wine has been on the scene in restaurants for a few years now, but it’s really hard to find as a retail customer, so I asked a friend who works in distribution to help me out! If you can’t get your hands on a keg of wine, try serving boxed wine instead of bottled to lessen your carbon footprint. (The glass bottle vs. plastic liner thing is some tough eco-math, but I think in this case it is better to go boxed since glass is so heavy. Heavy = more fuel to ship!)

Quite a few of our guests (myself included) don’t drink, so I’m setting up a keg of sparkling water with some bitters and syrups from local Dram Apothecary to make fun summer zero-proof cocktails. (Excellent idea from my friend Marina of Anhaica Bag Works.) To pull this off, I’ll turn to my trusty Next Door app to find a beer-brewing neighbor who can force-carbonate some water for me in a borrowed keg.

BUDGET: Drinking isn’t really all that important to us, so we’ll spend less than $150 on alcohol. Plus, the elevation will help everyone make the most of a few glasses of wine ;)

TRASH: Plastic caps on the kegs, bags of ice to keep cool, bottles of bitters and syrups.


Austin and I are big travelers, and our jobs take us all over the state, so the plan is to thrift all of our table settings in all the little towns we end up in. The Queen’s Wardrobe in Idaho Springs yielded 70 silver forks at $.10 each, and I found a beautiful set of dinner plates when we travelled up to Nebraska to see the eclipse last month. I was hoping to avoid the mason jar aesthetic for our wedding, but I guess the shoe fits. Not only do we already have countless jars on hand at home, we go through a glass jar of peanut butter a week! I’m saving those to use for drinking glasses and flower vases. Also on the lookout for linen sheets to tear into raw-edged napkins.  

BUDGET: $60. This route is far less expensive than using a rental company, and we’ll just re-donate everything back afterwards! TRASH: Price stickers, receipts.



This part is still a bit up in the air; I do know that I’ll be snapping up string lights at secondhand stores the moment they swap Halloween merch for holiday stuff. But other than that, I’m not quite ready to think about styling the event. I am not a fan of superfluous wedding design elements, like cutesy signage or elaborate centerpieces, so we’ll keep it pretty simple. We’ll probably forage some greenery from the alleyways around our house, with permission from neighbors of course. One tree I’ve got my eye on that grows like wild around here is called a ‘peanut butter tree’. The leaves are huge, plentiful, and perfect for slipping into a vase (aka an empty peanut butter jar!) to sparsely decorate the dinner tables. That… might be it. I don’t like the idea of bringing in imported unseasonal flowers, and not much in Colorado will bloom in time. I’ll keep my eyes open for wildflowers for a bouquet and call it a day. Everyone around here has been rolling their eyes at me when I joke about an edible greens bouquet with kale and mint, so I may just do that to embrace my eco-nerdiness in totality.

For the altar, I’m thinking of making a macrame archway from this pattern. If so, I’ll be sure to check out thrift stores like ReFrame in Denver and The Craft Box in Golden for cord.

Oh! And we’re using the Fluid Market app to rent tables, chairs and tablecloths from folks in our neighborhood!

BUDGET: $250 TRASH: Boxes and twist ties from the lights (all secondhand though!), receipts, and probably some trash associated with renting the seating and tables. Couldn’t you just see the chairs showing up entirely wrapped in plastic for some reason?



Grouping these together because Austin is in charge of both. He’s training a student to shoot weddings, and using ours as practice! We’re making playlists of all our favorite dance tunes and are also inviting our shockingly talented friends to bring their instruments for a jam sesh.



We already own the following:

  • Chalkboard A-frame sign

  • Blankets and pillows for the lawn

  • Speaker system

  • Wooden spoons and serving dishes

We’ll use borrow or thrift the following:

  • Fuji Instax cameras from the Fluid Market app

  • Crates, baskets and boxes for organizing and setting up the different stations

  • Some sort of giant tub for the kegs

  • More blankets and pillows

  • Thank you cards


Whew, that was tough to get down in writing! Planning a wedding feels like the ultimate zero waste gauntlet. This whole process is really putting to the test my commitment to being resourceful and thrifty, but slowly and surely all the pieces are coming together. The most important detail for me is that all my people will be there to celebrate the beginning of what is sure to be an excellent marriage.

Whether or not any of the above is relevant to your planning process, I hope you all can find ways to make sure your wedding is not only a celebration of your love, but of your values! If you have any questions that I could help answer, email me anytime: