By Brian Wright, MBA, CVP
A global pandemic is not an ideal time to plan a wedding. However, my wife and I set September 26th, 2020, as our date nearly 365 days prior and made the difficult decision many couples have had to make this year. We chose to continue with the wedding, recognizing that the act of marriage was the priority, not having a huge party or a large guest list. So during the six months prior to our wedding as COVID-19 spread and longevity was being realized, we went through plans A, B, C & D on all things from scaling down the invite list, spacing out the seating chart, changing venues, ordering PPE, and altering our honeymoon plans.
I was relishing the opportunity to put on my own event as the client/event planner, after ten years of being on the facility side serving the client and guests’ needs. Katie, my wife, had a vision for the weekend, but left it largely up to me, the self-proclaimed “Groomzilla,” to see it through. We adapted as best we could in the COVID environment, requiring masks, offering a Youtube live stream for relatives, contactless meal serving, and an indoor/outdoor reception environment with fire pits and music. However, one element that was always Plan A was having a zero-waste wedding.
Seeing the amount of waste resulting from events early in my career at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga inspired me to start recycling initiatives there and that passion deepened when I moved to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, working under sustainability guru Scott Jenkins. Katie and I practice recycling, reuse projects, and energy efficiency in our own home so we wanted to use our one-day platform to send a message of how simple it is to adopt a zero-waste mindset. Here is how we did it:
▪ Waste: The average wedding produces over 400 pounds of garbage. We could not have that, so we did not source anything that would be sent to landfill or plastics that could not be regenerated in under six months.
o Reusable plates and silverware were rented and only aluminum beer cans and glass liquor bottles were sourced.
o A compost vendor was partnered with to drop off a bin which we filled with food waste and compostable cups, napkins, and appetizer trays.
▪ Decoration: One of the most wasteful elements of many events, we utilized the “reuse” method here.
o Succulents were used as table decoration/nameplates and given to guests as gifts.
o Chinese Paper lanterns were spread throughout the venue as décor, used in our sendoff, which guests then got to take home with them.
o All the signage around the venue I made from pallets and reused to build an entry table for our house.
▪ Transportation: The largest, single contributor toward Greenhouse Gases, so selecting your venues wisely can have a direct effect on the environment.
o We chose a hotel for a room block, rehearsal dinner restaurant and ceremony/reception venue all within walking distance to limit the need for guests to drive.
▪ Vendor Selection: A Greener Economy means buying from locally owned businesses and sourcing food from within a 100 miles.
o We strictly used local, family owned businesses for everything, from event coordinator, photographer, cake maker, etc.
o Our rehearsal dinner restaurant and reception caterer are local, family owned staples in Chattanooga who source all their ingredients locally and were greatly appreciative of the extra business with the COVID-19 slowdown.
Throwing our zero-waste wedding was something we were truly passionate about, so all these decisions came to us naturally and were really fun to plan and execute. The best part was our guests recognized and appreciated it! Our hope now is that our story inspires others to throw their own zero-waste wedding, event, or socially distant cookout.
P.S. Being the face of an event for once, I did not get to participate in the breakdown post-event, which was an odd feeling for me when I woke up the next morning. So, I walked down to the venue and found our bag full of compost and compostables was placed in the landfill roll-off container! I happily removed it and placed it in the compost bin for pick-up. And like a good husband I stopped to bring my new wife back a cold brew coffee, only later did I tell her the real reason for my early morning trip!
Brian Wright, MBA, CVP, is Assistant Facility Maintenance Manager at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.