Prove your humanity

I’ve always dreamed about my wedding. Not in a conventional way, I don’t want a big princess dress and a huge crowd. Instead, I’ve imagined ways to make it sustainable, for example, choosing a lab-grown diamond ring, getting married on the beach, and replacing the confetti with wildflowers. These are the things that excite me.

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But in September, it’s not about me. My mom, Krista King, is getting married, and she’s not quite sold on the idea of being an eco-bride.

I don’t want that to be the overwhelming feeling of the wedding,” she said while pulling flour out of the cupboard to bake cookies for the wedding.  “I mean, the wedding has to reflect also the bride and groom. So I would have to look into it.”

And, the more I’ve looked into it, the more I realize she’s already doing things that are considered sustainable, like the pink and blue cookie dough she was mixing will match her theme. It’s an homage to her Oma, my great-grandmother. It’s also going to reduce packaging and food waste.

The food waste a lot of times… it’s heavy, and it does end up taking up a lot of space… it adds to the weight of the events,” said Sarah Alessio Shea, deputy director of the Pennsylvania Resources Council. The group works with event organizers to collect waste that is compostable and recyclable, to prevent it from going to the landfill. 

“If somebody’s doing a rental from us… like a bar mitzvah or a wedding, it might be a couple hundred pounds [of waste],” she said. At larger events, like the Pittsburgh Marathon and the Three Rivers Arts Festival, the PRC might divert thousands of pounds of waste from the landfill. Alessio Shea said her group diverted 73,000 pounds of waste at events in 2022.

Beyond food waste, events still have the issue of plastics, like cups, forks, and straws. My mom was even planning to use plasticware at her wedding; the venue was pushing it. 

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One venue goes all in with sustainable events

“I believe in really trying not to use single-use plastics,” said Terra Nonack-Carroll, event rental manager at Tree Pittsburgh. The nonprofit has an indoor banquet hall, and a big outdoor white tent, a natural setting that provides a view of the Allegheny River.

Terra Nonack-Carroll, event rental manager at Tree Pittsburgh. Photo: Kathy Knauer/ Allegheny Front

Terra Nonack-Carroll, event rental manager at Tree Pittsburgh, developed the zero-waste policy at their facilities. Photo: Elaina King-Bryce for The Allegheny Front

When she started this position a few years ago, Tree Pittsburgh still hosted events with plasticware.

I was really racking my brain trying to figure out how [we could] do this differently because we are an environmental nonprofit; our goal is to help save the planet,” she said. 

They’ve since started a zero-waste policy for events held at Tree Pittsburgh facilities. Now, instead of single-use plastic cups and utensils, fundraisers, business meetings and weddings are required to use tableware that’s washable or compostable, made from things like corn and honey. Tree Pittsburgh doesn’t even provide a trash can that goes to the landfill.

Tree Pittsburgh has outdoor event space that sits along the Allegheny River. Photo: Elaine King-Bryce for The Allegheny Front

“So you must use all compostables. You’re not allowed to bring plastic water bottles,” Nonack-Carroll said. “We have recycling containers for aluminum, and we have glass containers for glass.”She’s even thought about my concern about what guests throw at the bride and groom as they walk. “In place of confetti or glitter, we encourage birdseed. Or bubbles. Bubbles are fine,” she laughed. 

There are a variety of venues around Pittsburgh that host sustainable events, including the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Schenley Park Visitor Center, and many restaurants.

As for my mom and her upcoming wedding, she worries, as I have, that places and products labeled as environmentally friendly, or sustainable, will cost more. 

“When you’re looking at a wedding and you’re looking to cut costs, that is definitely coming to mind. You know how important that is to me,” King said. “I think its ideology is, which is more important to me, you know, helping the planet out or keeping me under the budget that I’ve set.”

It’s true that couples might spend more money on organic food or linen tablecloths. But watching my mom bake her own cookies, wash her own glassware, and do other things at home to create her wedding, I see ways that earth-friendly choices can also save money. This is still what excites me: finding ways my future fairytale wedding can be firmly planted on earth.