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Sep 22, 2016 03:28PM

Waste-free wedding: RI couple gets hitched with little trash ditched

By Cindy Hadish
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Instead of rice or bubbles, Olivia Dorothy and her husband, Damon Gray, opted to toss birdseed at their wedding with cups made from an old math textbook (to tie into Damon's math teacher profession).
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Olivia Dorothy, at center, used flowers from friends' gardens to make all of the bouquets and boutonnieres for her wedding.
Rather than heading out for their honeymoon, Olivia Dorothy and her husband, Damon Gray, spent their first day as a married couple delivering food scraps to chickens on a farm.

The excursion was one part of the couple's effort to have a "zero-waste" wedding.

Dorothy, 32, of Rock Island, associate director of the upper Mississippi River for American Rivers, had observed the party favors, decorations and other items that end up in the trash after most weddings.

"You look at it at the wedding, and then it goes into the garbage bin," she says. "I didn't want that at my own wedding."

Dorothy, who has worked in environmental advocacy for several organizations, had watched documentaries on zero-waste living and travel, which work to keep trash from being sent to the landfill. Though she hadn't seen it applied to weddings, she and Gray, 40, discussed the potential for their big day.

"Damon definitely supported it wholeheartedly," she says. "It seemed like an interesting challenge to pursue."

The couple took numerous steps for their zero-waste goal as they prepared for their July 2015 wedding. They bought electronic save-the-dates, invitations and thank-you cards, and set up a mobile-responsive website. The few guests who weren't internet savvy were phoned, so there was no need for paper invitations.

The couple used spaces including the brick Freight House in Davenport that didn't need a lot of decoration "because they were beautiful on their own," Dorothy says.

Dorothy borrowed a wedding dress from a friend, and her bridesmaids wore their own black dresses. Their hair was done at Pure Hair Studio in Davenport, which recently went zero-waste and uses products free from petroleum oils, sulfates and other compounds considered environmentally harmful. Gray and his groomsmen wore their own suits.

Bouquets and boutonnieres were created with flowers from friends' gardens, with native purple coneflower holding up particularly well. Decor doubled as favors for the guests, including lavender planted in mismatched pots from garage sales, and corncob jelly made by a local farmer. The jelly was a tribute to Dorothy's grandparents, who produced and sold corncob jelly.

Guests who were familiar with their sustainable lifestyle used cloth or reusable bags in lieu of unrecyclable wrapping paper for the wedding gifts.

"A lot of people got really creative with it," Dorothy says. "Very few gifts were wrapped in wrapping paper."

The couple used cloth linens and real plates, silverware and glasses for the wedding reception.

Some hiccups occurred the day of the wedding. Instead of rice or bubbles, they opted to toss birdseed out of cups made from an old math textbook, since Gray is a math teacher.

"I'm sure the birds were happy with the seed," Dorothy says, "but I had birdseed everywhere — in my ears, filling my veil — and would probably recommend going with a larger birdseed."

And while Dorothy and Gray set up a display at the reception hall explaining how to sort waste, many of the 100-plus guests didn't understand or pay attention. In hindsight, Dorothy says she would have paid the caterer to bus tables and sort the waste in the kitchen.

Overall, Dorothy cited eliminating food waste as their biggest accomplishment. Their caterer, Fresh Deli by Nostalgia Farms, is a farm-to-table operation that worked with their favorite local, organic farmers to prepare fresh, wholesome food for the wedding guests.

Dorothy's mother-in-law delivered five trays of untouched leftovers to a local soup kitchen, and her step-father-in-law took home about 20 gallons of recycling for the curbside and 5 gallons of compost. About 10 gallons was shipped to Terracycle, a New Jersey company that recycles or upcycles items such as wine corks that are nonfood and nonhazardous.

In the end, only cupcake wrappers and toothpicks had to be discarded, with the total amounting to only a pint of waste.

Dorothy and Gray also enjoyed their trip to the country the next day to hand deliver 10 gallons of table scraps to chickens at the Mad Farmers' Garden.

"I felt so much better that I took the effort to do the extra work involved," says Dorothy, who blogged about their zero-waste wedding at sierraclubevg.wordpress.com/tag/zero-waste.

"A lot of the stuff I did is not exclusive to weddings. I hope people read it and learn some lessons on how to decrease their carbon footprint and keep stuff out of the landfills."

Cindy Hadish writes about local foods, farmers markets and the environment at homegrowniowan.com

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