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Weddings — especially typical American weddings — have gotten more and more extravagant in recent years. Things that were once rare luxuries, such as limousines and expensive favors, are now the norm. Weddings have become a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States, and while brides and grooms spend their time debating open bars and tiaras, is anybody wondering how all of these decisions are affecting the environment?
In this blog series, I’ll guide you through eight wedding elements — starting with rings, and making stops for invitations and food — that are both easy and fun to incorporate using sustainable materials and methods. After all, your big day is the perfect opportunity to consider the big picture. Plan an eco-friendly wedding, and say “I do” to a greener perspective on wedded bliss.
Eco engagement rings and eco wedding rings
When you think about giving your wedding a green makeover, the rings probably aren’t the first things that pop into your head. High-end jewelry, however, comes with its own set of problems. Those big, bright diamonds that most brides would give their left legs for have big costs in addition to those incurred at the jewelry store.
Problem: Diamond mining and trading in Africa is notoriously dirty and violent (you may have heard the terms “conflict diamond” or “blood diamond” before). The sale of diamonds — in certain locations during certain time periods — has been used by rebels to fund violence in war-torn regions, mostly in central and western Africa. Though the U.S. government has taken steps to assure that conflict diamonds don’t reach our shores (read the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s take on conflict diamonds to learn more), it remains difficult to know whether a diamond purchased from a large company is truly conflict-free. Let’s not forget that diamond mining is also detrimental to the environment, creating toxic runoff and stripping the land.
Solution: If you’re set on a diamond ring, go vintage. Buy your rings pre-worn and you won’t be participating in a corrupt industry. If the look of the diamond is important to you but the industry turns you off, consider imitation diamonds (my sister’s engagement ring contains a diamond simulant solitaire from Diamond Nexus Labs that is simply breathtaking). If faking it isn’t your bag, consider stepping outside the box and selecting a different gemstone such as your birth stone.
When and if you decide to buy a diamond from a large-chain jeweler, try to do a little bit of research before your purchase. You can sometimes find information about their policy on conflict diamonds right on their websites. If not, call or stop in and talk to somebody who works at the store. Your questions about conflict diamonds shouldn’t surprise anybody — this is a topic that has affected the diamond industry in a big way.
Problem: Gold mining harms the planet as well. Today, most mining is done by creating huge open-pit mines and chemically separating gold fragments from other materials. What’s left behind are huge scars in the earth and the potential for cyanide spills (The Environmental Literacy Council), which could leach into ground water and harm surrounding animals. Keep in mind that, while gold has been the most common media target, the mining of other metals harms the earth as well. All of this for a piece of jewelry?
Solution: Once again, vintage jewelry offers a great solution to this problem. You’ll have all the sparkle with none of the guilt. Another option is purchasing rings from Brilliant Earth, an organization that uses only recycled metals in its jewelry (and ethical gemstones, too!). If you’re up for something different, ditch metal altogether and purchase wooden rings. The idea may sound hokey, but these rings are absolutely gorgeous. Touch Wood Rings sells handcrafted wooden rings that will give you at least as many style points as those commonly worn diamonds. Be sure to talk with these companies and artisans beforehand about their sustainability efforts and avoidance of endangered exotic trees.
Finally, be creative with your resources. Don’t turn up your nose at a family heirloom. If your grandmother passed down a ring that just isn’t your style, go to a jeweler and see what they can do. At the very least, they should be able to find you a brand new setting for the rock your grandma gave you. They may even be able to melt down the setting and turn it into something you love.
The same goes for all family heirlooms. Just because your ancestors had a different sense of style than you doesn’t mean that their gifts are worthless. If your mother’s old, chunky gold bracelet has been sitting in a drawer for years with no chance of being worn again in the near future, take it to the jeweler and see if they can use part of it to fashion wedding bands. A little innovation can go a long way, and your mother and grandmother would probably prefer their treasures to be worn and enjoyed in whatever form rather than hiding in the dark corner of a dresser drawer.
Never forget the fact that this is your wedding, which means that you get to make the rules. If you’ve never been much of a jewelry-wearer, why should you feel pressured to purchase an expensive ring? Remember, the ring doesn’t make the marriage. You can even find another material way to solidify your vows. Plant a tree together and watch it grow in the years to come. If you’re a daring couple, forget the jewelry and get matching tattoos. The important thing to remember is that your wedding and your marriage belong to the both of you. Don’t be afraid to make them unique.
Lindsey Siegele is the Senior Web Editor at Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Find her on Google+.
Photo by iStockPhoto/Leigh Schindler.