By Christa Adams
Wherever you live — and no matter the holiday — there’s plenty to be thankful for. Beginning, of course, with the planet that nourishes us. And one way to express our gratitude? Living a more green-minded, sustainable lifestyle. So, as Americans settle in this week for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, let’s dive into how to enjoy an eco-friendly feast— whether it’s for Thanksgiving or December’s holiday festivities.
Know the facts
You may already know that from Thanksgiving to New Year's in the U.S., Americans create 25% more waste than average. That translates to more food waste, plastic packaging, and paper towels going straight into landfills. A sustainable Thanksgiving dinner means cutting that waste and putting the scraps and leftovers to good use.
Before a family member drops the “Why are you doing that?” question regarding your eco-friendly plans, be prepared with the stats. Food waste that goes to landfills creates menthane gas (a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than CO2) and negatively impacts the environment.
When we put our food in landfills rather than in compost piles, for the first few months it undergoes aerobic decomposition, which produces very little methane. However, within a year, anaerobic conditions in the landfill are established, and bacteria decomposes the waste and produces methane as a byproduct. Read more on the importance of cutting down methane in landfills if you’d like a deeper dive.
Every Thanksgiving, 200 million pounds of turkey is thrown out along with more than 150 million pounds of side dishes and 14 million pounds of dinner rolls. All this food production consumes more than one billion gallons of water and generates more than 1.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which equates to driving 169,000 standard cars for a full year.
7 ways to have an eco-friendly Thanksgiving
Ready to kickstart your first sustainable eco-friendly Thanksgiving dinner? Here’s what you can do to make a more positive impact this holiday season.
Source ingredients locally
Cut down your carbon footprint this Thanksgiving by shopping at a farmer’s market in your area. Local foods travel a shorter distance, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and smaller farms tend to use more sustainable practices than large corporations. Bonus points if you can buy from a local organic farmer!
Cook from scratch when possible
Around 83% of U.S. food-related greenhouse gas emissions come from the production process. The less packaged your food is, the better. Skip plastic-covered products like dressings and frozen dinner rolls by making your dishes from scratch. Sourcing ingredients directly from a farmer’s market or produce section will use less plastic. We also recommend bringing your own reusable vegetable baggies and shopping bags to further cut back on plastic this Thanksgiving.
Plus, we all know fully homemade dishes taste better than processed ones. And even if every dish doesn’t turn out perfectly, it’s still a great way to bond over home cooking with family and friends.
Coordinate with other attendees
Instead of ending up with six batches of deviled eggs and three cranberry sauces, try to coordinate with the other guests to ensure there is a balanced variety of dishes. This will reduce food waste, save everyone money, and help the planet along the way.
Avoid single-use plastic containers
This is a big one. If you want to have an eco-friendly Thanksgiving, skip the plastic cutlery, dishes, and containers. It may be tempting to stock up on these and just throw them out without the worry of piled-up dishes, but let’s face it, the dishes are going to pile up regardless so what’s another batch of plates and silverware?
But if you aren’t willing to compromise on single use dishware this Thanksgiving, opt for bamboo-based or wooden cutlery and eco-friendly paper plates. Anything that can easily be composted is a better choice than plastic.
Finally, when it comes to what to put your Thanksgiving dishes in, use what you already have at home: ceramic and glass. While single-use aluminum pans are recyclable if you clean them before recycling, the best practice is to avoid single-use products altogether.
Utilize your freezer
Wound up with loads of extra veggies this Thanksgiving? Stock them away in your freezer to keep them fresher longer. You can also freeze portions of your leftovers, which is a great option if have a small family or live alone.
Buy an organic turkey or skip it altogether
As you heard, 200 million pounds of turkey gets thrown out every year. What a waste of a life, right? Plus, the average 16-pound Thanksgiving turkey generates about 32 pounds of carbon dioxide. So, have an eco-friendly Thanksgiving by being more conscious about your turkey purchase. You can do this by purchasing a turkey locally, hunting it yourself when possible, or choosing a humanely raised and organic turkey.
What is an organic turkey, you may be wondering? These organic turkeys are fed a vegetarian, non-GMO diet free of chemical-based pesticides and herbicides — a more conscious choice for a sustainable Thanksgiving dinner.
And if you want to do the most for the planet this Thanksgiving, skip the turkey altogether. You’ll be lowering your carbon footprint and helping save turkeys from going to waste along the way. What can you make instead? Try a homemade veggie nut loaf or one of these other vegan alternatives.
Compost, recycle, donate
Finally, having a sustainable Thanksgiving is all about being aware of your impact from start to finish.
Use reusable tablecloths, napkins, dishware, and cutlery. Grandma would be proud! Compost food scraps to reduce food waste winding up in landfills. Eat up your leftovers over the following few days and recycle or reuse where possible. Here’s a handy PDF all about how to compost and recycle your Thanksgiving dinner. Then, if you have extra cans or spare veggies that you’re not going to use, consider donating them to a local shelter or food pantry. Everything helps!
And when it comes to cleaning those dirty tablecloths and napkins, grab some eco-friendly laundry strips and completely eliminate plastic-packaged detergent.