Thanksgiving is a day to sit down with family and friends and share a meal. Maybe you even get the chance to talk with them if there’s time after all the planning, cooking, and setting up is done.
There is, however, the sad truth that every year during the holiday season, U.S. household waste increases by 25% or 1 million tons. While it’s nobody’s goal to harm the environment, it’s hard to imagine adding extra steps to a process that already is a hectic and stressful time-crunch.
Luckily for you, with these 10 easy tips, you can have the same great Thanksgiving Day, and do it in a more sustainable way.
Replace single-use plastic
Every single year 8.8 million tons of plastic trash from humans gets dumped into the ocean. Single-use plastic such as plates, cups, and silverware is a big part of the issue.
In your Thanksgiving celebration this year, make the sustainable and practical switch to reusable plates, cups, and silverware. If you can’t avoid a single-use product, try disposable bamboo plates.
They offer a biodegradable and compostable option for single-use products. Not only will you be helping the planet but you’ll have broken your knife while trying to cut through turkey for the last time and feel like you finally graduated from the kid’s table.
Oh no, I forgot the stuffing! Oh no, I forgot the cranberry sauce! Five trips to the grocery store later, and you finally have all the ingredients for the perfect Thanksgiving.
We have all been there, and we sometimes forget that our lack of organized planning can have an effect on the environment. Start planning a shopping list a week in advance, giving yourself time to add items you initially forget, cutting down on the number of emergency grocery store runs.
Be sure to ask all your guests what they are bringing, maybe you don’t need 7 different people to bring pie. Find recipes that use whole products. Example: 2 recipes that combine to use both halves of an onion. Here are ways to plan:
- Make a shopping list
- Buy less
- Clearly communicate with guests
- Whole product recipes
Buy local and organic food
Grab your reusable bags and check out what your community has to offer at its local farmers market. Local food is considered to be grown and harvested within 100 miles of your home, which cuts down on food transportation and the use of fossil fuels.
Produce starts to lose nutrients 24 hours after being picked, so not only is buying local more sustainable but it also tastes better. Being able to bake a pie with berries that were picked just down the road from your house makes you feel more connected to everyday life.
Use A Reusable Shopping Bag
Similar to replacing single-use plastic, we all know using reusable shopping bags is better for the environment and more useful than the alternative. Really the only plus side of single-use shopping bags is the convenience.
They’re already there waiting for you and after wading through the pre-Thanksgiving store traffic you aren’t looking for anything to make the trip more difficult. Luckily for you, the only extra step is remembering to bring the bags with you to the store and it saves you the stress of wondering if your overfilled are going to break in the parking lot.
Many retailers also have programs where you can even get free or discounted reusable bags.
Save a Turkey
The meat industry is one of the leading contributors of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. One of the best ways to support sustainability is cutting meat out of your diet.
For a holiday that focuses on a turkey, that is no easy feat. 46 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving each year. If you cannot completely cut meat out of your meal, try making smaller portions.
Turkey is great, but everyone knows people come for the delicious sides. Delicious new sides could make even the most dedicated carnivores forget about the turkey. Some alternatives to turkey are tofu turkey or adding more sides.
Reduce Food Waste
Plastic is not the only form of waste that affects the environment, food does too. When food is thrown away and begins to decompose it releases a large amount of methane, which is a greenhouse gas that is more powerful than CO2.
In the US, 38.1 million tons of food waste is disposed each year. Thanksgiving calls for more cooking, which often means there is more food waste.
To reduce food waste you can either buy less food and save money or, the version I prefer, buy and cook a little too much food and eat different combinations of the same 5 or 6 foods for the rest of the weekend. Reducing food waste doesn’t have to be hard, here are a few ideas:
- Make leftovers your best friend, freeze them
- Create a meal plan as to better allocate your food usage, buy what you need not what you want
- Repurpose leftovers, example: leftover vegetables into a vegetable soup
- Donate leftovers to those who need help
- Don’t eat with your eyes
After your meal, take the family outside for a hike to burn off some of those delicious calories. Thanksgiving falls in one of the last weeks before winters sets in, so take advantage of the weather before it is too late. You can wait until Saturday to watch football. Instead, head to the backyard to play football and show the rest of your family that you’ve “still got it.”
Rethink travel plans
54.3 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles for Thanksgiving each year. Rethinking how your friends and family travel for Thanksgiving is another way to promote sustainability.
Ask if people want to carpool or take the bus to the gathering house. If you have to drive to your event, try traveling during a less busy time of day, so you are not sitting in traffic burning gas.
Maybe instead of going to two family thanksgivings on the same day, you combine it into one or alternate where you go each year.
Celebrate Green Monday
Black Friday has become a holiday in itself and tempts millions of people every year to make wasteful purchases. From plastic packaging to diesel truck transportation, Black Friday’s carbon footprint continues to grow.
Do not fall into the Black Friday trap. With only 9% of all plastics being recycled, figure out the difference between what you need and what you want this Black Friday.
This is what Thanksgiving is all about, remembering what brings you joy in life. Take a second of your day and reflect on your gratitude for the Earth. The natural environment created the wood table your family is surrounding, and it grows the food you nourish your body with every day. Use these tips to express your thanks for the environment.
A little bit of extra planning and being mindful goes a long way in reducing waste and environmental impact this holiday season. You do not need to change the way you celebrate. Taking these steps will make you feel good about how you celebrate and ensure the party can keep on going for years to come.