All The Tips You Need to Have a More Sustainable Thanksgiving



Thanksgiving—it’s a holiday I (and probably many of you) associate more with food comas than sustainability.

After all, each kilo of turkey consumed contributes 10.9 kilos of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. So the consumption of 45 million to 46 million turkeys each Thanksgiving, makes for a lot of carbon that needs to be gobbled up.

Bad turkey puns aside, it’s not just our main dish that contributes to our carbon footprint. Food waste, plastic waste, and the tens of millions of people who travel for the holiday, also play a role in our total emissions.

Good news is, we can lessen our impact in several ways. Continue reading below for tips on how to have a more sustainable Thanksgiving.

9 Tips For a More Sustainable Thanksgiving

From preventing food waste, to sustainable cleaning, to making some easy plant-based swaps, here are several ways we can reduce our emissions this Thanksgiving.

1. Use Reusable Dinnerware

Sustainable Thanksgiving - Thanksgiving table setting

I know the ease of paper plates and plastic utensils is tempting, especially if you’re doubling or tripling the amount of mouths you usually feed, but try to opt for reusables where you can.

Not enough place settings? See if you can borrow from a friend, or rent them. Of course if you just cannot fathom washing that many dishes, opt for compostable plates and utensils. These can be added to your home compost versus plastic dishes, which won’t decompose and can’t be recycled.

2. Put your takeout containers to use

Sustainable Thanksgiving - Takeout Containers

If you have leftover takeout containers (which you probably do, since anyone without a drawer full of them post 2020 is an actual unicorn) use them to send guests home with leftovers. This way you’re not giving out your valuable Tupperware or sending guests home with a collection of plastic wrap that will end up in the garbage.

Take it a step further by providing recycling or composting instructions so your guests can dispose of their containers sustainably.

3. Save your food scraps

Sustainable Thanksgiving food scraps

Approximately 6%-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stopped wasting food. So before you throw away those potato peels or broccoli stems, see if there is a different way you could use them. For example, veggies scraps can be frozen and stored to make your own veggie broth. In some instances you may even be able to regrow your veggies from what you have left.

4. Plan your portions

Sustainable Thanksgiving - Planning portions

My mom’s motto when planning group meals is “better to have to much than too little.” While I agree, there’s nothing worse than a room full of hangry family members, it’s important not to go overboard. If you do, much of your dinner spread could end up in the trash, which doesn’t make for a very sustainable Thanksgiving.

To prevent an overload of leftovers, use the NRDC’s “guest-imator” tool. It’ll give you a ballpark of how much food you’ll need based on the amount of people you’ll be hosting.

5. Swap your turkey for a plant-based alternative

Sustainable Thanksgiving - Turkey

As I mentioned, turkey, like all animal-based foods, is a heavy emitter of greenhouse gas emissions. To avoid these emissions, you can substitute a plant-based turkey. Or if fake turkey just seems wrong, you can opt for an entirely different main dish. There are several alternatives out there that are sure to leave your guests with happy bellies.

6. Incorporate more plant-based sides

Sustainable Thanksgiving - root vegetables

If your dad just scoffed at the idea of Thanksgiving with no turkey, then try incorporating more plant-based sides (we all know those take up the most space on the plate anyways). If you need some inspo, check out these ideas to get started.

7. Clean out your refrigerator and pantry before you shop

Sustainable Thanksgiving Pantry

This tip serves two purposes—first, to make sure you don’t accidentally buy ingredients that you already have. It’s possible you already have all the pumpkin pie spice you need, it’s just been left abandoned in the back of your pantry for the past 11 months.

Second, it enables you to have the appropriate amount of space to store leftovers. With a freshly cleaned fridge you can organize more effectively, which makes it less likely that food will be forgotten about and spoil. Pro-tip: use these food storage hacks to make sure all your groceries stay fresh for weeks!

8. Wash your dishes efficiently

Sustainable Thanksgiving - Dishwasher

A 2020 study from the Environmental Research Communications Journal found that machine dishwashers produce 63% less greenhouse gas emissions throughout their life cycle than typical hand washing. So when it comes to cleaning, load up your dishwasher if you can. Plus, for even fewer emissions, avoid pre-rinsing unless completely necessary.

If hand washing is a must, fill up your sink with water and soap, and then turn off the faucet until you need to rinse!

9. Clean up messes sustainably

The meal is over, everyone is napping away their food comas, and it’s time to make those countertops sparkle again. Try using a rag, or Swedish dish cloth instead of a paper towel to wipe up messes, scrub pots and pans with bamboo scrubbers instead of sponges, or try out a sustainable multi-purpose cleaner for countertops and tables (this one from Blueland is my personal favorite).

Craving more sustainability tips? Sign up for The Eco Edit and join hundreds of other pro-planet enthusiasts who are passionate about bettering the world through small, sustainable steps.

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