5 Ways to Promote a Zero-Waste Thanksgiving

Tasty food is on the horizon. Whether you’re going the classic turkey route or trying out a new vegan recipe, there’s no doubt you’ll enjoy every last bite. But what happens after the meals have been cooked and eaten? 

According to NEEF, the amount of trash produced in the United States increases by roughly 25% between Thanksgiving and New Years Day — that’s about one million extra tons of garbage each week. Our food waste enters the landfill rather than compost bins and rots, exerting gases that enter the atmosphere and harm our ozone layer. Since climate change is an increasingly popular topic of discussion, it’s important to be aware of our food and packaging waste this upcoming holiday season.

Not sure where to start? No need to fear.

Here are five ways to reduce your waste this Thanksgiving: 

#1: Avoid Food Scraps by Using Entire Ingredients

Many recipes call for parts of certain ingredients. Instead, try using the entire ingredient. For example, if you usually peel your potatoes before mashing them, try to leave the peels on this year. Rather than peeling your carrots for your soup, just wash and cook them whole! By simply using whole ingredients, you’ll cut down a significant amount of food waste.

#2: Cook Smaller Portions

The Natural Resources Defense Council estimated in 2013 that $277 million worth of turkey ended up in the trash after Thanksgiving. The resources wasted were “equivalent to the amount of water needed to supply New York City for 100 days and greenhouse gases equal to 800,000 car trips from San Francisco to New York.”

By cutting recipes in half, or simply not cooking an entire turkey (by only purchasing and cooking the parts eaten most), you’ll save time, money, and tons of food waste. If we all did this, demand for ingredients would go down during the holiday season, which over time would decrease the amount of each food item produced by corporations. In the long-run, we can stop the overproduction and overconsumption of common holiday foods.

#3: Take Only What You Can Eat

The excitement of seeing all the delicious foods lined up on the dinner table can cause us to over-fill our plate. This is one of the main causes of Thanksgiving food waste, but it is an easy fix. On top of the other waste-reduction tips listed in this article, try to practice serving small portions at a time. You can always come back if you want more, but you’ll be able to avoid excess food waste. Get your guests to do this, too!

#4: Send Leftovers Home with Guests

Oftentimes we hoard Thanksgiving leftovers thinking they will taste the same as they did when freshly cooked. The disappointing truth is that they usually do not, and we typically end up wasting leftovers that could have been better taken care of at another guest’s house.

Rather than keeping all the leftovers for yourself, distribute some to the guests of your Thanksgiving celebration. Try using reusable containers rather than plastic bags or foil, and freeze your leftovers if you don’t plan to eat all of them before they go bad. Frozen leftovers can last up to an entire year before they need to be thrown out, meaning you can have a Thanksgiving meal all year round without the cooking.

three glass dishes sit side by side on the counter full of colorfully arranged veggies

#5: Say “No” to Single Use Items

In the midst of all the cooking and preparation, it can be easy to resort to buying single use cutlery, napkins, cups and even dishware for your holiday celebration. Some may think it is cheaper to do this than to purchase reusable products, but you’d be surprised! In fact, reusable products can save you hundreds of dollars per year in the long-run. Sounds like a good investment to me! On top of that, it’s good for the environment to avoid single use products. Win-win situation, am I right?

By following these tips, you can work toward a zero-waste Thanksgiving and help inspire those around you to take similar sustainable actions in their own lives! How cool is that? With sustainability, the domino effect is huge, and you never know how much of an impact you can make by simply being open about your sustainability initiatives and passion for making the world a better place.

As Anne Marie Bonneau once said, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” No matter how successful you are at achieving zero-waste this holiday season, celebrate the things you do achieve, no matter how small.

The world will thank you.