Home-cooked meals and family traditions, rooting for your favorite football team, connecting with your loved ones and that cozy feeling of holiday cheer – There are many reasons why Thanksgiving is one of America’s most beloved holidays. While we’re busy getting in the holiday spirit, we may forget to think about the environmental and social impacts of our celebrations. Consider these sustainable tips for making a memorable green Thanksgiving.
1. Buy Local In-Season Produce
Including seasonal fruits and vegetables in your holiday recipes is a low-carbon way to celebrate Thanksgiving. Seasonal foods include produce that is put on shelves and purchased around the same time it is harvested from local growers, ensuring peak freshness and taste as well as lower transport miles and emissions from farm to grocery store (known as “food miles”). Use the Seasonal Food Guide to find what’s in season near you. To directly support your local farmers, consider rallying up the family for a fun trip to the farmer’s market.
2. Include More Plant-Based Dishes
Opting for more plant-based, meatless dishes also reduces food emissions. According to the USDA, 46 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving each year with a typical 20-pound turkey producing roughly 64 pounds of CO2. TreeHugger has a great Vegan Guide to Thanksgiving that includes savory dishes like artichoke dip, sweet potato soup, pumpkin ravioli, and more. If going turkey-less is not an option, then consider purchasing a cage-free turkey or, for smaller gatherings, cage-free chicken.
Curious about the most eco-friendly way to cook a turkey? Chester Energy & Policy provides energy and emissions data on the different ways to cook a turkey and found that two methods – sous vide and spatchcock – had the lowest energy use and emissions.
And don’t forget to make your toasts green this year with sustainable wines. LeafScore has rated 5 Best Sustainable Wines of 2022 and provides detail on the wineries’ sustainability certifications and practices.
3. Communicate Who’s Bringing What
Estimates from ReFED projects 305 million pounds of food will be wasted on Thanksgiving Day this year. To minimize food waste, create a group text to coordinate with your dinner guests on who’s bringing what. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Save The Food campaign has created a “Guestimator” tool for calculating exactly how much food you will need to serve ‘X’ amount of guests.
4. Don’t Eat With Your Eyes
The delicious smells of your Thanksgiving favorites can be all too encapsulating. However, do your best to be mindful of portion sizes when loading your plate to avoid leftover scraps. Consider using smaller plates, drink a glass of water before your meal, eat slowly, and give your body time to digest by waiting 20 minutes before reaching for seconds.
5. Skip the Paper Plates and Napkins
In addition to food scraps, there’s also a ton of material garbage that is generated during the holidays. Replace paper plates, paper napkins and single-use utensils and solo cups with reusable dishware and cutlery. While this requires more work on your part and still consumes energy to run your dishwasher, you’ll be conserving resources and reducing your landfill waste.
6. Enjoy the Feast Outside
If weather permits, plan to enjoy your Thanksgiving feast outdoors. This is a great opportunity to connect with nature and appreciate its beauty. Don’t forget to turn off the T.V. and lights inside before you head out!
7. Store Leftovers In Reusable Containers
Forget the plastic wrap and ziplock bags. Store your leftovers in reusable containers instead. Encourage guests to bring their own containers as well for easy to-go assembly. Aluminum foil can be another good green option because it’s 100% recyclable. However, aluminum foil must be free of food gunk and residue in order to be recycled.
And don’t forget to freeze before you toss. Many holiday dishes like potato casserole, lasagna and gravy can be frozen and dethawed for future meals. Organize your freezer ahead of time to create room for those frozen leftovers.
8. Compost Food Scraps
If you have the yard space and want to build a greener lifestyle, consider building one of these simple DIY compost bins for collecting Thanksgiving food scraps. Essentially all food scraps can be composted. However, you may want to avoid composting dairy, bones and meat scraps to prevent attracting flies, rats and other pests, as well as avoid the risk of bacterial growth (E. coli, salmonella, listeria). Stick to nitrogen-rich “greens” and carbon-rich “browns” in your at-home compost bin.
9. Donate to Your Local Food Bank
Donating any unopened cans and boxes of food to your local food bank can help feed the over 34 million food insecure people in the U.S. There are several great food bank locators such as Feeding America Food Bank Locator, EPA Excess Food Opportunities Map, Food Rescue Locator, and Ample Harvest Food Pantry Finder.
10. Recognize the True History of Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving, as the name suggests, is a time of being grateful for the people and blessings in our present lives. At the same time, it’s important to understand the true history behind the holiday and recognize the all-too-often unheard narratives and voices of Native Americans. By having the full picture, we can be more informed about the nation’s history and how to celebrate Thanksgiving respectfully and responsibly, as well as develop a deeper appreciation for native communities and their contributions.
11. Skip Black Friday Shopping
Everyone loves a good bargain and if there’s something you or a loved one have been saving up for, then you can’t beat the Black Friday deals. Just keep in mind the impact of this holiday shopping craze (nearly 80% of Black Friday purchases wind up in landfills) and ask yourself: Do I really need to buy my whole family matching Christmas pajamas?
Some alternatives to Black Friday shopping are creating a handmade gift or writing a heartfelt letter, giving an experience rather than a material item (hiking, a movie marathon, a trip to the beach, etc.), or swapping second-hand gifts (this can also help you clean out your closet).
12. Use Public Transit or Carpool to Family Events
Being crammed in one vehicle with your relatives may not be the most pleasant way to enjoy the holiday, but it does help reduce your holiday carbon footprint. Lower transport emissions by carpooling or taking public transit to get to family gatherings and events. Consider this an opportunity to have a good conversation with family and friends, or, at the very least, a test of patience.
13. Turn Down the Thermostat
If you’ll be away from home during the holiday, make sure to lower your thermostat to cut down on unnecessary energy use. You can also encourage guests to dress warm albeit comfortably and lower your thermostat inside.
14. Set a Timer for Holiday Lighting
Holiday lighting and decor can consume a lot of energy. In fact, the U.S. uses 66.3 billion kilowatt hours of electricity to run holiday lights – that’s enough to power about 14 million refrigerators. Choose energy-efficient LED Christmas lights for your tree and roof. Solar-powered holiday decorations are also a green choice. Install a timer to run your lights to lower energy use and avoid the stress of forgetting to turn them off. Consider a smart powerstrip to further eliminate any standby energy loss and add plenty of shiny, reflective ornaments to amplify the string lights on your tree.
15. Decorate with Natural Materials
For those with a creative touch, consider making your holiday decor out of natural materials, many of which you can find in your own backyard. A wreath made from sticks and colored foliage, a pinecone centerpiece, hanging dried fruit ornaments – the options are endless! Pinterest is the go-to place for finding natural holiday decor and craft ideas. Sustain My Craft Habit also has some great holiday decor projects that guide you step-by-step and provide how-to videos.
Interested in more sustainable ways to celebrate the holidays? Find green tips for holidays and environmental awareness days on our blog!