7 Ideas to Keep Your Thanksgiving Eco-friendly

Thanksgiving is many Americans’ favorite holiday. It’s a time to come together with family and friends for a delicious meal, and to express gratitude.  

Unfortunately, this time of thankfulness tends to also become a time of wastefulness. Studies show that Americans produce 25% more waste during the holiday season, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. 

A big part of that is food waste, which ends up in landfills, releasing methane gas and contributing to climate change. In fact, some estimates show 6 million turkeys are thrown out! 

Like you, we know it doesn’t have to be this way. So, we’re serving up seven ideas to help you keep your Thanksgiving (or Friendsgiving) sustainable and eco-friendly! And you won’t have to sacrifice a single morsel of (over)indulgence. 

Consider making these ideas part of your family’s Thanksgiving traditions — the earth will be thankful for it.

1. Cut down on food waste by planning ahead.

While everyone loves Thanksgiving leftovers, having too much extra food usually results in some of it being tossed in the trash. 

You can reduce food waste by spending some time planning out the right amount of food. Coordinate with your guests ahead of time so you know what everyone will bring (and don’t forget to ask them to come with reusable containers to bring home leftovers!). 

You can also look for recipes that will help you use up more of your ingredients. For example, if you’re making something that calls for 1.5 cups of broth, choose another recipe that calls for .5 cup so you can use up the rest of your supply. 

2. Shop local!

Shopping locally is eco-friendly because the less distance your food has to travel to reach you, the less of an environmental impact it has. 

Find a nearby farmers’ market so you can buy fresh ingredients right from growers in your community! You can also look for farms that sell (maybe even deliver) produce directly to customers. And you can probably find a local turkey farm to provide that traditional main dish.

An added bonus:

Local produce is likely organic and usually tastes better! Because it doesn’t have to travel far, you’re getting it right after it’s harvested, so it’s super fresh and full of nutrients. 

It might be tempting to skip a few steps and buy prepared foods at the grocery store. But making food from scratch — rather than buying packaged items — is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. If you do go shopping, remember to bring your reusable totes and skip the plastic produce bags!

3. Remind your cleanup crew to recycle and compost.

Your Thanksgiving feast doesn’t have to produce a lot of waste. Aside from using reusable containers for leftovers, you can give your guests festive cloth napkins rather than paper ones, and skip the paper towels when cleaning up.  

Make sure your guests know where to recycle, too — leave your recycling bins out with clear instructions on what goes where. Tip: The aluminum tray that many of us use for baking the turkey is recyclable!

And Thanksgiving is a great opportunity for composting! So many traditional sides — potatoes, corn, green beans, pumpkins, cranberries, bread — can be composted, as long as they’re free from animal proteins. Composting is a sustainable way to reduce food waste and add nutrient-rich soil to your garden. Don’t forget if you leave seeds in your pumpkins, you could have your own pumpkin patch next year!

4. Consider trying more plant-based meals.

It’s no secret that meat production is a serious contributor to climate change. Even if turkey is the main event at your Thanksgiving meal, you could reduce your carbon footprint by incorporating other plant-based ingredients and dishes. 

Try swapping olive oil in place of butter, using vegetable broth instead of chicken, and putting coconut milk in your mashed potatoes instead of dairy. 

Or just ask your vegetarian or vegan guests to bring a few delicious plant-based surprises! 

5. Set a festive mood with natural decorations! 

You can still create a warm, festive atmosphere in your home without purchasing seasonal decorations, which are often made from plastic and end up in landfills. 

Instead, use natural items to create a cozy, autumn look for your table centerpiece — try colorful leaves, pumpkins, gourds, dried corn husks, apples, acorns, pinecones and pine branches. 

You’ll save money by not splurging on decorations, and be able to return everything to nature afterwards. 

If you have kids or are feeling creative, you can also look online for fun DIY projects that allow you to upcycle household items into festive Thanksgiving decor!

6. Travel more sustainably.

Millions of Americans travel for Thanksgiving — and anyone that’s done it knows how busy airports are that week and how bad traffic can be. 

If you’re traveling somewhere this Thanksgiving, consider how you can reduce your carbon footprint. Maybe you can take a bus or train instead of flying or driving your car. Or you can  travel on off-peak days so you don’t waste so much gas sitting in traffic. 

If you find traveling for the holidays too stressful or expensive, maybe skip it and plan to travel every other year for Thanksgiving. You can create your own tradition with friends or neighbors instead! 

7. Remember what you’re grateful for, and pay it forward. 

Helping others and giving back to your community is a great way to honor the spirit of Thanksgiving. 

You can donate to a local food bank or homeless shelter, or volunteer to help serve meals. Look around your neighborhood — maybe you could offer to grocery shop for elderly community members who aren’t physically able to (or just invite them over to join your feast!). 

There’s a reason volunteer work pairs well with Thanksgiving, and that’s because volunteering is really a uniquely American tradition. It’s been part of our history and culture since day one. It’s as American as apple pie. And what’s a more beautiful way to celebrate Thanksgiving than that?

Giving Tuesday is November 29, and it’s a great day to become a volunteer! Find a KAB volunteer opportunity near you!