If you’re willing to take a few easy steps toward more eco-friendly and zero waste efforts around the holidays, check out these simple ideas for celebrating Thanksgiving in a way that’s a whole lot easier on the environment.
Life seems to get a little crazy around the holidays with all the events and family gatherings. While it’s understandable, many of us prioritize convenience at the expense of the environment and sustainability. To help us all be a little more “green” for the holidays, and Thanksgiving in particular, I gathered up a host of simple ways we can be a little more sustainable and environmentally-friendly without losing our sanity.
I don’t expect most of us will take on all the ideas, but even if we all pick a few that resonate with us or are easiest for our circumstances, we’ll start to make a dent in the loads of waste that will be filling up our trash cans post-celebration.
1. Buy Local
If it’s available in your area, consider buying ingredients from a local farmer’s market. Even if you can’t buy everything from a local market, at least you can likely find the produce. By purchasing at the farmers’ market, you support your local economy, can bring your own bag and ditch the plastic packaging.
Additionally, the food we eat has often been on a serious journey before arriving at our grocery stores, sometimes traveling across international borders. Buying locally, we avoid much of the financial and environmental transportation costs of getting the food to our community.
2. Donate a Meal
While celebrating with so much wonderful food with your family, consider donating to you local food pantry to accompany your meal. Maybe you donate financially? Maybe you match your meal with a couple grocery bags of food for the same meal for another family? Many churches, schools and other organizations also manage food donation, something with which we’re all familiar. Donating through an established organization makes the process incredibly easy.
You may also consider a more grass roots effort. My brother-in-law teaches in an economically-disadvantaged community. He and several other teachers at his school worked with a local grocery store to feed several dozen families in their school. The teachers reached out to their families and friends to collect money and the grocery store provided meals at a discounted price. So many of his students’ families who struggle to put food on the table will have at least one wholesome and filling meal for the holiday that, individually, had but a marginal financial impact on those of us who contributed.
3. Use Reusable and Multi-Purpose Cookware and Serving Dishes
Prepare food in dishes like these Pyrex or CorningWare alternatives (both of which we own and use all the time) that can be used for travel, preparation, heating, serving, and storage. Save yourself a few dishes, which reduces water waste (not to mention it’s just easier for those cleaning up). You can also save money and reduce waste by eliminating the need to buy disposable containers (that end up in the trash) for preparation and saving leftovers.
4. Use Natural Elements
Pass on gimmicky or cheap decor that only lasts one or two seasons. Natural elements like pine needles and pine cones, acorns, various types of squash, and dried leaves make lovely decorations, especially this time of year when the leaves are so many different colors. After the holiday, you can eat, compost, or send back to nature all these elements.
5. Items You Already Own
Many things you already have around the house, like neutral colored candles and glass vases or jars, make great additions to a decor set up. Here are a few great simple and sustainable DIY Thanksgiving decor ideas.
6. Borrow Flatware
In addition to bringing food, one or two guests can also be responsible for bringing flatware. If you don’t already have enough in your home (and most of us don’t), it’s easy to share. The guests who don’t love spending loads of time in the kitchen might appreciate being able to contribute without having to bring something to eat.
7. Compostable Plates and Utensils
If you aren’t comfortable asking to borrow utensils or plates and bowls (which is fine) and really want disposable options, consider buying alternatives that can be composted or are biodegradable. They aren’t necessarily the best option, but they’re better than more traditional alternatives. As I’ve said before, a little better is still better. Every little effort adds up.
8. Ditch Bottled Water
It’s pretty crazy the number of plastic water bottles we throw away and that end up in our landfills and oceans. Once in a while, when we’re out and about, I completely understand grabbing a bottle of water. But when we’re home or visiting family and friends, it’s so easy to just use tap water (which often is better regulated than bottled water with respect to cleanliness and quality). If it needs to be filtered, consider a simple Brita filter, for example, that attaches to the faucet.
Further, water bottles aren’t very pretty. If you want something more aesthetically pleasing, consider serving water in a glass beverage dispenser with a spout, carafe, or a pitcher. You could even add a bit of cucumber or lemon to make it prettier and add a fun, light flavor. .
9. Buy Beer in Bulk
If you have a large gathering, consider buying a growler from a local brewery or a mini keg. Unless you’re serious beer drinkers, your group probably doesn’t need an entire keg, but most alcohol distributors sell mini kegs or half kegs if a couple of growlers aren’t enough.
Both of these alternatives result in far less waste than a bunch of individual cans or bottles. Just be sure you’re not replacing the cans or bottles with disposable cups. If that’s the only option, then the recyclable cans or bottles may be the better path.
If your guests are avid beer drinkers, how interesting are these personalized growlers that you can have filled by a local brewery?
10. Bones for Broth
Use the carcass of the turkey breast as a base for making broth the next day in either a slow cooker or a large stock pot. It takes a few hours to make, but it is so easy and requires little manual effort. It’s a perfect recipe to make and let simmer while you relax after a busy Thanksgiving day. Try one of these three recipes depending on your preferences.
11. Leftovers For Friends
Send home leftovers but try to be mindful about the packaging. Ideally, leftovers can go home in the serving dishes guests used to bring their own contributions. That’s not always feasible though, so consider reusable or compostable alternatives. I mentioned these biodegradable bowls and lids above.
If you’re set on using plastic, at least opt for something like these BPA-free reusable storage containers instead of plastic bags or plastic wrap that are likely to be tossed after a single use.
12. Leftovers for New Meals
Many of us know to use the leftovers to create entirely new and different meals from the standard holiday fare. Here are a handful of tasty-looking recipes using all the usual Thanksgiving suspects and that taste nothing like the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Making new meals from leftovers seems like such an obvious consideration, but it’s a bummer how much food we waste every day.
13. Compost What You Can’t Eat
Most of the leftovers make great meals for the days that the follow. But for half-eaten plates or parts of the food not served to guests, consider composting it. There are loads of compost options depending on where you live. If you don’t own a compost bin or pile yourself, consider if a neighbor has a compost pile you could use. Your city or neighborhood may have communal compost options as well.
14. Plan Ahead & Ask For Help
In the end, so much of limiting waste and living more sustainably hinges on just a little bit of thoughtful planning and patience with imperfection. Not everything has to be just right; good enough really is good enough. Someone else might have a simpler, easier idea and we should be open to letting others share in the process of cooking and eating together.
We also don’t need every expensive centerpiece and perfectly adorned place settings if it’s at the expense of simplicity and enjoyment of the time together.
Think about what you really need and what is truly important to you and your guests. Focus on what matters. If you make the most of what you already have, you’ll be well on your way to a sustainable and enjoyable Thanksgiving celebration with family and friends.