Thanksgiving is a holiday to give thanks and share special moments with family and friends. While the original Thanksgiving might have taken place during a time when food was sparse, nowadays Thanksgiving often involves excessive amounts of food, with more food ending up in the garbage than in celebrants' stomachs.
The United States Department of Agriculture projects that Americans will throw away more than 200 million pounds of edible turkey meat this Thanksgiving holiday. And Thanksgiving typically ushers in a period of wastefulness, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says American households produce roughly 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day than during the rest of the year.
Reducing waste is a worthy goal year-round, but especially so during the holiday season. And accomplishing that goal can be done without sacrificing holiday traditions.
Use fine china when serving meals. Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to serve meals on fine china and use the silverware that has gone unused instead of disposable plates and utensils. In addition to adding a touch of elegance to meals, reusable china and silverware is less wasteful than paper plates and plastic utensils. Cloth napkins and other table linens are also more eco-friendly than paper napkins.
Decorate using natural items. Scour the great outdoors for all-natural centerpiece materials or other items that can be turned into wreaths and garlands. Vases filled with pine cones and acorns make for beautiful, inexpensive and festive decorations.
Shop locally and organically. When shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, choose local produce, poultry and grains whenever possible. Resist the urge to buy more than you need as well. Skip some of the less-popular dishes that are used only to make the table seem full. Buy a small turkey or think about only serving turkey breasts, which tend to be the most popular cuts of the bird. Use reusable shopping bags to carry items home and reduce waste even further.
Light candles and reduce energy consumption. During the meal, eat by candlelight and turn off lights in other areas of the home that are not in use. Rather than turning on the television, take the party outdoors and play a game of football on the front lawn.
Have a local Thanksgiving. Start a new tradition and invite nearby friends and family over for the holiday instead of traveling long distances. According to Use Less Stuff, a resource for eco-conscious men and women, if each family reduced gasoline consumption by one gallon (roughly 20 miles), they could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one million tons.
Coordinate recipes with friends and family so you don’t end up with 3 green bean casseroles (unless if you want 3 green bean casseroles!). Setting up a shared Google Doc is a great way to simultaneously plan the meal with the friends and family you’re sharing the day with.
Prepare less by cutting recipes in half. If you can’t have Thanksgiving without sweet potato casserole, but like me also “need” to make at least five other traditional side dishes, consider making a half recipe for one or all dishes, instead of full recipes. Tips for halving recipes can be found here and here.
Only buy the ingredients you need for your recipes. Buying in bulk is only really efficient when you actually need something in bulk. It’s hard to resist a two pound bag of pecans in the heat of the moment at Costco, so maybe remember ahead of time that you can get nuts by the scoop from your smaller grocery store.
Avoid impulse purchases; I don’t really need a pre-baked apple pie from the bakery section when I know we already have pecan and pumpkin pies in the works!
Send home the leftovers. Send each guest home with some leftovers if you have any. This way the refrigerator isn't left full of items that will end up uneaten. Otherwise, donate uncooked food to a local food bank. Use any scraps of vegetables in a compost pile.
Don't let recycling fall by the wayside. Remember to recycle all applicable items. Just because it's a holiday doesn't mean recycling habits should be forgotten. Encourage guests to pitch in by clearly marking recycling bins.
Thanksgiving can be less wasteful without detracting from the enjoyment and true meaning of the holiday.