Small changes to make your Thanksgiving festivities eco-friendly

Photo of a Thanksgiving dinner
Ben Franske/Creative Commons

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Thanksgiving is a holiday of gratitude for life, loved ones and, of course, food. If the environment is one of the many things you are thankful for during the holiday season (and all year long), then these simple changes can make your Thanksgiving traditions more sustainable.

Rethink the traditional Thanksgiving turkey

Approximately 46 million turkeys are eaten each year on Thanksgiving alone. Turkey industrial farming contributes to a plethora of environmental issues, as waste and greenhouse gas emissions from farms lead to water and air pollution. 

To make your Thanksgiving more sustainable, consider making your feast this year plant-based. Substitute your traditional turkey for a recipe using fall vegetables, and even try a plant-based gravy alternative. Visit your local farmers market for locally-sourced, seasonal produce with a lower carbon footprint than produce found in grocery stores. 

If you do choose to get a Thanksgiving turkey, opt for an organic, pasture-raised turkey that offers more health benefits and is more sustainable than factory raised turkey.

Reduce food waste 

Unfortunately, Thanksgiving has become a day of not only thanks but also food waste. About $293 million worth of food goes to waste every Thanksgiving, but everyone can do their part by making a conscious effort to reduce food waste. 

How much food will your guests actually eat? Carefully plan out the quantities of food that you need, and ensure that leftovers do not get thrown away. When making a large variety of dishes, stick to reasonably small portions and if you do have leftovers, save them for later. Find creative ways to repurpose them into new dishes, such as a Thanksgiving leftover casserole. 

If you buy more food than you need, consider donating unopened containers to a local food pantry. 

Avoid single-use materials 

When decorating your home and dinner table for Thanksgiving, stick to reusable and compostable materials whenever possible. 

Choose reusable — not disposable —  utensils, plates and napkins, and if necessary, there are many single-use options made from biodegradable materials such as bamboo. Plan ahead for leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner by having reusable containers available. Compostable wax paper is a reusable, environmentally friendly alternative to plastic wrap and aluminum foil.

Taking time to appreciate the beauty of fall leaves and crisp air by spending time outdoors is an eco-friendly way to give thanks. However, if you want Thanksgiving decorations, there are fun, environmentally conscious ways to bring nature into your home. For example, displays of acorns, pumpkins and gourds make for creative centerpieces to celebrate autumn without harming the environment. 

Celebrate close to home

Air travel is a major contributor to climate change, as the aviation industry makes up 2.5% of global carbon emissions and produces about 915 million tons of carbon emissions annually. Celebrating Thanksgiving close to home is a simple way to reduce your carbon footprint during the holidays. 

Opt out of Black Friday

Black Friday, the day of enticing sales after Thanksgiving, exemplifies harmful consumerism. Deals for 50% off clothing, iPhones, jewelry, etc. may be tempting, but it’s important to be mindful of whether you are purchasing items you actually need and to consider the environmental consequences. 

If you participate in Black Friday, everything you purchase will have some form of environmental impact through production and shipping, so be conscientious of what companies and production practices you are supporting. Consider using the opportunity to support small local businesses. 

While these lifestyle changes may seem small and insignificant, they are part of larger issues contributing to climate change, biodiversity loss and social injustices. By making a conscious effort to be more sustainable on Thanksgiving, you can incorporate these mindful practices into every day of the year — not only Thanksgiving.

Contact Chloe Tiltonat [email protected].