If you're looking for tips on how to celebrate Thanksgiving more sustainably, you probably already know that excess food waste tends to go hand in hand with this popular North American tradition. But who says you can't start new holiday traditions?
With climate change at our doorstep, there's no time like the present to reduce waste wherever possible—and our Thanksgiving tables are a great place to start. Even if you're not ready to give up turkey day for Tofurkey, there are still plenty of ways you can reduce your waste this year.
Whether you're hosting a house full of guests or attending an annual Friendsgiving celebration, every little bit counts towards creating a cleaner and healthier planet. Use the links below to dive straight into Thanksgiving sustainability tips or to learn why Lomi is the best kitchen appliance to have on hand during this season of gratitude.
Table of contents
Ready to map out your sustainable Thanksgiving strategy? In the next section, we'll look at the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint and the amount of food waste you send to landfills during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Top 32 tips for a sustainable Thanksgiving
Although reducing your food waste is key to a more sustainable Thanksgiving, there are actually a variety of ways to reduce your environmental impact this time of year. Check out these clever Thanksgiving sustainability tips for a more environmentally friendly celebration.
Practice sustainable food shopping
- Reduce unnecessary purchases at the grocery store and buy only what you need. Make a detailed, itemized shopping list, eat before you grocery shop, and bring along an eco-accountability buddy with you to the store. If you are tempted to impulse buy: shop for everything you need first and then decide if you truly need that bag of pumpkin-spice Oreos for a successful Thanksgiving dinner.
- Buy produce from a local farmer's market. The less distance that food has to travel to reach our plates, the less fuel goes into the environment. Less pollution and food waste is generated when you buy local and seasonal produce rather than buying it from a grocery store where it's been shipped in from Mexico or Peru.
- Purchase dry goods from bulk food shops to reduce packaging waste. If you're planning to use large quantities of sugar, flour, beans, rice, or spices in your cooking, fill your reusable containers with these recipe staples. You can even find bulk food stores that will ship dry goods directly to your home.
- Buy organic or pasture raised meat and dairy. If you're not quite ready to go vegan, purchase your dairy products or meats from a local farmer, butcher or a nearby food co-op.
- Shop during off peak hours to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. Call your local grocer or shopping center to find out when their peak Thanksgiving shopping times are. Avoid these hours to skip sitting in heavy traffic or idling your car while you wait for a parking spot to finally open up.
Minimize food waste during cooking
- Plan out your food menu to reduce waste from half-used items. If one recipe calls for 3 stalks of celery, use the rest of the bunch for a veggie tray. If you need half a lemon for your garlicky green beans, use the other half of lemon for your spaghetti squash dessert.
- Skip the vegetable peeler and leave those peels on! With just a little scrubbing, vegetable skins add flavor, nutrients, and extra color to any dish. If you're tempted to throw them away, remember that even small bits of food can generate harmful methane gas inside landfills.
- Freeze vegetable peels for soup stock if you absolutely have to peel those potatoes and carrots. Once you collect enough frozen peels to fill up a stock pot half way, create a hearty winter vegetable broth that's both delicious and a clever waste free solution.
- Feed worms food scraps. Worms love to eat small kitchen scraps like veggie peels or mushy fruit bits. If keeping worms in your kitchen sounds too messy, check out these other kitchen compost bins to throw your leftover onion skins, coffee grounds, or egg shells into.
Get clever with Thanksgiving meal leftovers
- Refrigerate leftovers immediately after meal time ends. Although it's tempting to leave out leftover Thanksgiving food for family and friends to graze on, food that sits out for more than 2 hours enters the danger zone and may not be safe to eat.
- Store food in your freezer if you know you won't eat it within the next 2-3 days. This prevents moldy food from growing inside the dark corners of your refrigerator.
- Add food leftovers to a green bin if you live in an area that has a green bin program. Because green bin waste is processed at a large-scale composting facility, you can throw leftover bones and high-fat foods like buttery mashed potatoes into the bin. (These items are no-gos for traditional composting bins)
- Skip the plastic wrap and use reusable beeswax wraps to cover leftovers. Beeswax food wraps are a sustainable substitute for single use plastic wraps and mold perfectly to the shape of your food or dish. These beeswax wraps from EarthHero are woven together with organic cotton, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin.
- Use reusable containers to store side dishes. Instead of covering your leftover pumpkin with tinfoil or plastic, refrigerate it in a reusable storage container. These stainless steel seal cups are great for cold foods and these Pyrex bowls are perfect for reheating food in the microwave.
- Composting with Lomi is the best way to transform leftover Thanksgiving food scraps into nutrient-rich dirt. Classic Thanksgiving holiday foods like turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes can go into Lomi whereas these items are a no-go for traditional compost bins. Lomi is also great for vegetable scraps since you can easily throw them into this electric composter as you cook.
Host a sustainable Thanksgiving dinner
- Replace turkey with a meat-free entree. Although a serving of beef produces 7 times more carbon emissions than poultry, the less turkey meat on our Thanksgiving table, the less potent greenhouse gas is released into the environment. Plus, do people even like turkey?
- Opt for cage free or organic turkey. If your family resists a meat-free Thanksgiving, cook a small, sustainably-raised chicken or turkey for a less meat orientated food menu. Prepare plenty of delicious vegetarian sides for them to add to their plates.
- Give house guests a tour of the sustainable products you'd like them to use throughout the night. Show family members where your recycling or composting bins are located, as well as any other sustainable kitchen products you'd like them to use.
- Reinvent Thanksgiving dishes with new recipes. When thousands of people scramble to buy turkey, potatoes, and cranberries within the span of a week, immense pressure is put on the food supply chain and on our farmers. Instead of eating the same stuff as everyone else, experiment with meal recipes that use other seasonal vegetables like beets, collard greens, persimmons, pomegranate, or brussel sprouts.
- Skip the bottled water and opt for batch beverages instead. Store a pitcher of fresh water in your refrigerator and encourage guests to drink from it throughout the night. Make batches of infused water, fruit punch, hot apple cider or coffee for guests to sip on.
- Substitute paper napkins for cloth napkins. Not only are cloth napkins reusable and more eco friendly, they'll elevate your hosting game to the next level. If you really want to look fancy, decorate your Thanksgiving table with a cotton tablecloth picked up from a local consignment shop.
- Resist the temptation to use plastic plates and dishes. They may be easier to clean up now but plastic dishes are hard on the environment long term. Serve food on washable dishware and offer zero waste products such as bamboo straws and reusable paper towels.
- Minimize food waste by offering leftovers to guests. If you accidentally cooked too much food, send your dinner guests home with food packaged up in eco friendly containers or recycled paper.
Rethink Thanksgiving travel
- Stay local for thanksgiving this year. For example, if your distant relatives meet up every Thanksgiving and Christmas, choose one holiday to hang back for. Try friends-giving or celebrate Thanksgiving by volunteering at your local food bank.
- Carpool whenever possible. If Thanksgiving dinner is at uncle Steve's house this year, carpool over to the festivities with any relatives that live nearby you or along the route. Or, opt for the carpool option on any rideshare apps you use.
- Try public transportation options in your local area to visit nearby friends or family. Jump on a train or Greyhound bus to surprise your adopted-grandmother living in the next city over.
- Bike or walk! Look, we know it's easy to feel overwhelmed when the holiday season arrives. A long, brisk walk could be exactly what you need to reset between friendsgiving lunch and your annual family dinner.
- Purchase a carbon offset to reduce air travel carbon emissions. If you really can't join in on your family's Thanksgiving road trip to see nanna, purchase a carbon emissions offset if you have to fly instead. You can calculate your travel carbon footprint here to find out how much offset you'll need.
Sustainable tips for after Thanksgiving Day
- Skip Black Friday shopping and spend time outdoors or with loved ones instead. If you are planning to give gifts to friends and family, shop items from this list of best eco-friendly products. Try buying holiday gifts before Black Friday starts to resist buying sale items you don't need.
- Avoid Cyber Monday impulse buys. In 2020, Amazon shipped over 1.5 billion packages throughout the holiday season. These material goods exploit natural resources, create carbon emissions, and add hundreds of pounds of packaging waste to landfills. Plus, they usually end up getting tossed out, returned, or buried deep inside our closet.
- Purchase environmentally friendly gifts from small businesses, independent artists, and eco friendly companies. If giving gifts is how you express your love or gratitude for someone, buy local treasures that aren't produced at mass scale. Or, buy gifts from an eco conscious or B corp certified business.
- Take time to plan your next zero waste holiday. Congratulations! Now that you've had a more sustainable Thanksgiving this year, use this momentum to start planning for a zero sustainable December. Use any of the above tips to minimize too much food buying throughout the December holidays.
Use Lomi to compost your Thanksgiving leftover foods
Even if you can only complete 1-3 of the above sustainability tips, every little bit of effort counts towards the fight to reduce food waste. If you have a small kitchen or limited freezer space, composting is a great way to dispose of those extra food peelings.
Our favorite way to quickly eliminate smelly food items is with Lomi. In less than one day, Lomi transforms vegetable peels, shells, and dinner waste into nutrient-rich dirt. You can use this dirt to fertilize your plants or simply toss it outside into your garden.
Want to learn more? Learn how other people are using their Lomi's to fight against climate change.
Written by: Anna Buck