Thanksgiving is a holiday sometimes associated with a little overindulgence of food, drink and gifts to please family and friends.
It should consequently come as little surprise household garbage, including food waste, reportedly grows by up to a quarter during the holiday season between Thanksgiving and the New Year.
However with just a few small tweaks, your Thanksgiving 2021 can potentially be more eco-friendly, without.
Nina Siemiatkowski, founder of environmental giving platform Milkywire, suggests it is “dangerous” to not play a part in going greener this holiday season.
She told Newsweek: “Although companies have been accused of appropriating the term ‘environmentally friendly’ for economic gain, it remains an important expression to remind people of their personal responsibility in adapting their lifestyles to better protect our planet.
“If you live in an area so far undisturbed by climate change, it is easy to distance yourself from the crisis and deem yourself ‘helpless’ in the fight to tackle climate change. This narrative is dangerous. In my opinion, as humans, we’re so powerful when we come together—it only takes a few hundred people to literally change the world.”
Here are some simple ways to enjoy a sustainable and more environmentally friendly Thanksgiving this year.
1. Plan What To Eat This Thanksgiving
For Chef Craig Byiers, of Links House at Royal Dornoch in the Scottish Highlands, planning your meal is key when it comes to preparing a sustainable meal.
He said: “From sourcing a local, ethically reared turkey, to confirming the number of people you’ll be serving on the day, you want to avoid over-cooking and creating waste.
“As well as planning for the day itself, decide on which dishes work well as leftovers so you can take it easy the following day—while dining just as well.”
2. Offset Your Carbon This Thanksgiving
A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases to compensate for emissions made elsewhere.
Tree planting company Tentree offers a service to “offset life’s naughty but nice treats.”
Have relatives flying over? Planting 15 trees will offset 2.2 tons of carbon, enough to cover a return flight for two from Los Angeles to Chicago.
Planting 55 trees will offset 12 years of carbon emissions produced by a dog or cat.
3. Eat the Best Quality Turkey Possible
Eleanor Herrin, CEO of online grocer Farmdrop, suggests there are many benefits to eating high-quality turkey if meat remains on the menu this Thanksgiving.
She said: “Everyone is becoming more mindful about the impact of their everyday food choices and Thanksgiving is one more opportunity to start upgrading your traditions to include considerations for the environment, animal welfare and food waste.
She recommends choosing a slow grown, pasture-raised, high welfare bird in order to ensure it was well-looked after and has a higher nutritional value.
“It will also taste great,” she added.
4. Or Maybe Swap Turkey for Plants
Eating more plant-based meals is healthier for the consumer and the planet as a whole, the World Wide Fund for Nature says.
The WWF said on its site: “The livestock industry alone generates nearly 15 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions and requires space and huge amounts of water and feed. There are lots of meat alternatives around these days.”
5. Reduce Food Waste
A 2019 report by Columbia University’s Climate School states indifference to the fate of uneaten food can create a huge problem for the environment.
It said: “When we throw away moldy food, we’re also throwing away all of the water, fertilizer, and fuels that were used to grow and transport the food. And when food waste goes into a landfill, it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas.”
Instead, they suggest, using creative recipes to jazz-up Thanksgiving leftovers, freezing what cannot be eaten within a few days and composting inedible organic matter can work wonders for your green credentials.
Abdul-Razak Saeed, Lead, Climate Change, Rainforest Alliance, told Newsweek: food waste “is a major cause of concern.”
“While the world wastes about 1.4 billion tons of food every year, the United States discards more food than any other country in the world: nearly 40 million tons — 80 billion pounds — every year.”
Alex Nichols-Vinueza, WWF’s Program Manager for Food Loss and Waste, agrees, adding, “the number one thing we can do to is take steps to value the food we’re serving.
“This starts with us recognizing all of the resources that go into producing our Thanksgiving meal (long before we purchase our ingredients at the supermarket), and it ends with us doing our part to make sure none of it goes to waste.”
6. Shop Locally This Thanksgiving
Local is best, according to vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli.
“Buying locally means the produce hasn’t traveled very far,” she told Forbes in 2019. “This means less pollution from trucks and ships and less packaging—which typically travels with the produce to ensure the best condition possible upon arrival.
“Also, when you buy locally-sourced ingredients, you are reinvesting in your own community, which is hard to argue with. Even if it’s just one or two things, it can make a difference.”
7. Use a Dishwater
This one might appeal to your lazy side. A fully loaded dishwasher can be far more water-efficient than washing by hand, according to environmental organisation Friends Of The Earth.
The charity writes on its site: “Save water. Don’t wash the dishes. Let them pile up to the point where you’re actually wondering if it’s ok to eat soup from a dog’s bowl.
“Then, and only then, casually load the dirty pots into a dishwasher. Press the start button. Now sit down and catch your breath.”
8. Swap Washing-Up Liquid for Solid Soap
No access to a dishwasher? Try switching your usual washing liquid for a new solid dishwashing soap can make the process a little greener.
Sustainable cling film alternative The Beeswax Wraps Co. states on its website: “You’ll be safe in the knowledge that you’re cleaning your dishes in the most ocean-friendly, waste-free way possible. Plus, solid soap has a lower carbon footprint than even eco-friendly liquid alternatives. Win!”
9. Use Real Plates and Cutlery
Real dishes, silverware and cloth napkins both look and feel nicer than their plastic counterparts; they also slash the amount of waste created at the end of the meal.
Online social enterprise SuperBee writes: “If you are hosting a large gathering and can’t supply real dishes and silverware, make sure to at least choose biodegradable disposable plates to help limit the waste created.”
10. Travel Smarter This Thanksgiving
Reducing your travel is an instant way of cutting emissions, but traveling off-peak is the next best thing—cutting time spent in traffic, and saving you patience and money.
Google Trends has calculated the best and worst times to embark on a Thanksgiving road trip from the major cities around the U.S. In general, 3–4pm on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is guaranteed to be a terrible time to travel wherever you are in the States.
Rainforest Alliance’s Abdul-Razak Saeed suggests taking trips by train this Thanksgiving, as less emitting mode of travel for short-haul.
He said: “On average, travelling by train produces less emissions than flying. For long haul trips, seek out airlines that use more efficient planes and those that use greener fuel.”
11. Get Your Pets To Go Vegan This Thanksgiving
Vegan food allows pets to celebrate Thanksgiving in a more eco-friendly way. Contrary to popular belief that dogs are obligate carnivores, dogs are in fact omnivores and can therefore not only survive but thrive on a nutritionally complete plant-based diet.
A dog’s small intestine constitutes just a quarter of their total gastrointestinal volume, consistent to that of omnivores and they also have molars with relatively flat surfaces, enabling them to grind fibrous plant material.
Vet Dr. Marc Abraham supports HOWND’s Plant-Based Superfood. He said: “One of the most important things to think about when feeding your dog is always making sure they’re receiving the correct, required nutritional balance, and extensive research has shown that it is absolutely possible for our canine companions to thrive on a meat-free diet – whether flexitarian or fully plant-based.”
12. Use Natural Decoration This Thanksgiving
Eco campaign group Green People urges people to ditch plastic decorations.
It states: “Bringing nature indoors is an easy way to create an interior design that is inviting, seasonal and sustainable and, for an eco-friendly festive style, we recommend swapping glitter and tinsel for natural foliage.”
Recycling company Harmony Enterprises suggests Thanksgiving is a perfect time for “nature to decorate.”
It suggests: “For instance, pumpkins, leaves, pinecones and branches all make great Thanksgiving decorations. Since they come from nature, they are all easily disposable and biodegradable.”
13. Use Eco-Conscious Retailers
Doug Longobardi, executive vice president of sales at Asendia USA, advises an easy way to go green this holiday shopping season, is to opt for retailers that offer sustainable products or that make a point to have sustainability as a core strategic focus.
He said: “Many retailers are looking to minimize their environmental impact. And remember, when the boxes start piling up, don’t forget to recycle.”
“Many online retailers offer free returns. However, to be greener when you shop online, do your best to read product descriptions and size charts carefully to ensure you know what you’re getting. Returns increase a retailer’s carbon footprint, thereby negatively impacting the environment.”
14. Chose a More Eco-Friendly Alcohol
The Oregon Wine Board suggests their are greener options to match with your Thanksgiving turkey.
The Board’s Lucy Rundle said: “Oregon is home to many innovative sustainable farming initiatives; vineyards are setting ambitious zero-emissions goals, rewilding land and experimenting with innovative packaging.
“Some wineries are using autonomous, electric tractors that can even predict when it will rain, while others have returned to farming exclusively with animals. When it comes to packaging, natural wax closures are being used as an alternative to tin screwcaps, while at some vineyards pouches made from recycled materials are replacing glass.”
15. Use an Eco-Friendly Interdental Cleaner
Jennifer Hudson brand manager at Dentek, suggest going for green teeth this Thanksgiving is not as crazy as it sounds.
She said: “If you’re into flossing or using a toothpick post-thanksgiving you can reduce plastic waste with an eco-floss (made from birchwood or bio resin) from DenTek.”