On the fourth Thursday of every November, families all over the United States come together to eat, drink and be merry in a celebration of Thanksgiving which honors the early settlers and their harvest feast.
Of course, back then the carbon footprint of their feast was next to nothing. Back then, the pilgrims grew, harvested and served their own food. Back then, energy-guzzling modern conveniences and fossil fuels weren’t around to wreak havoc on our environment.
The same can’t be said for today’s Thanksgiving feast – it’s an incredibly wasteful time of year.
For example, in the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, non-food waste increases by over 20% – an extra 5 million tons – according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
There is also three times as much food waste during the same period, when compared with other times of the year. And then there’s all the extra travel which causes air and water pollution.
If we truly want to celebrate Thanksgiving as the first pilgrims did, then we need to cut down on our waste and environmental impact – while still marking the occasion in style!
Here are 16 easy ways to do just that:
Keep Travel Down
Spending the holidays at home is, by itself, one huge way you can have a favorable impact on the environment this Thanksgiving.
The day before and the Sunday after Thanksgiving are two of the busiest days of the year when it comes to travel – an estimated 24 million people fly during the holiday period.
Of course, sometimes travel is unavoidable. Especially if you’ve promised to spend the holiday with family or friends. If that’s the case, consider taking the train – the greenest mode of travel. If you’re driving, make sure your car is running efficiently so it doesn’t use any more fuel than it has to.
Go Plant Based
While it may not be your idea of ‘traditional’, it’s well recognized that a plant-based diet has the least environmental impact.
In fact, the United Nations believes that a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, poverty and the worst impacts of climate change.
While turkey is by no means the worst meat in terms of its carbon footprint, two 3.5oz servings is the equivalent of driving six miles in your car. On the other hand, one cup of broccoli is responsible for only about half a mile of driving.
Think it won’t be the same without the meat? Think again!
Plant-based meals can be delicious, healthy and filling. Try out some of these 41 Delicious Vegan Thanksgiving Recipes and see for yourself.
Head to your nearest farmers’ market for some in-season produce from small, local producers and check supermarket labeling to see the origins of the products you’re putting in your trolley.
By buying organic you’ll not only be benefiting your health and the environment, but you’ll also be having a more authentic Thanksgiving feast – after all, the pilgrims certainly ate only organic foods!
Organic farming works with nature and supports biodiversity to preserve soil quality and the delicate balance of our ecosystem. Conventional farming, on the other hand, poisons our water supplies, destroys land and kills off many plant and animal species.
Fresh is Best
Another way to make smart environmental choices at the grocery store is to choose fresh over canned fruits and vegetables.
Commercial canning of vegetables uses 3 billion kWh of energy per annum. That’s enough to run more than 8.5 million refrigerators for an entire year!
By avoiding canned goods, you’ll also be cutting down on your exposure to BPA – a hormone disrupting chemical that lines tin cans…which even the FDA has ‘some concerns’ about.
Use Less Plastic
By shopping at farmers’ markets and from bulk bins and the fresh produce section, you’ll automatically be buying products that come in less plastic wrapping.
If you’re buying sodas or bottled water, you should know that making bottles to meet America’s demand for bottled water uses more than 17 million barrels of oil annually.
That’s enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year.
Opt for drinks that come in glass bottles or invest in a good water filter – learn more about purifying your water here.
Make sure you bring your own bags to the grocery store too – a habit that’s good to keep up all year round.
Invest in a Roasting Pan
Yes, disposable roasting pans are incredibly handy. But they’re also pretty bad for the environment.
In fact, if everyone in the US used a disposable roasting pan to cook their Thanksgiving meal, there would be 46 million tinfoil pans being thrown out every year.
Invest in a good quality ceramic or glass one instead – it can last you a lifetime.
Go traditional with some cloth napkins instead of paper ones. Again, while the paper ones are convenient, they’re incredibly wasteful and most definitely not eco-friendly.
Did you know that the average American uses 2,200 two-ply paper napkins per year? That’s 662 billion napkins ending up in American trash cans every twelve months!
If you want your napkins to have a Thanksgiving theme, try jazzing up plain cloth napkins with a DIY holiday-themed napkin ring. Here are 15 for you to choose from.
Take Out the China
If you’re using real napkins, you can’t very well serve your food in disposable plates or cups!
It’s a sad fact that 64 billion paper and 73 billion Styrofoam and plastic cups and plates are thrown away in a 12 month period in the US alone. Use your best China and silverware and celebrate in style.
Don’t have any nice serving dishes? Pick some up in a thrift store for more eco-friendly brownie points.
Decorate with Nature
Bring the outdoors in as you use natural items to make your home welcoming and festive. This helps you cut down on plastics, toxic chemicals in sprays and glues and the countless amounts of water and energy used in creating store-bought decorations.
What’s more, your home will be unique – and all for mere cents.
Why not try some of these cute crafts?
- Pine Cone Place Cards for the dinner table
- DIY Mini Pumpkin Candle Holders – works for tea light candles too!
- A foraged Homemade Magnolia Leaf Garland
- This stunning yet simple Cranberry Centerpiece
You can also try some of these 23 natural ways to make your home smell like fall.
Turn Down the Lights
Get into the holiday spirit (and save on your utility bills) with a relaxing ambiance and subdued lighting. Enjoy your meal by candle light and snuggle up in front of an open fire in the evening.
After dinner, don’t just lounge in front of the TV all night. Switch it off and head out for a refreshing nature walk. You can save energy in other ways too – check out how to stay warm without cranking up the thermostat.
Cut Down on Food Waste
Before you hit the shops, make sure you’re not buying and preparing too much food!
The US USDA estimates that more than 30% percent of groceries in the United States gets thrown away every year – around $162 billion worth of food!
Since the festive period sees three times as much waste as at other times of the year, it’s the ideal time to start as you mean to go on – by stopping the wastage.
In addition to better planning, you can also send your guests home with leftovers. It’ll save them preparing a meal the next day – thus saving them energy, water and food miles.
No More Plastic Wrap
Whether you’re sending your guests home with food, or you’re saving it for yourself, you’ll want to avoid using plastic wrap…or any sort of disposable containers.
Every year, Americans make enough plastic film to shrink-wrap the state of Texas!
Store your food in empty glass jars or reusable containers instead.
Add to the Compost Heap
Anything you’re not going to eat, or send home with your guests, can be composted (aside from meat and dairy). The fruit and vegetable peelings and cores from your pre-dinner prep can go in there too.
And, starting your own compost pile sees you save even more food miles, given that you also clock up miles getting waste foods away from you and to the landfill. Learn more about composting here.
Detoxify your Clean-Up
Your green efforts don’t have to end just because the meal has! When it’s time for the clean-up, you can make further green choices.
Conventional cleaners are chock-full of chemicals which are hazardous to both the environment and our health. Overhaul your arsenal of cleaning products with some homemade versions – most of which can be made from items you already have in your kitchen.
For example, your silverware can be cleaned with plain old vinegar – see instructions here. And here are 40 more green cleaning tips for every room in your house!
Offset the Damage
While it’s important to take steps to reduce our environmental impact, it’s still important to enjoy the festivities! It’s not always possible to do everything we should to cut down on waste and pollution.
One thing we can easily do though, is to offset some of the damage our modern style of living causes to the environment.
How can we do that?
Why not go one better and ask all your guests to do the same? Consider including a ‘Plant a Tree’ party favor for each guest too!