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7 Super Simple Sustainable Swaps To An Eco Friendly Thanksgiving!

Zero Waste Thanksgiving


SKL Contributing Writer

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Are you looking for some super simple sustainable swaps to have your dream eco-friendly Thanksgiving in 2023?

We have got you covered with this epic mini-guide to an earth-friendly Thanksgiving celebration.  

P.S. Don’t forget to check out our round-up of the best eco-friendly Black Friday Deals of 2022 to support those amazing small businesses!

This blog post is all about how to have a Sustainable Thanksgiving!

Eco-Friendly Thanksgiving Tips

As the autumn leaves paint the town in shades of amber and russet, we instantly begin to swell with anticipation for the holiday season that approaches– fast!

It’s the season of culinary artistry, cozy knit sweaters, and reconnecting with loved ones over heaping plates of comfort food.

The mouthwatering aroma of roasted turkey mingling with the sweet scent of pumpkin pie fills the air, while the table is adorned with the warm hues of autumnal decor. It can’t get better than that! 

And, of course, when you consider all the beautiful things in life, the planet should be on your list. So, whether you’re gathering around a rustic farmhouse table or sharing a Friendsgiving feast with your chosen family, let’s do our best to keep this feast-fueled celebration as eco-friendly as possible.

Unfortunately, much like Halloween, Thanksgiving leaves behind a huge trail of waste that can accompany us for years to come.

Luckily, there are many easy ways to have the ultimate sustainable Thanksgiving gathering without putting an extra toll on the environment. 

So, when shopping and preparing for this holiday, try to think about how eating, traveling, and shopping impact the planet. If you have this mindset, here are sustainable swaps your family will love this Thanksgiving.

But before we get into it, let’s see why having an earth-friendly Thanksgiving celebration is so darn important.

What is the environmental impact of the average Thanksgiving celebration?

Although sustainability is important to consider all the time, total emissions tend to increase during Thanksgiving. A 2018 report by the Center for Biological Diversity notes that, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans throw out about 25% more trash than at other times of year.

Each Thanksgiving table may look different, but the average household has a table full of enough food to feed 12 guests. Firstly, cooking accounts for 4.5% of the total energy use in U.S. homes.

This amount of food is associated with a total of 103.1 pounds of CO2 used without considering travel estimates. That’s nearly the same emissions output as 170,000 cars driving for a year. The turkey pulls the most weight, coming in at 64 pounds of CO2.  

The staggering food waste generated during Thanksgiving, from uneaten leftovers to discarded pumpkin decorations, contributes to landfills and emits harmful greenhouse gases.

The carbon footprint of extensive travel to reunite with loved ones cannot be ignored either. Additionally, the production and transportation of Thanksgiving staples like turkey, cranberries, and sweet potatoes have their own environmental toll.

How much food is wasted on Thanksgiving?

American households will waste some 305 million pounds of food this holiday, according to one recent estimate from ReFED, a New York-based food-waste research organization.

To put this into perspective, that’s almost triple the 115 million pounds of residential food wasted daily on average which comes out to nearly a pound per person. If this wasn’t enough to persuade you to have an eco-friendly Thanksgiving, there’s more!

When food is casually discarded and left to decompose in landfills, it generates methane, that notorious greenhouse gas we’ve come to recognize as even more potent than carbon dioxide.

The surprising reality is that approximately 7% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions could vanish into thin air if we simply put an end to food wastage! The good news is that you can easily have a more sustainable Thanksgiving celebration with just a few swaps!

How can I encourage my family and friends to have a more sustainable Thanksgiving?

Start by initiating an open and heartfelt conversation with your family and friends. Share your passion for sustainability and the reasons behind your desire to make Thanksgiving more eco-friendly. Highlight the environmental impact of the holiday, from food waste to excessive packaging, and discuss how small changes can make a big difference.

To create enthusiasm, propose collaborative efforts like planning a locally sourced and organic meal, reducing single-use plastics and disposable tableware, and embracing plant-based or low-meat options. Encourage everyone to bring their reusable containers for leftovers and brainstorm creative ways to reuse and repurpose decorations from year to year.

Incorporate fun, sustainable activities into the festivities, such as a nature hike or crafting homemade, eco-conscious decorations. By making sustainability a shared goal and a joyful part of the celebration, you’ll inspire your family and friends to embrace a more mindful and eco-friendly Thanksgiving.

This is your guide to a sustainable Thanksgiving holiday!

How To Have An Eco-Friendly Thanksgiving

Considering the environment while enjoying an earth-friendly Thanksgiving meal makes it an even more rewarding time. Luckily, in 2023, a growing number of mindful hosts (just like you) are embracing sustainable alternatives, from plant-based feasts that spare the planet the burden of meat production to locally sourced, organic ingredients that reduce the carbon footprint of our holiday meals.

By curbing food waste, repurposing decorations, and opting for eco-conscious travel options, we can celebrate Thanksgiving with all its splendor while also giving a nod to the Earth that provides for us year-round.

In other words, making these swaps can help save you and your family time, stress, and money:

1. Decorate With Nature

Eco-Friendly Thanksgiving Tips

Make decorations more authentic and biodegradable using nature. 

Instead of using plastic items, use things that are already available. A great option is gathering things like pumpkins, acorns, shelled walnuts, and colorful leaves. These are great options since they will not end up in a landfill like plastic décor.

If you do your part using biodegradable decorations, you can cut down on waste this holiday season. 

People tend to throw away 25% more trash during the holidays than at any other time of year. That’s around 25 million tons of garbage. Contributing to cutting back with nature’s decorations instead of plastic store-bought ones can feel rewarding.

Best DIY Thanksgiving Decoration Ideas:

2. Include More Veggies & Sides

Eco-Friendly Thanksgiving Tips

You can make more veggies and sides to eat one less meat this year. 

This is one of the most impactful choices to make to reduce climate change and conserve natural habitats.

Although turkey isn’t as bad as beef, it still requires more land, water, and fuel than veggies.

You can consider options like tofurkey or cooking a smaller turkey with lots of different sides to fill up on. Sides are a big part of Thanksgiving anyway. 

Your family will love trying out new sides that include many nutritious and delicious vegetables.

3. Shop Local & Sustainable

Thanksgiving Environmental Impact

When shopping for Thanksgiving goods, try ditching the store and heading to the local farmers market. Picking up locally grown foods requires fewer greenhouse gases to get to the table you eat at.

Buying locally also helps keep jobs and money in the community ecosystem. You can go with a group of family members to make fewer trips back and forth.

When shopping, it’s best to consider listing things to get before you go. Encourage your family to try a salmon dip.

This is a nutritious side with protein and healthy food groups that adds a unique flavor to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

Ensure you grab seafood that’s sustainably caught by local fishermen.

4. Repurpose Kitchen Scraps

Green Thanksgiving Ideas

A lot of the food you throw away ends up in landfills as well. To reduce your carbon footprint, repurpose kitchen scraps. 

A lot of the time, things get thrown away because you don’t know it’s still edible or just don’t know what to do with it in general.

Foods like carrot tops can be used for garnishing and adding that extra elegance to your family’s favorite Thanksgiving dishes. 

In cases where you don’t feel that any of the scaps will fit nicely into a dish, making compost is a popular method. You can use this tactic to give back to your environment by providing enriched soil.

Helpful articles on composting:

5. Try Some Vegan Recipes!

Organic Thanksgiving Meal

Since turkey is a big contributor to emissions on Thanksgiving, you can try some vegan recipes instead.

And just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean your guests won’t love it. There are so many delicious options your family will love. 

Plant-based Thanksgiving Recipes:

6. Give Back and Get Involved

Zero Waste Thanksgiving

Giving back during the holiday season can help you feel good and make an impact on others’ lives.

It can be easy to get caught up in your own life when many other people may not have the luxuries you do.

To get involved this season, you can donate non-perishable leftovers, volunteer at a soup kitchen, sponsor a family in need, or visit a nursing home where people may not have families.

No matter what you do to give back, it will make a difference in someone’s life.

Find a full list of where to volunteer on Thanksgiving here!

7. Rethink Thanksgiving From A Native American Perspective

Sustainable Thanksgiving Swaps

When you think about Thanksgiving, you may skip to thinking only about the food. Thanksgiving’s history is based on the harvest feast shared between Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag in 1621.

The Wampanoag shared their resources and environment with the English, but the English eventually attacked despite their agreement.

Native American culture and history are important to consider while celebrating Thanksgiving (and every other day!).

Gaining a deeper meaning will help you practice cultural sensitivity regarding the holidays.

We would like to encourage you to consider donating to native tribes and/or supporting Indigenous-owned businesses:

This was your guide to a sustainable Thanksgiving!

When it comes to big holidays like Thanksgiving, it’s easy to go overboard on the consumer side of things: food, alcohol and decorations.

Don’t forget to remember that the day is more about family, being grateful for what you have, and giving thanks!

When keeping things sustainable, you help the environment and enjoy more wholesome opportunities to share the day with your loved ones.

If you liked this post on an eco-friendly Thanksgiving, you’ll definitely want to check out these other posts from SKL:

how to have an eco friendly thanksgiving
how to have a sustainable thanksgiving

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