Thanksgiving is a time to gather with the people you care about, be thankful for the time you share with them, and of course, to stuff yourself to the brim. Unfortunately, with the great excess of Thanksgiving comes a great deal of waste and pollution. Just think of all the food, paper plates, and napkins that end up in landfills each year. Then think of all the pollution produced by each person driving to the event separately. This happens all over the nation every single year and creates a great deal of unnecessary negative by-product.
It is easy to get carried away during the holidays, but the primary focus belongs on celebrating with family and friends. Use these tips to green your Thanksgiving dinner without compromising your budget or personal style. You can save money and resources while also helping the younger generation understand that Thanksgiving is about much more than a stuffed bird.
Don’t use paper plates, napkins, or plastic utensils.
These convenience items are tempting, but just think of all the waste they create. Take this as an opportunity to break out your fine china for the whole family to enjoy. Don’t have fine China? Ask a family member or check out Craigslist for some great deals. See, you’re reusing already! Ditching the paper products will make for a more green occasion. Consider replacing your paper towels with cloth towels, cutting back on the paper waste. Using non-paper or plastic serving utensils and plates will also cut back on waste.
Buy Local Produce
Buying local means sparing tons of carbon emissions that would have been spent delivering your produce to the local grocery store. Check out local farmer’s markets for fresh, local produce. It tastes better coming directly from the farm anyways.
Going with the organic stuff means sparing the environment from the use of harmful pesticides and chemicals. Ask around at your farmer’s market or look for the organic section at your grocery store.
Look for Recycled Containers
When purchasing the ingredients for your big feast, look for packaging that is post-consumer recycled and that which can be easily recycled again. Many products make this a point of pride, so it shouldn’t be hard to find the right product. Be sure to rinse and recycle all your used plastics, cans, and glass. When purchasing ingredients at the grocery store, be mindful of purchasing products that can be recycled once used.
Buy a “Green” Turkey
No, not literally (gross). Look for a turkey that is grown locally and organic. Resist the temptation to buy the bargain bird at your grocery store. There’s no telling what kind of conditions it was raised in. Instead, look for a turkey that was “pastured”, or raised in a grassy field. You know, where turkeys are supposed to be raised.
Use a Reusable Turkey Pan
Those flimsy aluminum turkey pans are popular based on their convenience, but they also have to be discarded after using them a couple times. You probably already have a pan that will work just fine, and the extra time to clean it won’t kill you. As an alternative, you could purchase a roaster that will be deep enough for a turkey and be reusable year-round.
Compost, Compost, Compost
If you don’t already have a compost heap, this is the perfect time to start one. All the fruit and vegetable scraps left over from Thanksgiving can be composted, and will be ready just in time to fertilize your spring garden. Now that’s efficient. If you have never composted before, consider starting on Thanksgiving as a tribute of thanks to the environment! Composting is a great way to recycle organic food waste.
Recycle Your Frying Oil
Deep frying that turkey is a widely growing phenomenon. If your family partakes, take the time to look around your area for a bio-diesel manufacturer that can recycle your used oil. They’ll turn it into fuel which will reduce carbon emissions, and you won’t have the headache of figuring out what to do with a huge tub of used oil.
Set Up a Carpool
Your whole family is going to the same place for Thanksgiving. So why should you all drive separately? You can decrease carbon emissions exponentially by setting up a carpool to get all your guests to their destination. Ideally, choose someone with the most seats to drive, reducing the amount of cars. Your neighbors will thank you.
Modern dishwashers are efficient and productive. You don’t need to rinse off every plate before it goes in (that’s the dishwasher’s singular purpose). Scrape off the big stuff and the sticky stuff and load it. Many dishwashers also offer an efficiency setting, and as an extra bonus you can let the dishes air dry overnight.
Use Natural Decor
Using natural decorations is great way to cut back on waste. Consider purchasing an herb tree, which is not only a lovely center piece on a Thanksgiving table, but can also be used in the meal and afterwards! Versatile decorations can carry you straight through the end of the year, saving time, money and resources. Try using rustic, natural flourishes such as cinnamon sticks, pinecones, raffia, and twig wreaths. Another green option is to use the children’s artwork or school papers as decorations.
Rethink the Antibacterial Holiday Handsoap
Did you know many popular seasonal soaps contain triclosan? Although the jury’s still out on this controversial ingredient, I’d rather avoid it and rely on regular soap and mechanical action to remove germs from my hands. If you still want to treat guests to a holiday scent, shop for green alternatives from brands such as method.
Be mindful of conserving energy. Put all your dishes in the dishwasher using only one cycle, if possible. Be aware of letting hot food cool before putting it into the refrigerator, this will help save energy. It is always difficult to anticipate how to adjust the thermostat to account for guests. I usually let the house get nice and toasty, and then turn the heat down a bit so it doesn’t switch on every time someone opens the door. Once the party starts, I adjust it again so everyone is comfortable.
Evaluate Menu Items and Quantities
The Thanksgiving menu is tricky because people sometimes want to include dishes simply for the sake of tradition. It is okay to update your menu. If no one eats a certain dish, skip it. (Thankfully, mincemeat pie fell off our menu many years ago!) Also, update your recipe quantity to reflect the number of guests.
Shop for Local Foods
This is a great way to support local businesses and reduce the emissions associated with transporting food across long distances. Local farmers are a good source of cooking tips and innovative recipes.
Choose Organic Food and Beverages
After hearing all the jokes about sticker shock at Whole Foods, I thought all organic food was expensive. Surprisingly, some items cost the same as their traditional counterparts. Shop around to find the best deals. If you are shopping for a green Thanksgiving turkey, be sure to familiarize yourself with the official definitions since the label terminology can be confusing. Choosing to buy organic foods will make your Thanksgiving more green. Organic foods are produced without pesticides and are better for you and the environment!
Plan Leftover Storage
With every Thanksgiving, there are leftovers. Ask your guests to bring reusable tupperware to take home extra goodies. This cuts back on waste and will make your Thanksgiving a more green occasion. Thanksgiving festivities can leave you too tired to even think about dealing with the platters of leftovers. Plan ahead and have storage dishes ready so your brain can work on autopilot.Upcycled food jars are a cheap and eco-friendly way to store leftovers. You can also top a plate or bowl of food with an inverted plate to avoid using plastic wrap.
Use Real Dishes
Eek! Using dishes means washing dishes! It may sound scary, but using real dishes isn’t as inconvenient as it sounds. Make sure you start the day with an empty dishwasher so there is room for Thanksgiving dinner dishes and graciously accept any offers to help with cleaning.
Use Cloth Napkins and Tablecloths
Cloth napkins and tablecloths look much nicer than their disposable counterparts. Neutral colors, such as tan, cream, and white, tend to wash well and suit a variety of occasions. I usually toss them in the washer with OxiClean at the end of the meal.
Find Recipes to Revitalize Leftovers
Thanksgiving leftovers should be consumed within a few days. If you find your household growing tired of leftovers, look up recipe ideas for creative serving ideas to avoid wasting food.
Having a vegetarian or vegan Thanksgiving is one change that has a huge impact on the environment. Any production of animals for meat creates green houses gases. Green house gases are a major environmental concern, so eliminating your support for meat-related processes cuts your carbon footprint significantly.
Foregoing the meat is a great way to lessen your impact and have a green Thanksgiving feast. If you would still like to incorporate the idea of the traditional Thanksgiving turkey, while remaining eco- conscious, consider preparing a meat alternative. Vegetarian Times magazine has great resources for a variety of delicious Thanksgiving recipes.
As characteristic of Thanksgiving, we are surrounded by friends and family members. If you are hosting Thanksgiving, or even if your not, take the initiative to set up a carpool. Not only will everyone have to drive less, but it will allow for more time to be spent with the ones you love most.
Use Environmentally Friendly Cleaning Products.
When cleaning up your Thanksgiving feast, purchase products that are good for the environment. Using non-toxic chemicals helps keep pollutants out of the water supply.