8 Easy Green Thanksgiving Tips

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The holiday season is officially in full-swing, and Thanksgiving marks the beginning of big family dinners, extensive gift shopping and elaborate decorations.

But the season isn’t all turkey, stuffing and pie. According to RecycleWorks, from Thanksgiving to New Years Day, household waste increases by more than 25 percent.

So, start off your holiday season on the green foot by making a few small, eco-friendly changes this Turkey Day. It’s easy to get the entire family involved, have fun and decrease the burden on your wallet as well.

This year, opt for local and organic foods for your broccoli-squash casserole or pumpkin pie. Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com
This year, opt for local and organic foods for your broccoli-squash casserole or pumpkin pie. Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com

1. Shopping for Food

Before you rush to eat yourself into a Tryptophan-induced coma, take a minute to think about where your food comes from.

When shopping for your Thanksgiving meal, keep two words in mind: organic and local. These keywords will guarantee a fresher, more nutritious meal.

If you buy local, not only can you enjoy fresh food, but you will also support your local economy. Check for farmers’ markets, family farms, community-supported agriculture programs and U-Pick options in your area for the freshest produce, eggs, dairy and grass-fed meat. Also, consider buying organic wines to be more eco-conscious without sacrificing quality or taste.

Also, don’t forget the vegetarians at your table. The Vegetarian Resource Group estimates that 3 percent of Americans, between 6 million and 8 million adults, are vegetarians. For example, the Organic Consumers Association developed a healthy vegetarian Thanksgiving menu which includes stuffed acorn squash with corn bread dressing and chestnut gravy.

If you’re going to have a large crowd, buy food in bulk to reduce packaging waste and save money. And of course, bring your own reusable shopping bags to the grocery store.

2. Crowd Control

At least 28 billion pounds of edible food is wasted each year – more than 100 pounds per person. One of the best ways to reduce your waste this Thanksgiving is to plan ahead for the meal and practicing portion control.

Use Less Stuff created a handy list of approximate per person food and drink portions:

  • Turkey- 1 pound
  • Stuffing- ¼ pound
  • Sweet potato casserole- ¼ pound
  • Green beans- ¼ pound
  • Cranberry relish- 3 tablespoons
  • Pumpkin pie- 1/8 of a 9 inch pie

After the meal, evaluate how many people were present and how much of each dish was consumed. By keeping track each year, you can make a more efficient, less wasteful Thanksgiving meal in the future.

3. Do Something Fun!

Instead of firmly planting yourself in front of the TV for the day, consider getting some fresh air or playing a board game. Take advantage of the time together with friends and family while decreasing your energy usage.

Try bundling up and playing some football outside instead of watching it. Split the whole family into teams and get everyone involved. Make sure the winners get to go through the pie line first!

4. Traveling Tips

According to Use Less Stuff, if each family reduced holiday gasoline consumption by 1 gallon (about 20 miles), we would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1 million tons. Invite nearby friends and family and neighbors to your house for Thanksgiving dinner and encourage them to do the same.

If you must go over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving, turn down the thermostat and turn off the lights to save energy while you’re gone.

Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com
Now you finally have a use for that china! Try to avoid disposable dinnerware to cut down on waste. Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com

5. Setting the Table

There are many options when it comes to table setting, all dependent upon how many guests will be present at your Thanksgiving celebration. If it is going to be a small gathering, get out your nice china for the occasion. Cloth napkins are also a plus.

If you’re expecting a big crowd, organize it like a potluck and ask your guests to bring dishes and silverware for themselves. If disposable place settings are your only choice, opt for biodegradable and compostable utensils, napkins and plates, such as those from Biodegradable Store.com.

The average dishwasher uses between 7 and 15 gallons of water per cycle. After the meal, be sure to fill the dishwasher to capacity before running it to save water and energy.

6. Crafty Decorations (Yes, You Can Do It!)

Add a little extra elegance to your table with homemade decorations. Most materials can be found in your craft cupboard or backyard. Have the kids chip in with a pre-Thanksgiving craft day. Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Acorn napkin ties
  • Dried leaf place cards
  • Corn or leaf print place mats
  • Pinecone turkeys
  • Painted gourds
  • Festive fall arrangements of pumpkins or corn cobs
  • Make your own cornucopia

If there is a tablecloth or other decorative item you’ve been eying, make sure it’s a purchase you’ll be happy to reuse in the future. Some decorations can even become new family traditions.

7. Lose the Leftovers

Once the party is over, it’s time to decide what to do with all that leftover food. Don’t forget to donate your leftovers to a food bank or nearby homeless shelter. And remember to compost your food scraps.

If you decided to buy your Thanksgiving supplies in bulk, the containers from your various products are perfect for storing large quantities of leftovers. Make sure your guests leave with a portion of extra food to take home. After all, one of the best Thanksgiving traditions is noshing on leftover turkey sandwiches and mashed potatoes for lunch the following weekend.

8. Recycling Isn’t a Chore

Last, but not least, get back to the basics and recycle. Encourage your guests to pitch in and clearly mark recycling bins. Recycling all packaging, as well as any beverage containers, will significantly reduce the number of times you have to take the trash out, as well as the amount of garbage you send to the landfill.