Strategies for a Sustainable Thanksgiving

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food waste reduction

This Thanksgiving let’s think about the importance of food waste reduction. There are many good reasons to adopt sustainability actions that prevent food waste reduction – and these strategies for a sustainable Thanksgiving will help you make a difference.


Around 305 million pounds of food – worth approximately $400 million – will be wasted following a typical Thanksgiving dinner, according to a 2022 estimate by food responsibility charity ReFed.

This kind of waste has significant environmental implications. Time Magazine states that, from farm to table, Thanksgiving food waste accounts for 1.1 million metric tons of CO2. Plus, all those unwanted slices of pumpkin pie and heaps of stuffing will potentially create additional greenhouse gas emissions when they break down in landfill or are incinerated.

It’s a staggering amount of waste – that could be easily avoided by following some simple strategies, according to ReFed. Our team has collated some ideas to help you make a positive difference.


#1. Clean out your fridge and freezer in advance

Make room for any leftovers ahead of time, so that they don’t end up in landfill. Properly stored, your leftovers can keep in your freezer for months – helping to minimize waste.


#2. Plan ahead for perfect portion sizes

There are plenty of tools online to help you plan quantities ahead of time. As a rule of thumb, the US Department of Agriculture suggests you’ll need one pound of turkey per person. Or a pound and a half if you want leftovers. Only buy what you need. And coordinate with others to make sure there is no doubling up on sides, desserts and other dishes.


#3. Invest in natural décor

Instead of buying single-use name tags or table decorations, make your own with paper and natural materials such as pinecones and leaves. It’s appropriate for the theme and all these items can be easily recycled or composted later.


#4. Avoid plastic décor and disposable plastic cutlery

It might seem like a hardship washing up after catering a large meal – but it won’t be if you get everyone involved in the clean-up. Many hands make light work! Plus, it prevents you relying on disposable plastic items which are so bad for the environment. The CO2 footprint of their production is unnecessary and the management of plastic waste is very problematic. Recycling rates are low and much of it will end up in our oceans, soils and food chain.


#5. Get creative with leftovers

Store or giveaway leftovers. Use them creatively. A turkey club sandwich is great – but not on day three! Online recipes can help inspire you to get creative. Try turkey curry, turkey pie, or even making a turkey stock with the bones.


#6. Donate what you can

If you have extra cans of cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie filling or green beans, consider donating them to your local food bank to help those in need.


#7. Compost the rest

The US Environmental Protection Agency offers advice on how to get started with composting. Or, if you don’t have the space to compost at home yourself, look into local community compost collection or drop off programs.


#8. Consider a change to your Black Friday traditions

 Although bargain shopping may seem like a time-honored tradition, the Compost Crew suggests establishing new traditions built around giving thanks in your local community. It says volunteering for trash cleanup days is a great way to appreciate what you have while contributing to good waste management.

Perhaps you could donate time or some of the money you’ve saved from being more responsible with your own catering to charity? ReFed says that the food that is traditionally wasted during Thanksgiving could go a long way to feeding the 38.3 million food-insecure people in the USA. It is the equivalent of six-and-a-half meals for each of them! How could your savings make a positive difference?


What next?

You can find further articles about sustainability and Thanksgiving topics on our blog: