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Plastic-Free Living

How To Reduce Thanksgiving Food Waste

Natalie Henderson, Chief of Staff

November 17, 2022

Thanksgiving is a holiday that is often centered around food. We all love the holiday’s classic dishes, but cooking large Thanksgiving meals often creates a lot of waste. Americans toss around 200 million pounds of turkey meat after Thanksgiving each year, along with 48 million pounds of sweet potatoes and 45 million pounds of green beans.

So, why is that bad for the planet? Because when food goes to landfills instead of a compost, it doesn’t break down correctly. Landfills typically lack oxygen for food to break down aerobically into soil and water. Instead, food breaks down anaerobically and releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation states that the amount of food waste generated is equal to 476,000 metric tons of CO2 emitted. That is a lot of food waste and a large carbon footprint! This Thanksgiving, cut down on waste with these tips:

Low-Waste Grocery List
When we make our Thanksgiving grocery list, we usually start with what we need, not what we have. This year, before you start making your list, check your refrigerator and pantry to see what items you already have. You might have more than you think, and it can help cut down on a lot of waste if you don’t buy duplicate items. Once you’ve taken stock of what you have, make sure that you make a list and stick to it! You can save money and reduce waste by avoiding extra items that you don’t really need. Once you have your list ready to go, grab your reusable grocery bags and shop local!

Low-Waste Grocery Shopping
If you can, shop local for Thanksgiving groceries. It can help you cut down on your carbon footprint and help you only buy what you need. Produce from a farmer’s market is fresher and comes to you from a close distance. This means it takes fewer carbon emissions to get the food to you. If you don’t have access to a farmer’s market or other local produce, consider buying produce for Thanksgiving from Imperfect Foods or Misfits Market. Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market take produce that would otherwise go to waste and ship it directly to your home.

Composting Thanksgiving Food Scraps
If you don’t already compost, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to start! All of your food scraps from fruits and vegetables are the perfect beginnings for your compost pile. Make sure you have enough greens and browns for your pile, meaning use a mix of fruit and vegetable scraps, yard waste and even some paper or cardboard. Make sure you water your compost pile, and you will be all set. Just don’t throw any turkey or other meat or poultry scraps into your pile. Animal fats are hard to break down and can spoil a compost pile. If you can’t compost at home, look for a local composting facility to drop off your food waste.

What To Do With Thanksgiving Leftovers
Before you start cooking, be sure that you need all of the ingredients you are using because if you leave them packaged, they are easy to donate. Save any leftover packaged or canned food to donate to local shelters and food banks. You can cut down on waste and help the community!

Another alternative: Put your chef hat on and get creative in the kitchen. Meat and veggie scraps make great bases and broths for soups and stews. As for the mashed potatoes and cranberries, check out this list of recipe ideas.

How To Sustainably Store Leftovers
Inevitably, you will have Thanksgiving leftovers, and the best way to reduce your food waste is to eat them! When you store your leftovers, do so sustainably. Use glass containers, try using bowls and covering them with plates and look for jars to reuse. If you are having guests for dinner, ask them to bring their own containers for leftovers to take home. That way you can spread the leftovers and reduce waste. Make this Thanksgiving about giving thanks, not making waste.


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