As we gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving, we can also take a moment to appreciate and protect the environment by hosting a zero waste Thanksgiving. Embracing this eco-conscious approach not only reduces our ecological footprint but also fosters a sense of gratitude for the planet that sustains us. In this article, we'll explore the concept of a zero waste Thanksgiving and offer some practical tips to help you host an environmentally friendly feast.

What is Zero Waste Thanksgiving?

Zero waste Thanksgiving is an effort to minimize waste, conserve resources, and make sustainable choices throughout your holiday celebration. The idea is to reduce or eliminate single-use items and opt for reusable, recyclable, or compostable alternatives. The aim is to divert as much waste as possible from landfills, and instead, repurpose or recycle materials. 

8 Tips for a Zero Waste Thanksgiving: 

Menu Planning

1. Confirm Your Guest List and Take Inventory of Your Kitchen: Before shopping, verify your guest list to ensure you have enough food. Also, assess your kitchen to see what you already have. Many Thanksgiving items are used just once a year.

2. Plan Your Menu Carefully (Determine Portions and Create a Shopping List): Base your meal on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients to reduce the carbon footprint. Choose recipes that maximize every ingredient, minimizing food waste. Once your guest list is finalized and you know what others are bringing, plan your full meal and create a shopping list. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Guestimator tool can help you estimate quantities based on the total number of guests.

Thinking Ahead: While planning and researching recipes for your Thanksgiving meal, keep leftovers in mind. This will allow you to gauge which items should be frozen immediately after Thanksgiving and plan for consuming others that need to be used quickly.


3. Homemade and Reusable Decorations: For festive and beautiful decor, keep it simple by using natural materials like leaves, pinecones, gourds, or add local flowers and foliage to create a seasonal and stunning table setting. Instead of purchasing single-use centerpieces, invest in reusable items such as glass vases or candle holders that can be used for various occasions. 

Remember, it's perfectly fine to skip decorations altogether. The real star of the show is the food. When in doubt, make room for an extra pie (or two).

4. Ditch the Disposables: If you need additional tableware, consider borrowing or renting from friends and family.

  • Avoid Disposable Dinnerware: Opt for real plates, glasses, and silverware instead of disposable alternatives. If disposable options are necessary, choose biodegradable or compostable ones.
  • Cloth Napkins: Go paperless by replacing paper towels and napkins with cloth napkins. Not only do they look elegant, but they are also more eco-friendly since they can be reused for years.
  • Ask Guests to Bring Their Own Place Settings: Consider requesting that guests bring their own plates, glasses, cutlery, and napkins. The variety of styles can contribute to a festive table and add to the convivial atmosphere.

Bonus: Save yourself some time by using glass or ceramic serving dishes with lids, and label guests' glasses to avoid ending up with a huge pile of dishes to wash at the end of the meal. If you have a dishwasher, aim for a full load, as it's more water-efficient.


5. Multitask Ingredients: Elaborate holiday recipes often require ingredients outside our usual rotation, such as buttermilk or pumpkin puree. Try finding ways to incorporate these ingredients into other dishes. This is where meal planning ahead of time becomes particularly useful if you've taken inventory of your kitchen and made an effort to use up what you already have in your pantry and fridge.

6. Skip Time-Savers: If possible, avoid pre-cubed, spiralized, and shredded produce that comes in non-recyclable plastic bags and clamshells. Opt for imperfect or wonky produce instead. Preparing produce from scratch does require more effort and time than buying pre-packaged varieties, but it often tastes better (without preservatives) and helps reduce packaging waste. However, if bagged produce is your only option or it's more affordable, do what works best for you. You might want to consider transferring produce that comes in bags and clamshells into a cloth storage bag or a glass container at home. Produce stays fresher and crisper in breathable cotton rather than plastic.

Leftovers- Encourage guests to bring their own containers or provide reusable containers for them to take food home. 

7. Save Food Scraps for Composting: Be sure to collect leftover vegetable ends, peels, and scraps from your cooking process in a reusable silicone bag or a large glass container. If you have access to a compost bin or service, this also makes it easy for guests to compost food scraps after the meal. It's helpful to assign a family member to empty the container periodically to prevent overflowing and avoid sending organic waste to the landfill.

8. Freeze Leftovers: One of the best ways to reduce food waste during Thanksgiving is to keep things simple. For any leftovers you have, refrigerate a few days' worth and freeze the rest. While leftovers are one of the best parts of Thanksgiving, eating turkey sandwiches day after day can become tiresome. Be sure to send your guests home with leftovers as well!

By following these tips, you can significantly reduce waste and environmental impact while enjoying a wonderful Thanksgiving feast. It's a small step towards a more sustainable future, and it can inspire your loved ones to make eco-conscious choices in their own lives as well.

A zero waste Thanksgiving is a beautiful way to express gratitude for the Earth's generosity while reducing your impact on the environment. By planning your menu thoughtfully, avoiding disposable items, and encouraging recycling and composting, you can host a memorable celebration that leaves a positive mark on the planet. This Thanksgiving, let's gather with family and friends, share delicious food, and give thanks for our beautiful world by embracing a zero waste mindset.

Check out our past Thanksgiving newsletter articles for more tips and ideas: 15 Tips for a Sustainable Thanksgiving and A "Just Enough" Thanksgiving or find the actions mentioned above (and many more!), along with location specific resources, by logging into your Cleaner Contra Costa Challenge account. 

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