Thanksgiving is all about family gatherings, eating tons of food, and giving thanks. But, who do we usually forget to show our thanks to? Our planet.
As the holiday season approaches, the amount of waste Americans create goes exponentially up. Let’s give thanks to mother nature and change that this year.
To help you start, I’ve compiled some ideas on the best Thanksgiving gifts and a guide on how to celebrate Thanksgiving sustainably. Here’s how to make a change this Thanksgiving.
The amount of waste created during Thanksgiving is staggering.
According to National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), Americans produce 25% more waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. The majority of that waste comes from food, and this takes a huge toll on the environment.
Here are some facts to help you get a clearer picture of Thanksgiving waste.
While there are different kinds of waste created on Thanksgiving, food waste is the most worrying.
$293 million is wasted in food only during Thanksgiving!
Food is the largest waste category in municipal landfills during the holiday season.
This is especially worrying because food releases greenhouse gases as it decomposes, especially methane, which is a very potent gas.
Most of that food is produced by animals. Animals produce 369 million tons of manure on the largest animal farms. Most manure is stored in open ponds, where it contributes to land, water, and air pollution.
Here’s how much other traditional food is used during Thanksgiving:
Thanksgiving is traditionally spent with our families. But, when many family members live far away, everyone has to travel to meet up in one place.
About 24.5 million Americans travel by plane around Thanksgiving.
Mode of Travel
Carbon Emission (Per Person)
0.802 lbs. per mile
0.505 lbs. per mile
0.408 lbs. per mile
0.236 lbs. per mile
However, people aren’t the only ones who travel for Thanksgiving.
Food does too!
Potatoes, turkeys, and cranberries often travel 1,500 to 2,000 miles from the farm to the table, which is three times more than an average American guest. These are called food miles, and the fuel they spend also goes into the resources used when you make a meal.
I’ve talked about how much waste is generated on Thanksgiving. While the biggest waste contributor is thrown out food, Thanksgiving gifts are also to blame.
There are 25 million tons of garbage produced in the holiday season, which amounts to one million extra tons per week, compared to the rest of the year.
It’s estimated that tens of millions of people get at least one unwanted gift for Thanksgiving. The worst part is that about 5% of those will be thrown away instead of regifted, sold, or sent to a charity.
Thanksgiving gifts are usually wrapped in wrapping paper. Did you ever wonder what happens with all of the wrapping paper used during the holidays?
According to Stanford University, if every family reused two feet of wrapping paper during the holidays, it would amount to 38,000 miles.
This is enough to tie a bow around our entire planet.
13 million cards are sold every year on Thanksgiving. 714,286 trees are cut down per year to make all these cards, all for those millions of greeting cards to end up in the trash.
But, you don’t have to contribute to all this waste. One of the best ways to have a sustainable Thanksgiving is to use sustainable Thanksgiving gifts.
Here’s my selection of Thanksgiving gift ideas that won’t hurt our planet.
You can gift these to a host as a thank you for cooking a scrumptious Thanksgiving dinner.
These kitchen utensils fit the season perfectly because they are engraved with fall motives — turkey, pumpkin, pie, and more.
The spoons are also easy to store as they have a hole in the handle, so you can hang them and add some decor to the kitchen.
Why is it eco-friendly? It’s made of organic bamboo.
This set has four scented candles that smell like a rose, jasmine, vanilla, and lavender.
They have ultra-long burning time, and they will last for up to 30 hours each, which amounts to 120 hours.
These can be used to add some holiday atmosphere or to relax after all the cooking.
Why is it eco-friendly? It’s made of 100% natural soy wax and natural plant essential oil. Wicks are made of cotton and are lead-free. This means there’s no smoke when you burn them and no harm to people or the environment.
This set comes with three clothes, all appropriately Thanksgiving-themed — there’s a turkey, leaf, and Happy Thanksgiving painted on the cloths.
The clothes can replace up to 17 rolls of paper towels, so you’ll be sending less paper to the landfill. Also, it’s easy to clean — just pop them in the machine.
Why is it eco-friendly? It’s naturally biodegradable and made from 100% wood pulp and renewable cotton fibers.
This wine gift bag is designed especially for Thanksgiving and the fall season. It’s a neutral color, and it can hold wine or a champagne bottle.
I guarantee the hostess will be delighted with this one, especially because it can be washed in the machine.
Why is it eco-friendly? It’s made of eco-friendly and natural burlap. It’s durable and reusable.
If you’ll be spending Thanksgiving with a coffee addict, there’s no better Thanksgiving gift than Nespresso capsules.
You get a pack of three capsules, 30 in total, which is enough for even hardcore coffee lovers.
The capsules are compatible with Nespresso Vertuoline machines and have different intensities.
Each capsule brews 7.8 ounces of coffee which is perfect for an extended coffee drinking experience.
Why is it eco-friendly? The capsules are fully recyclable and are Climate Pledge Friendly, plus they have a Rainforest Alliance seal.
One can never have enough dish towels, so you’ll get 3 kitchen towels in this set.
These are both decorative and functional. They will be an excellent addition to fall kitchen decor, as they come with a plaid and fall branches and leaves pattern.
They can be used to clean pots and pans, plates, dry utensils, or wipe down surfaces.
Why is it eco-friendly? The kitchen towels are 100% cotton, and the pattern is drawn with watercolors.
These kitchen utensils are a perfect gift choice.
They look high-quality and modern. You’ll get 30 pieces of dinnerware in a box. The set includes 6 dinner spoons, knives, forks, dessert forks, and teaspoons.
The kitchen utensils come in a rose gold color, and they have a smooth curvy body which gives them an elegant look. Also, the curvy body is ergonomically designed for comfort in hand.
Why is it eco-friendly? The kitchen utensils are made of premium stainless steel, so they won’t rust but will last a long time.
If you have a cat lover in your circle of family or friends, this is the gift for them.
This tumbler is extremely functional. Its 20 ounces capacity can hold all kinds of drinks. The double-wall keeps the drinks cold for 24 hours or hot for up to 12 hours.
Thanks to its leakproof design, it's convenient to use — both inside or outside on the go.
Why is it eco-friendly? It’s made of food-grade seamless stainless steel, and it’s BPA-free.
Another product to help you enjoy your drinks is this bamboo thermos.
The tea tumbler is hyper-insulated and has double walls. The interior is lined with stainless steel that functions as a tea thermos and helps maintain the drink temperature.
It fits up to 12 ounces of drink, and it has a vacuum insulation technology and infuser which keeps the drink hot or cold.
With each tumbler, you’ll get a detachable tea infuser and strainer, which makes it a perfect gift.
Why is it eco-friendly? It's made of 100% organic bamboo and 18/8 food-grade stainless steel.
A final gift for a more sustainable Thanksgiving is a bamboo cheese board.
What makes this cheese board stand out is the convenience. It has a hidden sliding tools compartment and an extra-large outer serving rim. The removable drawer comes with a plane knife, coure knife, campana knife, and a cheese fork.
It’s a perfect gift for anyone who likes arranging charcuterie boards. The whole family can sit around, chat and enjoy some good food.
Why is it eco-friendly? It’s made of 100% bamboo material, and it won’t release or absorb odors.
Even if you swap just one thing you usually do for Thanksgiving with a sustainable option, it’ll make a huge difference across the country.
Here are some ideas on how to have a more sustainable Thanksgiving.
Livestock farming is one of the biggest polluters. The higher in the food chain you go, the more resources you consume. This is why many people decide to cut the turkey altogether.
If you decide not to serve turkey, you can go for tofu or a turkey substitute. Vegetarians in your family will especially appreciate this.
You can even go a step further and adopt a turkey. Check for farm sanctuaries that rescue animals. This could even be a new Thanksgiving tradition.
If you aren’t ready to skip the turkey, or your family won’t let you, that’s alright. There are other options to consider. Buy a local turkey from a small producer instead of a turkey from a large farming company. Small local producers usually raise them in more humane conditions.
Also, don’t buy just any turkey. Instead, choose one of these: local and pasture-raised, heirloom and heritage, organic and non-GMO.
Pro Tip: Even if you have a turkey for Thanksgiving, you can be more mindful with your food the rest of the year and eat food that’s lower on the food chain.
We tend to overbuy during the holidays because of the tempting sales and poor planning. Don’t be carried away by supermarket sales and coupons.
Before you go shopping, do a thorough inventory of your fridge and pantry. That way, you won’t find yourself in the middle of the canned goods aisle wondering if you have enough beans and buying “just in case.”
According to The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), you should check what you already have in your home before going to the store. Reach all the way back on your shelves to find those cans you’ve forgotten all about.
Once you take a thorough inventory of the food already in your home, it’s time to go shopping.
Buying locally grown veggies will have less impact on the environment, and you’ll probably end up with better-tasting food.
Seasonal fall food includes sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, apples, and many more. You can serve them in many different ways, such as the traditional pumpkin pie, apple cider, and more.
You can get all these from the farmers’ market. This will cut down on both your and veggies’ carbon footprint. Plus, you’ll support a family farm.
Not to mention that locally grown veggies will be fresher because they didn’t travel a thousand miles to get to you.
If there’s no farmers market close to you, choose foods in the grocery store that are organic. Whole Foods Thanksgiving offer is always plentiful.
You can do the same for drinks. Go for vegan options, such as vegan wine, and support a local brand.
Finally, skip produce bags, but take your own shopping bags when you do the Thanksgiving shopping.
Americans use a lot of water in general, but especially on Thanksgiving. Think about all the cooking, washing hands, then washing the dishes, and of course drinking water that happens on this day.
A good rule to follow is only to have the tap running when you have to use it. Don’t leave it open
while you go grab another plate to wash.
Also, stay clear of bottled water. Plastic bottles leach chemicals, plus they create a ton of waste. Instead, serve tap water and get a faucet filter for the best quality.
Think about how many side dishes you really need? Do you have that one (or several) side dishes that sit at the end of the table and end up almost untouched?
Don’t waste resources on side dishes that you don’t really need. For example, you don’t need three different pies or three potato-based dishes. Narrow it down to your most popular side dishes, or do the side dishes with the available locally grown food.
Once again, if this isn’t an option, go for organic food.
If you’re having guests for Thanksgiving, and they are bringing dishes to the feast, coordinate with them.
Check what everyone plans on bringing. In this way, you’ll avoid making too much food or even duplicating someone else’s dish.
83% of food greenhouse gas emissions come from its production.
When you’re shopping, choose food that’s less prepared and packaged. This will lower the carbon footprint, and you’ll end up with healthier food with less sugar.
If you’re worried about your baking skills, ask your mom or grandma for a helping hand and make it a family effort.
If you’re struggling to decide whether to serve food on paper, plastic, or china, the best option is always reusable dishes.
I know doing the dishes is annoying, but it’s better than sending paper plates to a landfill.
Plus, you can use a dishwasher. The good news is many modern dishwashers use fewer resources than washing by hand.
But if you don’t want to bring out your best china, go for biodegradable paper plates that you can later compost.
If you’re sharing the leftover food with family and friends, stay away from plastic containers for leftovers. Instead, think ahead about what you’ll have to store, and then choose eco-friendly options.
Go for glass to-go containers or compostable to-go containers. This way, your guests will be able to give the containers back to you, reuse or compost them.
Thanksgiving decor will elevate the holiday feel. This is another area where you can have a sustainable Thanksgiving.
Buy some flowers, use vintage dinnerware and glassware.
If you’re feeling creative, make some decorations on your own. You can even upcycle some old items around your home. For example, use a wine bottle as a vase.
If you have a backyard, get some fallen leaves to decorate the table. Collect pine branches and pinecones. These will be fragrant, and after Thanksgiving, you can compost them or give them back to nature.
In case you decide to buy some decorations, avoid plastic. Instead, go to the local thrift store and see what autumnal treasures you can find there.
You can also shop sustainable and ethically-made products on Etsy.
Don’t scrape the leftovers into the garbage. Instead, start eating with smaller portions, and eat with your stomach, not your eyes.
Then, put the leftovers to use. Give them to friends or family and use them in other recipes.
If you can’t stomach the idea of more Thanksgiving food, put the leftovers in the freezer. I guarantee you’ll be happy about it in several weeks or months.
Finally, you can compost the leftovers. This compost can be used to grow your own fruits and veggies.
One of the best ways to give thanks is to donate to those less fortunate.
You can give your leftover food to local food banks and shelters. However, keep in mind that these places get overloaded during the holidays. First, call and check if they need more food.
You can also donate to a group such as Meals on Wheels, which maybe won’t receive as many donations as food banks and shelters.
The days before and after Thanksgiving are historically the busiest travel days in the US.
31.6 million people used air travel last year only.
If you can, use public transportation, carpool, or shorten the list of places you’ll go to on Thanksgiving.
This bamboo plates disposable set is sturdy as it uses a blend of bamboo and bagasse to create heavy-duty plates you can use responsibly.
You won’t have any issues scoping or cutting your food. Don’t worry about punctures and spills, as they are liquid and heat resistant.
You can even use these in a microwave or a freezer.
Why is it eco-friendly? It’s tree-free, and it doesn’t contain any fluorine or chlorine chemicals. These bamboo plates disposable are completely backyard compostable. They are packaged in their own box to avoid additional packaging and storage damage.
This cutlery set has 50 pieces, and it includes dinner plates, dessert plates, utensils, cups, and straws, so you’ll be able to serve up to 50 guests.
This is a perfect set if you have children coming to your Thanksgiving and you’re worried about your china.
The plates and cutlery can be used in a microwave and a freezer and are oil-resistant and leakproof.
Why is it eco-friendly? Plates are made from 100% sugar cane fibers, and cutlery is made from cornstarch. It doesn’t have a wax lining, and it’s non-toxic.
This Thanksgiving mat will be a perfect complement to your Thanksgiving decor, plus it’s highly usable. It has an attractive Thanksgiving design, and it fits most counters.
It’s also a great option if you’ll be having children on your Thanksgiving dinner, as this mat is super absorbent and it dries quickly. You won’t have to worry about spills.
There’s a buffer design on the back that prevents bowls and glassware from stretching your countertop.
Why is it eco-friendly? It’s reusable. The mat is made from durable material, so you’ll be able to use it for many Thanksgivings to come.
This set covers all your leftover storage needs. You’ll get 6 different silicone stretch lids, 2 storage bags, 4 medium storage bags, and 3 beeswax food wraps.
The lids and bags are cold and heat-resistant, so you can use them in a microwave or a freezer.
The lids come with an airtight seal which guarantees food will stay fresh for a long time.
Why is it eco-friendly? Lids and bags are made of food-grade silicone, and beeswax wrap is made of organic cotton and beeswax.
Even washing dishes on Thanksgiving will be made better with these dishcloths.
They are super absorbent. You can wipe surfaces with them and wash dishes. You can even use them in kitchen and bathroom cleaning.
It’s easy to clean them as they are washing machine safe. You’ll get ten dish rags in different colors, so your holiday washing needs will be covered.
Why is it eco-friendly? It’s made from natural materials — cellulose and cotton, and it’s reusable.
Holidays are the best but also the most wasteful part of the year.
40% of Thanksgiving food goes to waste, and Thanksgiving gifts and travel also harm our environment. If every household swapped one dish, we would make a huge impact and have a more sustainable Thanksgiving.
So, this year, try to make responsible choices. Shop locally, cook responsibly, and donate your leftovers.
If you can, lower your travel emissions, and buy eco-friendly Thanksgiving gifts.
This is the best way to say thanks to the home we all share — our beautiful planet.
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