You’ve got everything ready for your small, pandemic-safe gathering of a few family members, but there might be a few more things you can do to make sure your Thanksgiving is zero-waste (or as close as possible!).
- Cook less than you think you need!
Go ahead and slash that recipe by 1/3. Food waste after the holidays is a massive source of landfill emissions, not to mention all the wasted embedded energy from growing the food and getting it to a supermarket near you. “The energy embedded in wasted food represents approximately 2% of annual energy consumption in the United States” (Cuéllar & Webber 2010). We talk of loving leftovers, but American families throw out over a thousand pounds worth of food per year!
Especially this year when we’re having smaller gatherings, we need to be conscious of how many people we’re really cooking for. Try to make just enough food rather than planning to have leftovers. That might mean using an 8x8baking dish instead of a 9×13! If you do end up with leftovers, be sure to send some home with guests, make room in your freezer for a few things, and compost any scraps if you can.
- Replace a dish with (or add) a vegetarian or vegan one!
You’ve heard it before: A more plant-based diet is healthier for us and for the environment. It saves water, too, as “the consumption of animal products contributes to more than one-quarter of the water footprint of humanity” (Hoekstra 2012). This is mostly due to the water used to produce livestock feed.
And if you’re worried about the extra pounds from overeating during the holidays, you can reduce that particular stressor by replacing a meat for a vegetable! Online recipes abound, so get creative and add a new tradition to your holiday!
- Avoid disposable dishes and pans.
We know it’s tempting, but try to avoid those flimsy aluminum trays and paper plates for your gathering. Anything single-use has a bigger environmental impact than something reuseable. Make your gathering a small potluck so your two local relatives who are coming over can bring their favorite dish, and even plates if needed! Alternatively, you can go with the safest and most sustainable option to have a Thanksgiving dinner with just the people who live in the same house as you, with the bonus of having fewer dishes to wash!
If you’re low on pots, pans, or ingredients, why not foster community, don your mask, and ask your neighbor if they’d lend you what you’re missing? Check in on them and make sure they’re doing alright. They might even like to have some of those extra leftovers.
- Celebrate Green Friday! Focus on gratitude.
The movements Green Friday and Buy Nothing Day have been growing over the last few years, working to reduce the consumerism that has…well, consumed, the holiday that should be a celebration of thankfulness for what we have.
Shift your focus to mindfulness this holiday season, and think about the gift of quality time rather than consumer goods. Companies spend money on ads for a reason, so turn off those electronic devices and go for a fall hike or play “I spy” on the back porch. You’ll get the double benefit of the joy of the outdoors and reducing your electricity and screen time!