Make this Thanksgiving the Cleanest, Greenest Ever

By Liz Kennedy

Director of Ethical Labor and Sustainability at Trademarks & Licensing, ASUCLA


As we travel fewer miles from home this year to stay safe during the pandemic, Thanksgiving 2020 has the potential to be among the most sustainable holidays in years, seeing as transportation and fuel tops the list of pollution impacts. With that head start, let’s explore how we can make this Thanksgiving the most sustainable ever.

The good news is that most foods that are traditionally eaten during Thanksgiving have a comparatively low environmental footprint to other holidays. A serving of turkey generates less than one fifth as much carbon as beef. As for the fixins of beans, squash, and potatoes, these are all in-season vegetables that have low carbon footprints. 

The bad news is that food waste can erase these gains. Food waste is the second highest cause of greenhouse gas emissions next to air travel on Thanksgiving. Wasted food represents not only the money lost on cost of the food, but the waste of water, fuel, food, fertilizer, and other resources expended to grow or raise it. Some steps to take to cut down on food waste are:

  • Plan ahead. Create your shopping list early with your menu and number of guests* in mind.
  • Eat mindfully. Give thanks, slow it down and savor your delicious Thanksgiving meal.  You’ll most likely find that you’ve eaten less than you normally do.
  • Cut down on single use dinnerware, glasses, napkins, and serving ware, and use reusables.
  • If you do have food waste, don’t put it in the landfill trash where it will generate potent greenhouse gases—use a commercial food waste composting facility instead. Better yet, have guests* bring an empty container for leftovers.

Happy Thanksgiving to you, your family and loved ones, and with all of our efforts, our planet!

(For more information on how to reduce our home carbon footprint, here’s a quick guide.

*Within public health guidelines—the LA County Department of Public Health discourages any gathering of people from multiple households at this time.