Sustainable Thanksgiving Week

By Karlie Hayes

2021-22 Zero Waste Ambassador

This Thursday and Friday, we will gather with friends and family to give thanks and celebrate the beginning of the holiday season. However, the upcoming days can also take a toll on the environment. With this in mind, following are a few tips on how to make this Thanksgiving and Black Friday positive for both our loved ones and the planet. 

Preventing Food Waste

While many people will be traveling to spend time with loved ones and sharing a festive feast, this meal can have a larger environmental impact than most. For example, the traveling associated with Thanksgiving leads to extra greenhouse gas emissions. The average American can emits close to a pound of carbon dioxide per mile traveled, and traveling by airplane makes up 2% of all CO2 emissions. The resources used to produce and transport food also have an environmental impact: 46 million turkeys are consumed on Thanksgiving, and it takes 915,200 barrels of oil to produce and ship those turkeys. 

To minimize these impacts, we can take a few steps to celebrate more sustainably. 

Shift the proportions of food in the meal

Since turkey requires less feed per pound and emits less nitrous oxide in its waste than cows and sheep, turkey is definitely one of the more sustainable meats. However, turkey still has a higher environmental impact than plant-based foods. Buying a smaller turkey and emphasizing vegetables and sides is one way to decrease the environmental impact of your Thanksgiving meal.

Finish leftovers at home or with friends

Food waste is responsible for about 50% of avoidable household waste and since many people tend to eat or cook more food than is needed, we often end up with leftovers. Eating these leftovers on our own, or better yet, inviting friends to finish them up, can prevent some delicious food from going to waste. 

Freeze any remaining leftovers

In a similar vein, if we find ourselves with leftover turkey or stuffing that we simply cannot finish, we can freeze this food to enjoy later. By freezing it, we can keep food waste out of the landfill and save ourselves some tasty food for a later meal. 

Black Friday

Black Friday is considered the unofficial beginning of the holiday shopping season. While these sales can allow some people to buy things that they otherwise would not have been able to afford, it can also lead to overconsumption, which takes a toll on our planet. For example, each product requires material resources to produce and package and fuel to deliver. Also, buying more products leads to waste of both the products we are replacing and the products we are buying, which will likely eventually end up in the landfill. For example, only 20% of e-waste is recycled, and when electronics are placed in the landfill, they can leak toxic materials which impact human health. 

We have the ability to decrease our impact on the environment this Black Friday. Here are a few tips for how to buy thoughtful gifts for our loved ones while also being conscious of our planet.

Buy quality instead of quantity

There are many alternatives to physical gifts, and it is possible to decrease the amount of items we buy for our loved ones while still showing that we care. For example, we can gift them an experience like tickets to shows, sports games, or amusement parks. We can also buy a smaller amount of high-quality items so the item will last longer and will not need replacing. Another alternative is buying items from local, small business shops or make homemade gifts or baked goods.

Choose standard or bundled shipping

Delivery of products with two-day shipping leaves a bigger carbon footprint than slower options. Shipping items together can help reduce the environmental costs of item transportation. You can also shop in-store and support local businesses to remove deliveries entirely.

Buy sustainably and ethically sourced or used products 

Buying used items or items from companies with sustainable operations can decrease the amount of resources used and decrease waste. Consider looking for products with trustworthy certifications, such as 1% for the Planet, B-Corp Certified, Forest Stewardship Council Certified, or Fair Trade Certified

Bottom Line

As we head into this holiday weekend, each of these tips can make your gatherings and shopping more sustainable. It is important to be gentle with yourself. Try to make the changes that work for you and remember that the most impactful way for us to reduce waste is to make our long-term habits more sustainable. 

We wish you all a wonderful, safe, and sustainable start of the holiday season!