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Guide to a Sustainable Thanksgiving

Guide to a Sustainable Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is just a week away and while it’s a great way to spend time with loved ones, it’s also a big day for food waste and isn’t often sustainable. Americans waste an average of about one pound of food per person daily. The holidays are an especially wasteful time, ReFed predicts more than 300 million pounds of food will go to waste this Thanksgiving alone. Food waste is a huge problem and if you’re trying to be more sustainable this Thanksgiving and holiday season, your kitchen is a great place to start. For those table scraps you can’t or don’t particularly want to freeze for later, try composting or donating them. Looking to reduce waste this holiday season with a more sustainable Thanksgiving? Look no further than your own compost bin, freezer, local food bank, or farm. 

Composting food is especially important since produce left in landfills never returns to the soil, it only rots. If you don’t compost at home, look for a community compost center or program near you. Many cities and towns have green organics programs that can take your compostable materials for you.  

About 200 million pounds of turkey alone are thrown out after Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, meat like turkey or ham can’t go into your compost pile. Instead, try freezing them or incorporating them into your favorite leftover dish. You can also prevent waste by buying a smaller turkey or skipping the turkey all together. Consider plant alternatives that can be composted and re-evaluate how many of your Thanksgiving guests enjoy turkey.  The easiest way to prevent waste is planning ahead. Accurately measure out how much turkey you will need for your guests, instead of buying the biggest turkey you can find. Pre-plan your leftover-based meals so you know nothing will go to waste during your sustainable Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin pie is one of the most popular Thanksgiving dishes, about 50 million pumpkin pies are eaten each year. When it comes to this signature dish, composting is possible. Whether you use raw pumpkin or puree, you can compost your leftover ingredients. You can compost your entire pumpkin, just be sure to break it up first. You may also want to remove the seeds in case your compost is a little too effective as a soil. If you end up composting crust or other bread-y leftovers, be sure to bury it in the compost pile to avoid uninvited guests.  

Potatoes and their peels can also be composted. Be sure to avoid tossing potatoes whole into the pile since they tend to sprout when left whole. Luckily, potato peelings and skin decompose quickly without risk of regrowth. Potatoes and other produce are also considered a “green” composting material, so be sure to balance it with “brown” composting materials with cardboard, dry leaves, or wood chips. 

Speaking of cardboard, uncoated cardboard, which your pie or other pre-made dishes may have come in, is compostable. Since you can’t recycle packaging with food residue, compost is the perfect place for leftover food packaging to go. If you are looking to use any sort of disposable tableware, opt for uncoated cardboard so you can throw it in the compost later. As for other food packaging, most cans are recyclable. But, be sure to remove all food residue and check any instructions on the can before putting them in the bin. 

If you have unopened cans or other shelf-stable ingredients left over after making your Thanksgiving dinner, consider donating them to your local food bank or mutual aid group. Especially since food banks see a big decline in food donations after the holidays. But before dropping off your donation, check with the organization’s food donation guidelines and be sure it is something they can accept. As for fruits and veggie scraps, check out local farms or other organizations that may use them to feed animals. According to the World Wildlife Fund “30% of what’s fed to livestock around the world today is either waste from food supply chains or by-products from growing and processing food”. Look at your local solid waste, county agricultural extension office or public health agency to see what types, how often, and the amount of food scraps you can provide. 

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