Zero Waste Thanksgiving
The holiday season is upon us. The days are getting shorter and we start to long for the cozy feeling we get from spending time with friends and family. Many of us enjoy the holidays, but did you know that American homes generate 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day? That’s an extra 1 million tons! I’m here to tell you this extra trash isn’t necessary. With a few new tips and habits, you can have a festive and beautiful holiday without the extra garbage.
Focus on homemade rather than store bought.
- Buy from the bulk department using your own bags or containers.
o Rice, grains, nuts, flours, dried fruits, beans & legumes, cereals are available in bulk in most areas.
- Buy fresh fruits and vegetables using your own bags (you can even wash and reuse the plastic produce bags from the grocery store).
- Prioritize local and seasonal produce. The farmer’s market is an excellent way to do this without having to think about it too much.
- Many butchers will put meat in your own container. If they refuse, ask them to skip the plastic bag and wrap in paper only. I always use a separate reusable grocery bag for meat and fish, just to be safe. And do wash those reusable grocery bags, please!
- Save those scraps! Veggie and meat trimmings can be used to make stock, and the stock can be used to make soup, gravy or as a base for adding flavor to dishes. Compost the solids after making stock.
- Ask guests to bring their own containers if they want to take home leftovers. Or if you prefer, pack the leftovers in glass jars. Start collecting them in advance so you will have enough.
- Speaking of leftovers, make sure to use them! Don’t let all that hard work go to waste. If you have trouble using them in time, put them in the freezer (once again, glass jars are perfect for this).
- Skip the foil and plastic wrap. Put leftovers in containers with lids or cover the dish with a plate.
If time or other limitations prohibit homemade, bring your own containers with lids to the prepared food counter.
- It is safe and legal for them to put prepared food into your own clean container, though it’s prohibited for them to refill dirty containers.
- Decorate with nature. Those pumpkins from Halloween can be repurposed for Thanksgiving. We also like to add whole nuts, pomegranates, apples, pinecones and interesting looking edible squashes for the table. Add pretty sticks and leaves as accents. After Thanksgiving, eat the produce – yum!
- Leaves can be used as place cards.
- Use real stuff: cloth napkins, tablecloths, glasses, plates and utensils. It’s waste free and much, much prettier! If you don’t have enough, borrow from friends and family or head over to a thrift store to stock up.
Opt Out of Black Friday
- Make it a “buy nothing” day instead.
- We like to play hometown tourist on Black Friday – visit a local landmark, go to the beach, take a walk in a new neighborhood… there are so many things to do!
- Volunteer to do something that helps others.
o There are a lot of volunteer opportunities, especially during the holidays. Hospitals, food banks, soup kitchens, animal shelters… they all welcome volunteers.
o Even if you haven’t signed up to volunteer in advance, you can do something in the community like pick up litter on the beach or in your neighborhood, offer to help an elderly or disabled neighbor with errands or chores, donate money or stuff to those who need it.
- If you give gifts for the December holidays, consider using the day after Thanksgiving to make homemade gifts.
o It can be food, arts and crafts or whatever you like. This year, we’re making red wine vinegar and homemade mustard. Last year, we made pickled vegetables. The year before, we reused little glass yogurt containers and planted them with succulent cuttings. Other ideas are jams or preserves, condiments, infused liquors, candles, frames, body scrub, etc.
o If you aren’t particularly crafty, that’s ok too! Visit a grocery bulk department and fill small jars with teas, spices, bath salts, or whatever you like. Tie it with a little twine and you’re done!
With just a few changes to your normal habits, your holidays can be just as meaningful, if not more so, and you will have a lighter footprint on the planet. And isn't that the best gift you can give?
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!