9 Tips for Hosting a Zero Waste Thanksgiving
Waste is not on the menu.
Thanksgiving is an opportunity to share gratitude with family and friends — and also to eat an alarming amount of food and watch football all day. But what better way to show you're thankful for the world around you than to take steps to reduce the amount of waste you produce. The zero waste movement is catching momentum as people become more aware of overconsumption and its negative effects on the environment.
During the holiday season, about 28 billion pounds of edible food are thrown away, according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Prioritizing ease and convenience during the holidays is understandable. But by taking the time to plan and serve the right amount of food, store food responsibly, and compost food scraps, it's possible to significantly reduce your food waste and packaging waste this holiday season. Here are 9 tips for hosting a zero waste Thanksgiving:
1. Plan Ahead
Planning and executing a zero waste Thanksgiving isn't impossible, but it does require you to be intentional. When planning your Thanksgiving feast, know how many guests you'll be serving and plan the amount of dishes accordingly.
Try to compile a menu that will allow you to use up whole foods or whole containers of food. For example, if a recipe calls for half a cup of broth (learn how to make your own here), find another recipe to use the remainder of the broth you have. Even with all the planning, you'll likely still have an abundance of leftovers to enjoy (but not so much that you end up throwing it all away a week later).
Related: Here's how to calculate how much to cook for a crowd.
2. Buy Local
Avoid excess packaging by shopping at a local farmer's market. Shopping locally not only reduces the amount of packaging waste, but it also cuts down on carbon emissions from travel, since produce at the supermarket often travels long distances, and is stored in plastic containers or wrappings. If you don't have access to a farmer's market, try to find a local grocery store that sells unpackaged produce, and shop using reusable bags and containers.
3. Purchase Alcohol in Bulk
Consider using a growler or crowler to bring craft beer or wine to your Thanksgiving feast. Perfect for entertaining, these reusable jugs can hold up to 64 oz. depending on the size you use. And what better way to celebrate a special day with loved ones than indulging in craft beer or wine from your local brewery or speciality store. Although glass bottles are 100% recyclable, reusing is still preferable to recycling (which requires using energy and resources). Drink on, friends!
4. Use Multipurpose Cookware
Although ingredients are key, (especially how they're packaged and where they come from) you'll also need to pay special attention to the cookware and serving dishes you use at your Thanksgiving feast. Using disposable containers is of course going to result in more waste, but even using excess reusable containers can lead to water waste when it comes time for cleanup.
Consider using cookware that can not only be used for cooking, but also travel, serving, storage, and reheating (I use these Pyrex glass baking dishes all the time). Not only does this help to eliminate waste, but it also makes cleanup a breeze.
5. Have Your Guests Contribute
Depending on how many guests you'll be serving, you may not have enough reusable flatware and serving dishes for everyone. This may tempt you to buy plastic flatware and paper plates in bulk — but there's another way! Rather than asking some or all of you guests to contribute a dish, considering asking them to bring extra flatware, dishes, or even cloth napkins. While this may seem odd, some of your guests may be thanking you for the chance to contribute something other than food.
6. Try Reusable Bowl Covers
Anyone who has ever hosted a Thanksgiving meal knows that it's impossible to have all your dishes hot and ready at the same time. Before you started this whole no-waste thing, aluminum foil and plastic wrap were your best friends. But if you have a dish you'd like to cover while your guests arrive, try a reusable alternative like these beeswax bowl covers. These cute cloth coverings can be molded to cling to the edges of bowls, baking dishes, and plates. They can also be used to store leftovers in the fridge. When you're done, simply give them a wash and dry (follow the manufacture's directions), and store for later use.
7. Nature Makes the Best Decor
Achieving a festive, picturesque table doesn't have to mean spending money on plastic pumpkins and artificial decor at the craft store. There are lots of beautiful arrangements and centerpieces that can be made using items from your backyard or local farmer's market. Fall branches, pinecones, gourds, dried leaves, and even fresh cranberries can be arranged beautifully on a dining room table, and later returned to nature. Not to mention it's perfect for those on a budget. Reuse glass vases or candle holders for easy, waste-free decor.
8. Collect Food Scraps
Even with all the planning you've done to reduce food waste, sometimes your eyes are just bigger than your stomach. If you have food scraps that you don't want to save, have a compost receptacle available for you and your guests to use. Make sure it's clearly labeled, so no one is throwing non-food trash in it. Once all the food scraps have been collected, empty the receptacle into your compost bin as normal.
9. Make the Most of Leftovers
Now that you've taken all the steps to eliminate waste in your grocery shopping, food prep, and food serving — it's time to make the most of those leftovers! If you think you have more leftovers than you can handle, send your guests home with leftovers in a reusable container that can be returned later. Or you can always request that everyone brings their own reusable containers to bring home a little taste of their favorite dish.
Before you throw away that turkey carcass, consider using it to make your own turkey stock. And finally, if you tire of turkey sandwiches day after day, repurpose your leftovers for yummy work lunches.