Thanksgiving weekend provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the things that we are thankful for. It also gives us a chance to reconnect with family and friends over a shared feast.

Unfortunately, Thanksgiving is also one of the most wasteful holidays celebrated.

Source:The Impact of Food Waste during Thanksgiving

According to the  U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, waste at Thanksgiving can equate to:

  • 172 million pounds of turkey;
  • 40 million pounds of mashed potatoes; and
  • 38 million pounds of stuffing.

Wasted food is wasted water. A turkey consumes more than 2,350 gallons water before it is consumed. Another 170 gallons of water is used to grow the sweet potatoes. Uneaten turkey and sweet potatoes that is thrown out can add up to more than 1,000 gallons of water is wasted[1].

During the holiday season household waste goes up approximately 25% because cans and containers that food come in are tossed into the garbage and not recycled when possible, adding up to 1 million tons of trash going our landfills[2].

“Thankfully” there are things you can do to waste less at Thanksgiving.

Here are some ways you can waste less food while feasting.

Shop with a plan: Know exactly how many people are joining you for the feast and then “portion control shop.” Eight Easy Green Thanksgiving Tips provides a handy consumption guide that will help you purchase the right amount of food. One person approximately consumes:

  • 1 pound of turkey
  • ¼ pound of stuffing
  • ¼ pound of sweet potato casserole
  • ¼ pound of green beans
  • 3 tablespoons of cranberry relish
  • 1/8 slice of a 9-inch pumpkin pie

By using this “formula” you can purchase just the right amount of food for your Thanksgiving meal and leftovers, decreasing the chances that food will be thrown out.

Make most of the meal: Another way to minimize food waste is to use leftovers as a main ingredient in a new meal over the course of the long weekend.

Leftover dinner rolls as the key ingredient in a casserole, sliders, and bread pudding.

Vegetables from a crudité platter can be used as key ingredients in a frittata, soup, and in a stir fry.

Ham and its bones can be used to make Portuguese bean soup, a pizza topping or in a ham and pineapple casserole.


Leftover rice can be used can be used in a variety of dishes including local favorites such as jook, fried rice, sushi, musbi, and poke bowls.

A Zero Waste Thanksgiving and Thankful for Thanksgiving Leftover provide other ideas on how you can turn your leftovers into new meals.

Dishing It Up

Another way to minimize waste is to eliminate the use of onetime use plates, cups and utensils. The Clean Air Counsel estimates that enough paper and plastic utensils are thrown away every year to circle the equator 300 times.

In addition to minimizing waste going into landfills, using real dinnerware, utensil and napkins:

Saves water: While many of us believe that using disposable dinnerware saves water because they do not require washing, the amount of water used to manufacture a disposable plate is higher-per-use than reusable plate.

Saves money: While the upfront money spent on re-useable dinnerware is more expensive, purchasing disposable products for each event year after year ends up being more expensive. In the long run, buying “real” dinnerware saves you money and our environment.

photo of a toast
Photo by on

Makes food “taste better:” The human brain associates real plates, cutlery and napkins with high-quality, better tasting food. So, if you are interested in making your meal more delectable, use real plates and cutlery.[3]

Here are twelve more ways you can make your Thanksgiving more green.


One of the enjoyable things about the holidays is decorating. With proper planning you can create decorations that can be used, not only at Thanksgiving, but during other times of the year. Here are just some ideas.

Flower pot candy bowl: A bit of red acrylic paint can be used to convert a terracotta flower pot and its saucer into a candy dish. A red candy dish can be used again in July to celebrate the 4th or be used by a teacher in the family to hold office supplies on their desk. Using yellow or orange paint will makes it easy for you to use the candy jar at Thanksgiving, Easter, throughout Spring and again at Halloween!

Picture Frame Up-cycle & Repurpose Decor: Old picture frames lend themselves to a variety of up-cycle/repurpose projects that can be used year-round.

  • An old picture frame can be repurposed to make a serving tray using cupboard door handles and scrapbook paper that can be changed for different holidays or special occasions.
  • A holiday card holder can be made using a frame and chicken wire. The board can be used year-round to display “thankful leaves,” holiday or birthday cards or using it as a bulletin board to hang important paperwork (i.e., bills to be paid/go out to the mailbox, school forms that need signing, shopping lists, etc.).
  • Other re-purpose picture frame bulletin boards can be made out of fabric, batting and ribbon, or cork board. In addition to holding cards and notes, these boards can be used to hold jewelry with straight pins.

Tree Branch Centerpiece: A simple branch, that has an interesting shape, can be turned into a centerpiece by anchoring it inside a jar with popcorn or a flowerpot with rocks. The centerpiece can be decorated with different ornaments throughout the year. At Thanksgiving autumn leaves and apples and pastel colored eggs can be used in the Springtime. Red, white and blue bows can be tied to the branches for the 4th of July, and bats, spiders, and jack-o-lanterns may decorate the tree at Halloween.

Source: Rustic Autumn Wreath

Twig Wreath: A twig wreath can be used for a variety of occasions throughout the year simply by changing the decorations that adorn the branches. In the fall it can be decorated with pumpkins, orange/yellow/red silk leaves, pine cones and burlap or fall inspired ribbon. At Christmas it can be wrapped with red and green ribbon, pine branches, and ornaments. Spring blooms like hydrangeas, tulips, sweet peas, and pastel ribbons in the spring. An Independence Day wreath can be created using red, white and blue flowers, stars, and ribbon. You can purchase a wreath at a craft store or make one yourself.

Implementing sustainability practices at Thanksgiving will help you do something good for the environment and your wallet, and that is something to be thankful for.

[1] Wasting Less Gobble This Thanksgiving
[2] Recycling Tips for Thanksgiving
[3] 5 Reasons to Put Down That Fake Plate