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Zero Waste Thanksgiving Ideas


I know it may seem impossible to maintain your zero waste lifestyle on a day that is literally about gluttony, but, like most other things, it’s actually not as complicated as it may first appear.

Let’s start with the biggest issue facing Thanksgiving: the food.

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Now, I know this day is usually the one day a year you get to go all out and make a giant feast. I’m not saying not to do that, I’m just saying do it practically.

Yes, it’s possible to have a zero waste Thanksgiving dinner! It just takes a little more planning. For example, if you’re having a big get together, instead of having yourself make every dish, ask some of the guests to bring sides. This way, you lessen the burden on yourself, and the guests will bring side dishes they’ll actually eat.

The next step, would be to just make less. I know, I know, that’s easier said than done, but hear me out! Maybe instead of having 10 side dishes, you only have 5. If you absolutely must make 10 sides, maybe skip out on the appetizers. Also, ask yourself: are the 10 different pop options you have really necessary?

I think you’ll be surprised at how little your guests will care about the turned down menu options. Having less food/drinks available doesn’t mean the holiday is going to be any less special, after all!

If you do end up having food left over, because I mean let’s face it, it’s near impossible to have a Thanksgiving feast without at least one dish left – put some leftovers in a container and put them in your freezer! This is a great way to store leftovers, as they’ll last a lot longer than just shoving everything into the fridge. And, you’ll get a nice surprise, already made Thanksgiving dinner on one night when you just really don’t feel like cooking.

Another great thing you can do to minimize food waste is make your guests take home containers. This way, you’re spreading out all the leftover food, instead of having most of it go bad in your fridge before you have a chance to finish everything.

Some people claim they don’t like leftovers, but frankly, I don’t understand that. If you liked the dish yesterday, why wouldn’t you like it today? It just doesn’t make any sense!

Giving out leftover containers is also a great, simple way to give your guests a party favour that they’ll actually enjoy. My family has done this practically since I can remember, and our guests always love taking food home! Some of them have even told me they felt honoured.


Sure that might not be everyone’s reaction, but it’s such a simple thing that people really seem touched by, it just makes sense. If eliminating your food waste can help make someone’s day? Why wouldn’t you do it?

Moving slightly away from food, another thing you can do to help reduce waste is use actual dishes and cutlery.

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I know, I know, you use plastic/throw away because you don’t want to wash everything after the party’s over.

But who said cleaning up can’t be part of the party?

Instead of sitting around on your couch talking after the meal, or worse, ignoring your guests to watch something on TV, get up and go clean up the mess! Ignoring it won’t make it go away, and I guarantee you are not gonna feel like doing it later.

Stop putting it off and go clean up. And bring your guests! Continue your conversation while you pack up the food, or put on some music and have a dance party while you wash the dishes.

Getting your guests involved in the clean up also goes hand in hand with giving them a leftovers container to take home. You ask them to go through the table and put some of whatever dishes they want in their containers. This will not only get them excited to help you (and honestly they might be too wrapped up in picking some delicious food to bring home to realize they’re even cleaning) but will also save you from using unnecessarily big containers when it comes time to pack everything up.

Once all your guests have had a go at the table, then break out the fridge containers. You may be surprised at how many smaller containers you need, instead of the big ones that don’t stack nicely.

You may also underestimate how fun cleaning up can be when you have friends/family to distract you from the ‘chore’ you’re doing.

My mom always says there’s two kinds of people: dining room people, and kitchen people. Now, I don’t want anyone to get offended by this statement. It pretty much just means there are people who think hosting requires putting on a show, decorations, etc. and those who… don’t.

Cooking and clean up can be just as much a part of the party as the rest of the evening. You just need to do it right!

Aside from using real plates/cutlery, making less food, giving your guests food to take home and freezing, you may think there isn’t much else you could do to keep your Thanksgiving zero waste.

Well, you’d be wrong!

There are plenty of other things you can do!

Instead of using paper towels or those novelty paper napkins with designs on them, use handkerchiefs, or other reusable napkin alternatives. Then at the end of the night, toss them in the laundry. Or, if you must use paper towels/throw away napkins, don’t throw them away! Let them break down in your garden or backyard, instead. Have a friend who has a garden? Give them to that person!

Just be careful with some of those novelty paper napkins – some of them have plastic in them for some reason (don’t ask me why, I could make an entire other rant post about the dumb places plastic is found), so be sure to check that before letting them break down in your soil.

Want to decorate for the season? Make decorations out of old clothes or repurpose old linens (bed sheets, pillow cases, etc.) instead of buying those cheap, plastic decorations at the store. Not only will it be more zero waste, crafting decorations can be super fun! You can even make it a part of your festivities. Have a decoration contest before/after dinner, then hang up the best ones! The best part of this is getting your guests in on the fun, and you can save them for next year.

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Another bonus of crafting instead of buying your decorations, will be eliminating that expense from your budget. This will allow you to buy something else instead (Christmas is right around the corner, after all!) or, you can even just save the money. Who couldn’t benefit from adding a little extra to their savings?

Or, if you’re not that big into crafting, use nature! Go out and pick some flowers, grab some fallen leaves, pinecones, or even pick up a gourd or two. Just be sure to wash them before using for the table centrepiece. The last thing you’d need is bugs getting into all the food.

These are all things you should be able to try without exerting too much extra effort. And, there’s obviously more you can do than just the tips I’ve listed here, these are honestly just the things I thought of off the top of my head.

Also? Don’t worry so much about having a ‘perfect’ zero waste Thanksgiving. Zero waste is impossible to achieve in today’s society anyway. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself!

Try your best to be as low waste as possible, and enjoy your holiday.

And if something wasteful slips through the cracks? Make a note of what it was, and try to do better next year.

Do you have any zero waste Thanksgiving ideas you’d like to share that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

Like this post? Check out more zero waste tips here!