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13 Tips To Make Your Thanksgiving Less Wasteful

Compost, compost, compost.

Here's some food for thought: Americans throw out about $165 billion of food annually — and $277 million of that is wasted on Thanksgiving alone.

Gobble...gobble?
Veselovaelena / Getty Images

Gobble...gobble?

Those numbers aren't exactly something to be thankful for, but there are a lot of simple ways you can reduce the amount of food, paper, and plastic you toss this Thanksgiving:

1. If you're hosting, stick to your headcount.

If you know exactly how many people are gathering at your table, try to cook with that number in mind. It's easy to go overboard at Thanksgiving and worry that 50 pounds of mashed potatoes won't be enough for everyone, but if you stick to reasonable portions for each guest, you'll avoid excess food from the start and won't wind up tossing a ton into the garbage. These charts can help you figure out how much to serve.
Foxys_forest_manufacture / Getty Images

If you know exactly how many people are gathering at your table, try to cook with that number in mind. It's easy to go overboard at Thanksgiving and worry that 50 pounds of mashed potatoes won't be enough for everyone, but if you stick to reasonable portions for each guest, you'll avoid excess food from the start and won't wind up tossing a ton into the garbage. These charts can help you figure out how much to serve.

2. Don't ask everyone to bring a side dish or dessert.

You know you're going to end up with 37 green bean casseroles and 82 pumpkin pies anyway. Instead of telling every guest to "just bring a side!", only ask for the amount you'll actually need so you don't end up with an insurmountable pile of leftovers. If people still insist on bringing something, you can suggest other items like extra cutlery, tea or hot chocolate for after dinner, and board games.
Priscilla Du Preez / Via unsplash.com

You know you're going to end up with 37 green bean casseroles and 82 pumpkin pies anyway. Instead of telling every guest to "just bring a side!", only ask for the amount you'll actually need so you don't end up with an insurmountable pile of leftovers. If people still insist on bringing something, you can suggest other items like extra cutlery, tea or hot chocolate for after dinner, and board games.

3. Go for recipes with overlapping ingredients.

When choosing what recipes to make, find ones that complement each other — and I don't just mean in flavor, but in the ingredients they use. If your stuffing recipe uses a loaf and a half of bread crumbs, sprinkle the other half on top of a baked mac 'n' cheese. Or, if your stuffing only needs an onion and a half, go for a gravy recipe that'll use that second half. This will ensure your foodstuffs don't go to waste, and it'll keep your grocery list minimal too (you deserve it, TBH).
Jeff Sheldon / Via unsplash.com

When choosing what recipes to make, find ones that complement each other — and I don't just mean in flavor, but in the ingredients they use. If your stuffing recipe uses a loaf and a half of bread crumbs, sprinkle the other half on top of a baked mac 'n' cheese. Or, if your stuffing only needs an onion and a half, go for a gravy recipe that'll use that second half. This will ensure your foodstuffs don't go to waste, and it'll keep your grocery list minimal too (you deserve it, TBH).

4. Bring reusable bags when you go grocery shopping, including some lil' ones for your produce.

You'll likely end up making a few trips to the grocery store leading up to Thanksgiving ("I forgot the brown sugar again???" —me), so make sure you have some reusable bags with you to cut down on paper and plastic waste. And don't forget to do the same for your produce! While those rolls of plastic bags in the produce section might be convenient, their waste can add up pretty quickly. Luckily, you can get yourself some cute mesh bags to replace 'em.I use and love these bags from Amazon for $12.97.
Matic Strozak / Getty Images

You'll likely end up making a few trips to the grocery store leading up to Thanksgiving ("I forgot the brown sugar again???" —me), so make sure you have some reusable bags with you to cut down on paper and plastic waste. And don't forget to do the same for your produce! While those rolls of plastic bags in the produce section might be convenient, their waste can add up pretty quickly. Luckily, you can get yourself some cute mesh bags to replace 'em.

I use and love these bags from Amazon for $12.97.

5. Compost any scraps after cooking and eating.

Instead of scraping them into the trash, toss those fruit and veggie scraps, eggshells, nutshells, etc. onto a compost pile so they can become soil instead of waste. If you have a compost bin, you already know what's up (nice), but if you don't, please know that composting is way easier than you might think, and all you need to get started is this cute lil' bin that you bring to your local collection site (a quick Google search will tell you where your closest site is located). Leave your compost bin out after dinner so your guests can find it easily.
Mementoimage / Getty Images

Instead of scraping them into the trash, toss those fruit and veggie scraps, eggshells, nutshells, etc. onto a compost pile so they can become soil instead of waste. If you have a compost bin, you already know what's up (nice), but if you don't, please know that composting is way easier than you might think, and all you need to get started is this cute lil' bin that you bring to your local collection site (a quick Google search will tell you where your closest site is located). Leave your compost bin out after dinner so your guests can find it easily.

6. Use that turkey carcass to make a hearty stock.

Sure, turkey carcass looks as gross as it sounds, but holy heck it makes an incredible stock that's WAY more flavorful than what you can buy at the grocery store, y'all. If you have a slow cooker, put the carcass in with some onion, carrots, celery, garlic, apple cider vinegar, and plenty of fresh herbs like rosemary, and you'll wind up with a truly rich and comforting stock that you can use in things like soup, jambalaya, and risotto. Best of all, you can freeze the stock and use it throughout winter whenever you're craving a nice hot bowl of soup. Get the recipe here.
mountainmamacooks.com

Sure, turkey carcass looks as gross as it sounds, but holy heck it makes an incredible stock that's WAY more flavorful than what you can buy at the grocery store, y'all. If you have a slow cooker, put the carcass in with some onion, carrots, celery, garlic, apple cider vinegar, and plenty of fresh herbs like rosemary, and you'll wind up with a truly rich and comforting stock that you can use in things like soup, jambalaya, and risotto. Best of all, you can freeze the stock and use it throughout winter whenever you're craving a nice hot bowl of soup. Get the recipe here.

7. Set the table with cloth napkins.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans use 693 billion paper napkins per year, so if we each used an average of one fewer napkin every day, a billion pounds of napkins could be saved from landfills. So, why not make a dent in that somewhat horrifying number on Thanksgiving? Lay out cloth napkins instead of paper to cut back on waste and to make your dining table look even more sophisticated.
Libby Penner / Via unsplash.com

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans use 693 billion paper napkins per year, so if we each used an average of one fewer napkin every day, a billion pounds of napkins could be saved from landfills. So, why not make a dent in that somewhat horrifying number on Thanksgiving? Lay out cloth napkins instead of paper to cut back on waste and to make your dining table look even more sophisticated.

8. And with real dinnerware, not disposable.

You might be tempted to use disposable plates and cutlery to make cleaning up after your guests much faster, but these can't be composted, which means they'll end up in the garbage. Sadly, paper products account for 28% of all trash sent to landfills, so if you can, set the table with reusable dinnerware and get some family and friends to help at cleanup. If you don't have enough for everyone, ask your guests to bring extra in lieu of yet another side of cranberry sauce.
Stephaniefrey / Getty Images

You might be tempted to use disposable plates and cutlery to make cleaning up after your guests much faster, but these can't be composted, which means they'll end up in the garbage. Sadly, paper products account for 28% of all trash sent to landfills, so if you can, set the table with reusable dinnerware and get some family and friends to help at cleanup. If you don't have enough for everyone, ask your guests to bring extra in lieu of yet another side of cranberry sauce.

9. Create a centerpiece out of natural elements and items you already own.

Steer clearing of buying any plastic or non-recyclable decor you know will wind up in the trash next season or collecting dust in a storage closet. Instead, go for a more ~natural~ look with things like pine cones, gourds, eucalyptus, and dried leaves — all of which can be composted and look beautifully autumnal. Add in some candles and those lovely mason jars sitting in your cabinets and you've got yourself a Pinterest-worthy display. Check out these centerpiece ideas to get some inspiration.
freestocks.org / Via unsplash.com

Steer clearing of buying any plastic or non-recyclable decor you know will wind up in the trash next season or collecting dust in a storage closet. Instead, go for a more ~natural~ look with things like pine cones, gourds, eucalyptus, and dried leaves — all of which can be composted and look beautifully autumnal. Add in some candles and those lovely mason jars sitting in your cabinets and you've got yourself a Pinterest-worthy display. Check out these centerpiece ideas to get some inspiration.

10. Cover serving plates and bowls with beeswax wrap, instead of Saran.

Beeswax wrap is a reusable alternative to environmental enemy number one: plastic wrap. It's made from organic cotton and coated in beeswax, jojoba oil, and tree resin, which means it can easily be wrapped around cut fruits and vegetables or used to cover open containers, cup, and bowls. With Saran wrap out of the picture this Thanksgiving, you'll drastically cut down on plastic waste. Beeswax wrap looks way prettier anyway (just sayin').Get some on Amazon for $18.
amazon.com

Beeswax wrap is a reusable alternative to environmental enemy number one: plastic wrap. It's made from organic cotton and coated in beeswax, jojoba oil, and tree resin, which means it can easily be wrapped around cut fruits and vegetables or used to cover open containers, cup, and bowls. With Saran wrap out of the picture this Thanksgiving, you'll drastically cut down on plastic waste. Beeswax wrap looks way prettier anyway (just sayin').

Get some on Amazon for $18.

11. Get clever with your leftovers.

Let's be real: By your third turkey-cranberry sandwich, you're just about to ready to throw the rest of your leftovers in the trash out of total boredom. PLEASE DON'T. Keep things interesting by transforming them into tasty dishes like potato soup, a breakfast frittata to fuel you before Black Friday shopping, or a cozy turkey pot pie. Okay, now I'm looking forward to leftovers more than the meal itself. (Don't forget: If you can't use 'em all up, compost or freeze what you can.) Get the pot pie recipe here.
damndelicious.net

Let's be real: By your third turkey-cranberry sandwich, you're just about to ready to throw the rest of your leftovers in the trash out of total boredom. PLEASE DON'T. Keep things interesting by transforming them into tasty dishes like potato soup, a breakfast frittata to fuel you before Black Friday shopping, or a cozy turkey pot pie. Okay, now I'm looking forward to leftovers more than the meal itself. (Don't forget: If you can't use 'em all up, compost or freeze what you can.) Get the pot pie recipe here.

12. If you're a guest, bring your own containers.

This way, the host won't have as many leftovers to figure out later, much less food will go to waste, and you won't have to worry about returning the host's Tupperware either. They might not have enough containers for all of their guests to take, so you'll be doing them a favor too. Hellooo, sweet potato casserole for your midnight snack.
Magone / Getty Images

This way, the host won't have as many leftovers to figure out later, much less food will go to waste, and you won't have to worry about returning the host's Tupperware either. They might not have enough containers for all of their guests to take, so you'll be doing them a favor too. Hellooo, sweet potato casserole for your midnight snack.

13. And donate any unused ingredients to your local food pantry.

While many of us are lucky enough to enjoy a plentiful Thanksgiving dinner, there are so many Americans who aren't nearly as fortunate. In fact, 42 million Americans currently live without access to a sufficient amount of nutritious food, which includes 13 million children and 5.4 million seniors. So, if you did end up buying too much at the store, you can donate any unused ingredients — like canned cranberry sauce or whole veggies you know you won't use — to your local food pantry or food bank, or contact homeless shelters and service organizations to see if they're in need.
Caymia / Getty Images

While many of us are lucky enough to enjoy a plentiful Thanksgiving dinner, there are so many Americans who aren't nearly as fortunate. In fact, 42 million Americans currently live without access to a sufficient amount of nutritious food, which includes 13 million children and 5.4 million seniors. So, if you did end up buying too much at the store, you can donate any unused ingredients — like canned cranberry sauce or whole veggies you know you won't use — to your local food pantry or food bank, or contact homeless shelters and service organizations to see if they're in need.

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