8 Ways to Reduce Thanksgiving Waste In 2024

Thanksgiving turkey being carved

Each year we think about waste being produced by Thanksgiving, but to actually make a difference and stop yourself from grimacing when you throw all that food into the rubbish you need to plan ahead.

In the US alone around 40 percent of all food goes to waste each year.

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect, spend quality time with loved ones and of course the feast.

While we prepare for the holiday, we should also consider what we need in advance and know how to use the food afterwards to keep the environment and your wallet happy.

Preparing for the holiday in advance is the key to reducing the amount of food waste and garbage being produced.

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How Much Food Waste is Generated on Thanksgiving?

The nonprofit organisation ReFed has found that 305 million pounds of food will be thrown out after Thanksgiving this year.

This food production generates 1.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is just like driving 169,000 cars for a whole year.

Over a billion gallons of water is used to make that food; that’s as much as used by the population of New York for almost 4 months.

The Center for Biological Diversity has recorded Thanksgiving wastage as follows: “200 million pounds of turkey thrown away along with over 150 million pounds of sides such as potatoes and other vegetables and over 14 million pounds of bread rolls”.

All of this equates to around half a million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each celebration, that’s about the same as driving 1.1 billion miles in a standard car.

thanksgiving food on table

Roughly 40 million or 10.5% of all US households, are going through food insecurity.

Inflation as well as supply chain problems have only exacerbated these issues.  

Supermarkets are now also being pressured to record and enforce new methods to reduce food wastage at the store level to help the US achieve its goal of halving food waste by 2030.

The Natural Resources Defense Council found that in 2013, $277 million worth of turkey meat ended up in the garbage after Thanksgiving.

Every year, an average American family of four wastes around 1500$ on unused food produce — that’s roughly 1,160 pounds of food.

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, it is time for everyone to think about how we can keep our food wastage in check.

1. Donate to shelters

Even when we try to manage the amount of food we put on the table we can still find ourselves with more than we need.

If you find yourself with extra green beans, pumpkin pie or sauces, consider donating them to shelters or organisations with a food assistance programme.

If you have extra cans of pumpkin pie filling, green beans, or cranberry sauce, consider donating them to your local food bank to help those in need.

You can try looking at food banks in your area as a good place to start.

2. Communication is Key

Coordinate meals so that you and your guests don’t all end up making the same dish.

One bowl of stuffing is enough right?

It’s quick and easy to set up a group chat to let everyone know your plans in advance, and it makes a good place to leave the photos afterwards for everyone to see.

Follow this trick to make sure that all that hard work you and your friends put into their dish doesn’t become Thanksgiving food waste.

3. Don’t Overdo It

Only buy what you need to avoid Thanksgiving waste.

Bulk buying can be a good idea when you need items in large quantities, otherwise it’s a bit uneconomic.

When walking around a supermarket close to the holiday it can be tempting to pick up that mega bag of chocolate almonds, but we should be honest with ourselves and take as much as we need.

4. Are Turkey Trays Recyclable?

 Yes, you can recycle turkey trays. But you need to know which ones.

Now you can find paper-based tray options which have emerged in line with the low plastic mindsets being practised by many.

Some are over 90% composed of paper material, resulting in drastically less plastic being used each year.

All states can recycle these as well. That means less waste going into landfills and oceans.

5. Save Off-Cuts for Future Meals

Why not try freezing some of your trimmings and off-cuts to experiment with later?

In the winter months, they can be used in a stew or even be blended into a soup.

Scraps can also be reused in other recipes, you’d be surprised with some of the options out there.

You can always add butter and garlic to potato peelings and bake them in the oven as a snack as one example.

thanksgiving food

6. Store Food the Right Way

A lot of resources and effort go into bringing food to our table, from water for irrigation to fuel for transportation and logistics – they all come with a greater cost unless they’re homegrown.

We should all keep this in mind when filling our baskets for the holiday so we don’t make any unnecessary deposits into landfills.

As an example, any meat should be consumed within several days after being cooked, whereas storing it in the freezer will preserve it for months

thanksgiving food 2

7. Composting Thanksgiving Waste

At first, it may feel odd to hang onto food trimmings from your kitchen counter.

Typically, we call these scraps, but it turns out they can have more uses than simply going into other dishes.

Composting waste from our kitchens is as simple as mixing old food into the soil to provide nutrients and improve the dirt quality, or even using a 3-stage compost bin to break down tougher materials such as recyclable plastics.

The end result leaves you with nutrient-rich soil that improves plant quality as well as retains moisture in the soil.

composting food waste

8. Store or Give Away Thanksgiving Leftovers

Recycle Thanksgiving food leftovers by placing them into clear containers and marking the dates when they are stored – use a guide for checking when they should be consumed at the latest.

By placing them in clear containers you are less likely to forget about them as they serve as a visual reminder.

If you are running late for work or you don’t have time to prepare, these stored meals can be a lifesaver – no more lunching from the vending machine!

thanksgiving food on table

How Reducing Thanksgiving Waste Can Help Save the Environment

We all know how harmful food waste can be to livestock and the environment.

We’ve also looked into the actions we can take to control the amount of Thanksgiving food waste.

Here are a few more benefits of following the above steps.

  • Waste less resources – Thanksgiving food waste results in spent water, fuel, electricity, labour, pesticides, land space, and fertilizers used to produce the food.

    When we throw thanksgiving food away, we are wasting much more than we think.
  • Reduces methane from landfill sites – Any food waste sent to landfill sites might as well be launched into space as the nutrients never reach the soil layer and recycle these nutrients.
  • Returns nutrients to the ground – If you’re unable to reduce thanksgiving food wastage you may always try composting.

    Through sending food to composting facilities as opposed to throwing them into disposal bins you are returning nutrients into the soil to grow better crops.

    By adding to construction sites, composting facilities and fertilizer production we are contributing to a more sustainable system for the future.

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