How to have an environmentally-friendly Thanksgiving holiday

Eat mindfully, shop locally and skip disposable plates and cups during your annual Thanksgiving gathering.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans throw out an extra 25 percent of waste; which translates to roughly 1 million extra tons of trash per week during that time period.

Dr. Aaron Bernstein is the co-director of the Center for Climate Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. He says there are several ways to make your Thanksgiving a little more sustainable this year.

Here are some easy ways to have a more environmentally-friendly Thanksgiving:

Find a Michigan-raised turkey

Before the dinner itself begins, we all know the shopping and cooking that go into preparing a Thanksgiving feast is an ordeal in itself. While it may be tempting to go to a grocery store and knock all the shopping out in one trip — you’re missing out on a chance to get locally-grown food, which supports Michigan’s food system.

According to Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems, local food systems matter.

“First, environmental concerns of modern global food systems has called into question the environmental sustainability of existing food systems that promote monocultural growing practices and vast shipping distances,” the Center writes. “Second, local food systems contribute to the sociological constructs that define a region through food, culture and community. Third, local food systems may be more transparent to consumers and contribute to what some researchers call democratization of food systems, where consumers have more control over the process and consumption of what they eat.”

Smell your food before eating

… or at least chew slowly. Notice the textures and flavors.

There’s science backing the benefits of mindful eating, one of which includes the maintenance of a health body weight.

Another part of mindful eating is that you actually end up eating a little less. Many people love the tradition of gorging themselves on turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, biscuits and pie, and you can still do that, but chances are if you’re really savoring each bite, you might just eat a little less than you would otherwise. Reducing your overall consumption might look like swapping out a whole turkey for individual turkey breasts or maybe cutting out a side or two from your usual Thanksgiving spread.

Keep the oven door shut

While preparing food, consider your energy use.

If you are cooking multiple dishes that need to be in the oven at the same temperature, think about strategizing to put more than one thing in the oven at a time. This will help not just your food cook faster, but it’s also more energy efficient.

Also, tempting as it may be: keep the oven door shut! Every time you open it, more heat escapes, which uses more energy and increases cook time.

Break out the good dishware

Skip the disposable plates, cups, napkins and cutlery. Thanksgiving is a special time to celebrate with your family and friends, if that’s not worth pulling out your nicest dishware, we don’t know what is.

Plus, trying to cut turkey with a plastic knife sounds awful, and your non-disposable plates will be strong enough to hold up your meal! The last you need is a floppy, soggy paper plate. As part of an investigative story from, it was found that “much of the pulp used for paper including paper plates depends on virgin wood-based fibers.”

If you absolutely need to get disposable plates, look for compostable products or items made from recycled materials.

Skip the flight for Thanksgiving

It’s never easy to tell your parents and relatives that you won’t be meeting up to spend a holiday together. But it could have the potential to make a big impact if you’re committed.

The carbon emissions from a flight from Detroit to New York is 0.372 tonnes CO2. To give you an idea of what that means, climate change would be stopped if each person emitted just 0.600 t CO2 per year. According to, right now, the average person creates 8.4 t CO2 annually.

So try to keep it local by considering a Thanksgiving at home or nearby and not flying somewhere to have Thanksgiving dinner — especially if you’re also planning to see family again next month during December holidays.

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