This year Thanksgiving celebrations will look a bit different, even so it will still be a time full of food and family (even if that means meeting over zoom). From our planet’s perspective, that also means added environmental impact, but there are still ways to keep your Thanksgiving green. To clarify, that isn’t a reference to Dr. Seuss, but a reminder to use sustainable practices.

The holiday is also known as ‘Turkey Day’ for a reason, as it’s typically the centrepiece of the whole meal. However, meat does have a greater environmental impact compared to other foods and plant-based sides. A Tofurky roast would make your vegetarian, vegan family members and turkeys very thankful, but opting to eat less meat and going big on the sides can still be an impactful choice.

A detailed breakdown of a typical Thanksgiving dinner’s carbon footprint

It is interesting to note that lamb and beef production have the highest emissions, partially because they come from ruminant animals that produce large amounts of methane through digestion. So whether it’s Thanksgiving or a normal Monday, opting for meats with a smaller carbon footprint can have a large impact. And if you feel like making your eating habits extra green, an Oxford University study found that a vegetarian diet is responsible for half as many greenhouse-gas emissions.

Figure 1: Greenhouse Gas Emissions from common Proteins and Vegetables (incl. Turkey)

The data in the above graph is a bit out of date, but helps give an idea of how Turkey ranks. Below is more up to date look and with an added breakdown of methane vs other emissions (thank you to fellow Talkin’ Trash blogger Mike for passing this along!).

Figure 2: A Greenhouse Gas Emissions from common Proteins and Vegetables as of 2020

It might not be the most realistic to take the turkey out of Turkey Day, but what can undoubtedly be tackled is excessive food waste. Approximately 200 million pounds of turkey are thrown out over the holiday, that’s a fowl fact (and a worse pun).

When you throw away food, you’re also throwing away the water, fertilizer and fuel that went into getting it to your table. In order to reduce food waste, leftovers should be repurposed, frozen or anything inedible composted. Also planning out your meal and only buying what you need, a friendly reminder that grocery shopping while hungry does not end well.

One more thing you can do while gathering your supplies for the big day is to buy local. Any artisanal European cheeses or tropical fruit can add to your meals carbon footprint from the transport required. Plus, it’s a great time to support your local businesses!

And on a final note and a call back to a recent blog post, do not pour turkey (or any other) grease down the drain or toilet. This leads to ‘fatbergs’, caused by the accumulation of grease and other non-pipe friendly waste. It’s estimated that 65% of sewer spills are caused by oils and grease and leads to expensive cleanups.

How to properly dispose of cooking grease,
also small amounts can be absorbed by paper towel and composted.

Plus like the above image shows, you can save on buying cooking oil and reuse it later. Maybe for some post-Thanksgiving roast potatoes to go with your leftover turkey?

Enjoy the long weekend and stay safe!