Hosting A Sustainable Thanksgiving - The Ultimate Guide

Food waste, plastic waste – and general waste is something that really shoots up in numbers during the holiday season. So whether you’re getting together with friends or extended o’hana, here’s a few tips from our team on how to host the BEST Thanksgiving, while remaining balanced about the waste. 

Of course, we love to start with a bit of data. Did you know that food waste in particular increases by as much as 25% during the holiday season? That’s a lot of sad turkeys. Speaking of... as that food waste decomposes, it contributes to a massive increase in greenhouse gases during this time of year. 

Here are the best tips we could find to create a sustainable Thanksgiving fest with everyone you love.


Getting Ready / Party Planning 

  1. Use a meal planner, such as Perfect Potluck, to coordinate with guests and avoid having too much food (or not enough bread rolls..)
  2. Encourage guests to bring their own reusable dishes rather than disposable ones. This is tough for a bigger party, so a balanced suggestion we have is to utilize things like paper cups, real silverware, and strong paper plates instead of plastic utensils. Then, leave out a bin labeled “used utensils”. At the end of the day, you can fill the bin with soap and water and use it as the wash bin. 
  3. Have an obviously labeled Recycle / Compost bins out for everyone to use
  4. Utilize small washcloths or towels instead of paper towels for guests to use in the bathroom
  5. Make things from scratch wherever possible. Around 83 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from food comes from its production, so the less packaged and prepared food you buy, the lower your carbon footprint. Plus, there’s just something so magical about putting your own TLC into a meal for sharing with others.
  6. Take stock of your ingredients before you shop. There’s a good chance you’ll find an unopened bottle of vanilla extract in the back of the cupboard. You’re welcome. 
  7. Plan ahead for food storage options. If you have a local thrift store close by, this is a great time to find some cute antique casserole dishes that can be given to guests to take leftovers home in. Alternatively, you can encourage them to bring some of their own.


eco bag

Sustainable Thanksgiving Shopping

There are two types of people in the world – those who love to shop for a party and those that detest it. Whether you’re on one side of the coin or the other, the shopping’s gotta get done. Here’s 5 ways to make it more sustainable. 

  1. Bring those shopping bags – and don’t forget your produce bags! This might seem like a no-brainer, but ask yourself. Are your bags back in the car right now after your last shopping trip? (You’re welcome)
  2. Buy in bulk whenever possible. Make use of the bins – you’ll probably save yourself a few dollars as well. This also goes for bigger portions, which use less packaging than buying 3 of the same item from a smaller grocery store. 
  3. Buy as much locally produced food as you can. The closer your food is, the lower its environmental impact. Many local farms are offering “farmboxes” that offer not only locally and organically grown produce, but also make use of what’s in season near you – this means more flavorful, fresh and fun meals to create while also supporting your local food economy. 
  4. Stick to your list. Not only is this healthy for your wallet, but also helps reduce food that looks great on the shelves but ends up not being used come Thanksgiving day. 

Speaking of shopping bags… the great debate. Which Reusable Shopping Bag is the best for the environment?

According to National Geographic:

Reusable bags are made from many different materials, and the environmental impact of producing those materials varies widely. One study from the United Kingdom (UK) found that, regarding bag production, cotton bags have to be reused 131 times before they reduce their impact on climate change to the same extent as plastic bags. To have a comparable environmental footprint (which encompasses climate change as well as other environmental effects) to plastic bags, a cotton bag potentially has to be used thousands of times. Materials other than cotton, however, perform much better in sustainability metrics. Nonwoven polypropylene (PP) is another popular option. Made from a more durable kind of plastic, these bags need to be reused around eleven times to break even with the impact of conventional plastic.”

Read the full article here.

baking cookies

Meal Prep – Sustainably. 

  1. Save your veggie scraps! You can freeze them and use them for stock later on. 
  2. Recycle everything you can. Check your packaging beforehand, and recycle appropriately while things are quiet and you’ve got the brainpower. 
  3. Make prepping as easy as possible by setting out a compost bowl, a recycle bowl and trash bin. 
  4. Invest in a good roasting pan. The aluminum pan we all love to use won’t be able to be recycled if it’s covered in turkey dinner. Also, that pan will last for ages and actually save you money in the long run!
  5. Minimize and coordinate oven time. If you live in a warmer climate, you can also make use of your outdoor grill – while not as good for baking, it can hold a fairly steady temperature that you can use for cooking vegetables, casseroles, etc. 

The Day Has Arrived! Serve That Meal Sustainably

  1. Utilize compostable disposable serving-ware if you opt not to use real dishware

  2. Use cloth napkins and reusable paper towels

  3. Set out smaller serving spoons to encourage not overfilling plates. 

family time

Sustainable (and fun) Thanksgiving Activities That Don’t Involve the TV

Using up the TV on Thanksgiving day has become pretty standard, but after the couple of years we’ve had, I think we can collectively agree that we all want to spend a bit more *real* time with our loved ones. Here’s some ideas to waste a little less time and have a whole lot of fun. 

  1. Look up “Minute To Win It” games on Pinterest. They have incredible DIY ideas for all ages, that usually involve minimal prep, setup and waste. 
  2. Have guests bring board games to play and share with the party
  3. Outdoor games (if your climate allows it) like cornhole, ring toss, and football will always be a good time
  4. Write up conversation cards to stack at the table, especially if you have guests over that haven’t met one another before
  5. Make a bowling game with empty cans from the meal

Sustainable Food Storage

The not so fun part – getting everything cleaned up and put away so you can finally relax!

As mentioned above, have your guests bring food storage items or gift some from your local thrift store. 

Beeswax food wraps… check them out here, here and make your own beeswax wraps here.

Glass food storage containers – use glass sauce jars for storage and drinkware

Stasher bags

Food Huggers

Now, after all this craziness, sit back, relax, and put your feet up. You’ve earned it!

What are some other sustainable Thanksgiving tips? Let us know on FB @surfsoapcompany!

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