5 Waste Lessons Thanksgiving Taught Us

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Food-heavy holidays like Thanksgiving can leave trash bins unusually full. But don’t fret, Earth-lover. Your holiday celebration can be the start of a low-waste revolution in your kitchen. Here are five waste-saving lessons we learned this Thanksgiving and ways to apply them all year round.

dinner, dinner party, Thanksgiving, Christmas, turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes

The green lessons we learned this Thanksgiving can help you cut back on kitchen waste all year round! Photo: Flickr/little blue hen

1. Take inventory

Food-related holidays are the perfect time to analyze how you’re disposing of kitchen waste. Think back to what was left after your Thanksgiving meal. How many times did you take out the trash? How much of your waste was compostable or recyclable? And what can you do to keep that trash can empty?

If you found yourself tossing a lot of recyclable waste, think about why that is. Recycling can seem like a bit of a challenge if your locality doesn’t offer a curbside program or only accepts limited materials. But you can still minimize waste on your own. Designate a large bin for recyclables, and take them to a local recycling center a few times a month. Not sure where to go? Use Earth911 to find a recycler near you.

Remember that some facilities require recyclables to be sorted before drop-off. Check your local recycler’s Website beforehand to be sure, and set up multiple bins for different materials to take the hassle out of sorting waste later.

If most of your waste was compostable, weigh your options and decide which compost plan is right for you. If you have space in your backyard, the easiest thing to do is start your own compost pile. But if you live in an apartment or don’t have a yard, there are still plenty of options for your organic waste. Check out our easy guide for greening a small space. Or save your food scraps in the freezer until you can bring them to a commercial composting facility.

READ: How to Troubleshoot Your Compost Pile

2. Start with a whole food

In our Green Thanksgiving Guide, Emily Vaughn, associate program manager for Slow Food USA, suggested starting with a whole food to reduce waste in the kitchen. But this lesson isn’t just for the holidays.

When planning out your nightly meals, ditch canned, frozen or prepared foods for whole fruits and vegetables and fresh meats whenever possible. This step alone will leave your trash can astonishingly empty, as you’ll virtually eliminate packaging waste and be left with nothing but compostables.

Not sure how to plan a meal without a little help from the box? We have a huge library of recipes to get you started. Check out these yummy lunches, dinners and compostable meals, and surprise the family with something fresh tonight.

READ: Your Local Guide to Fall Produce

3. Use it up

One-third of food in America goes to waste, adding up to 25 percent of what’s in our landfills, according to Slow Food USA. Minimize the food waste in your trash can by using every last bit, like incorporating vegetable scraps and meat bones into stocks, sauces and gravies.

With the cool days of winter fast approaching, your dinnertime repertoire will likely be ripe with warming comfort foods. When that extra-cold evening comes, why reach for a packaged pick when you can whip up your own tasty creations using food scraps?

A few carrot tops won’t necessarily make a tasty broth. So, save meat and vegetable scraps in a bag in the freezer until you’ve collected enough to make your stock. Not sure how to make stock from scratch? We’ll teach you!

READ: 10 Reuse Ideas for Food Scraps

4. Get crafty with leftovers

Leftovers aren’t always the most exciting of meals. So, they can often sit uneaten in the back of the fridge. Fight back against food waste by giving your leftovers a facelift, and the family will be far more likely to make them disappear.

Stuck for ideas? Try turning that roasted chicken into a tasty soup, making a casserole out of leftover side dishes or whipping up an omelette incorporating last night’s main course.

When planning your recycled meal, don’t restrict yourself to the leftovers in your fridge. Take Vaughn’s suggestion and go shopping in your pantry for added ingredients. Use those canned veggies and half-full bags of rice to spice up your dinner creation, and keep useful items from going to waste.

READ: This App Has Recipes for Your Leftovers

5. Harness your purchasing power

Food-heavy holidays make us painfully aware of how over-packaged foods can amount to overstuffed trash bins. When browsing in your local grocery store, take a moment to compare and contrast. Not for price – for packaging!

Use your purchasing power to stop waste before it starts by opting for items packaged in recyclable material whenever possible. And avoid individually-wrapped foods in favor of buying in bulk. All those snack food staples you pack in the kids’ lunch boxes can usually be found in bulk sizes for lower prices, and you’ll save a ton of packaging waste. Portion foods yourself in reusable containers, and keep containers sealed to help bulk foods stay fresh.

And while you’re getting smart about your purchases, consider buying local. Opting for a regional favorite cuts back on transportation emissions, as some non-local foods can be shipped hundreds or even thousands of miles before they reach your table. Local picks tend to be fresher, healthier and tastier, too.

READ: 5 Absurdly Over-Packaged Foods

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