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Three ways to have your most sustainable Thanksgiving yet

Thanksgiving turkey and sides on a table

Did you know that Thanksgiving has a significant impact on our carbon footprint? In fact, according to, the carbon footprint from this holiday is equivalent to 800,000 cars driving from L.A. to Florida.

The good news is there are several sustainable ways we can celebrate this delicious holiday while saving money and resources. Here are three big categories to consider.

Low-waste meal planning

Eat First! basket in fridge

It’s widely known that in the United States30-40 percent of the food supply is wastedAnd Thanksgiving is one of the biggest food waste days of the year (about 200 million pounds of turkey alone).

It’s easy to overcook – especially when Thanksgiving is such a food-driven holiday. So, we’ve pulled together some ideas to help you plan, buy ingredients, and prepare just the right amount of your holiday favorites.

Think back, then plan ahead

A great place to start is thinking back to last year or the year before. Did you have far too many leftovers? Too much of one thing but not enough of another? Something you make because of tradition that only a few people actually eat? Don’t be afraid to simplify your menu, plan differently or switch things up.

How many people are you planning to have at your gathering? Here’s a tool to help you shop for just the right amount: Food Guest-Imator from

Take inventory and make a list

Before you head to the grocery store for Thanksgiving, check your fridge and pantry first. This simple step has three big advantages:

  1. Finding ingredients you already have that your recipe calls for
  2. Clearing out the refrigerator makes room for groceries and leftovers
  3. Saving food that’s about to expire so you can use it quickly or pop it in the freezer

Now that you see what you have, you’re more prepared to create a list of exactly what you need. This is where reducing food waste starts. 

Related Reading: Tips to Reduce Food Waste at Thanksgiving

Be ingredient minded

Next, be sure the ingredients you buy can be used in their entirety during the holiday or used up in other recipes shortly after that. For example, if a dish calls for buttermilk, plan to make pancakes on the weekend with leftover buttermilk. Or use any extra veggies and broth to make turkey soup.

Shop smart, shop local

The grocery store always presents the opportunity to be discerning about packaging – and this is especially true during the holidays. Wherever possible, make sure food items have minimal or compostable packaging. Or, ideally, no packaging at all. 

Another option is shopping at your local farmers’ market. No packaging there. You can find your nearest market on the Minnesota Grown farmers market locator.

Recycle and compost where possible 

Finally, get your family involved by encouraging them to separate food packaging and whatever food waste you have into compost, recycling and trash. This is an area where kids can be extremely helpful, and you can reward them for composting or recycling as much as possible.

Related ReadingOrganics recycling for Hennepin County residents

Inspired hosting

Image from above table where guests clink glasses

Whether you’re planning a gathering large or small, there are a variety of ways to pull off an incredible event that’s easy to manage, easy on your wallet and easy on the environment, too.

Skip the disposables

Let’s start with the big one. We know it’s tempting to buy disposable cups, plates, utensils and napkins – especially when you’re the one hosting. They’re less work and more convenient.

But that ease comes at a price.

Most disposable tableware should go in the trash unless you look for and buy items that are BPI Certified compostable and you dispose of them in organics recycling. Because these items are readily available, we recommend you skip the disposables, use the dishes you already have and wash them after the meal.

Stretch what you have; buy secondhand for what you need

Don’t have enough dishes or tableware for everyone? You can get creative to repurpose what you already have. Or you can ask friends or family members if they have extras you can borrow (e.g., does everyone in the family really need their own punchbowl?).

This is a great way to keep costs low and stretch what you have.

If borrowing isn’t an option, you have another choice before you head out to buy new tableware. You can find nearly every hosting item imaginable secondhand, including:

  • Glassware
  • Bakeware
  • Wine accessories/glasses
  • Eating utensils
  • Cookware
  • Small kitchen appliances
  • Cookbooks
  • Cookie cutters
  • Decorative linens
  • Placemats
  • Cloth napkins

The best part of purchasing items secondhand is creating a unique table setting. Our friends at the Hopkins Antique Mall encourage mixing and matching different dishes to make your table more special. Add in some festive décor and voila’ -- you have a beautiful, eclectic table.

Send leftovers home sustainably

Rather than sending your guests home with leftovers in plastic bags and plastic containers, opt for reusable storage containers instead. Some great options are:

  • Glass jars
  • Stainless steel containers
  • Reusable/cloth bags

And, you guessed it, you can find all of these containers secondhand as well. Another option? Ask guests to bring their own reusable container if they’d like to take home some tasty leftovers.

Sustainable furniture and decor

Wooden baskets of gourds and pumpkins

When hosting for the holidays, it’s tempting to get inexpensive “fast furniture” when you’re short on seats or want to update your space quickly.

But consider this: Americans throw out more than 12 million tons of furniture and furnishings each year. And in addition to generating waste, the furniture category requires a lot of resources to package and transport.

A better and more sustainable option is to buy secondhand or rent instead.

A place for everyone

Expecting a bigger gathering than usual this year but don’t have the seating to accommodate? You can rent extra chairs or purchase secondhand seating to ensure you have plenty of space for everyone this year and beyond.

Renting works well if you don’t have the space to store chairs and tables from year to year. From basic to fancy, retailers like Apres Party & Tent Rental and Lake Minnetonka Party Rental have a variety of seating to fit your needs. Be sure to check their hours as most are closed on holidays, so you’ll need to pick up prior to your big event.

If you’d rather purchase than rent, secondhand, antique and vintage stores will have unique pieces you won’t be able to find in mainstream stores. Check out Antiquified or Hopkins Antique Mall.

Want to dial up the atmosphere? The Vintage Loft, Wabi Sabi, and Hope Chest all have options that will have your guests asking where you got such great pieces.

Finally, you can find period-specific lighting, stained glass, hardware, or fixtures from shops like Architectural Antiques.

A variety of special touches

If you’re all set for furniture but want to jazz up your space with seasonal décor, secondhand shops have you covered there as well. Many local shops put together special end caps or dedicated areas for holiday décor, including:

  • Pumpkins
  • Turkey-themed items
  • Lighting (interior and exterior)
  • Vases and baskets
  • Decorative pillows and throws
  • Pinecones and faux flowers
  • Seasonal or holiday-themed/scented candles
  • Fall wreaths

In particular, check out Arc’s Value Village, Hopkins Antique Mall, and Bethesda. Learn more in our secondhand holiday guide.

Now that warm weather has arrived – and with it, the desire to clean and declutter – this a great time to get serious about donating usable goods that are taking up space in your overcrowded home.