Zero Waste Living

10 Useful (and Simple) Tips for a Zero-Waste Thanksgiving

One of the hardest things about embarking on my zero waste journey was holidays. The holidays were hard because of the following reasons:

  • We get off our normal routine
  • There is often a lot more overwhelm during that time of year, and it can be hard to balance normal activities
  • Traditions often supersede new lifestyles
  • You’re around other people more – and they may not follow the same lifestyle you do
  • You often have more ‘things’ coming into your home, and those ‘things’ may not fall in line with your lifestyle change


Related post: How to Simplify the Season – The Ultimate Guide


But the holidays don’t have to cause you to fall off your zero waste journey. In fact, with a little bit of planning and communicating, you can easily make zero waste switches! Read below to find out more.


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10 Tips for a Zero Waste Thanksgiving

Start small! Don’t try to go completely zero waste. You may end up feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. Instead, try and implement a couple of things, see how they go and reevaluate after the holiday.


  • If you are hosting and planning on distributing leftovers, check to see if you have plastic takeout containers that you don’t need. Or, you can buy reusable containers from a thrift store, or if comfortable, ask people to bring their own containers! Additionally, you could see if people have any extra they are willing to ‘donate’ to you for leftovers. People often have so many sitting around, they would be happy to make some room! For your own leftovers, pyrex glass containers and mason jars are great for storing leftovers (mason jars can go in the freezer).
  • If you aren’t hosting and you’re comfortable talking to the host/hostess, offer to bring your own. You could also offer to donate some containers for the host/hostess to distribute the leftovers in so they don’t have to use their own.


Have a plan for food

  • 172 million pounds of turkey
  • 14 million pounds of dinner rolls
  • 29 million pounds of vegetable sides
  • 30 million pounds of gravy
  • 40 million pounds of mashed potatoes
  • 38 million pounds of stuffing

Can you guess what these statistics are referring to? It’s not how much we eat every Thanksgiving…

It is how much food is WASTED each Thanksgiving.

That’s a lot of food.

That’s a lot of money.

A common misconception about food going to the landfill is that it will just ‘compost away’. But it doesn’t. Not like in a compost bin. Food sitting in a landfill is not exposed to the chemical reaction that occurs in a compost bin, and therefore, food in a landfill just rots and produces a lot of greenhouse gasses.


One of my tops for having a zero/low waste Thanksgiving is to have a plan to use up those leftovers BEFORE you even start cooking. Using the food in other dishes. Giving the leftovers away (ask guests to bring their own reusable container!). Freezing the food. These are all ways you can help reduce waste.


  • If you are hosting – speaking of leftovers, try and have a general idea of what you want to do with the leftover food, whether that is eating within a week, freezing, or giving away. This way you can plan ahead for containers, making room in the freezer, planning which recipes to use leftovers, etc.
  • If you are not hosting – if you end up with some leftovers to take home (lucky you!) make a plan to do something with the food right away. Maybe that is put it in your ‘eat me now’ section of your fridge, freeze it, or think of a recipe to reuse the food.



In need of a food calculator? This one is awesome and will help you figure out how much food you need!



Make it a theme

  • If you are hosting, suggest to the guests that you want to have a zero-waste Thanksgiving, and ask them to follow suit by paying attention to packaging at the store, bringing their own leftover containers, etc. Or, you could show them this post – hint-hint for tips.
  • If you aren’t hosting and know the host well enough to make a suggestion, suggest doing a zero-waste themed Thanksgiving! Offer to help out wherever you can!





  • If you are hosting, opt to use cloth napkins. You will be able to use them over and over again.
  • If you are not hosting, cloth napkins would make a GREAT host/hostess gift!



  • If you are hosting, have a dishwashing party and get as many people as possible to help out with dishes and more! This way you can feel comfortable using non-disposable dishes knowing they’ll get clean in a flash! For tasks such as wiping down tables, counters, and stoves, opt to use cloth towels you already have, or try bamboo towels in place of paper towels. You will be able to reuse them many times. We LOVE these. Be sure to tell guests where your recycling and compost waste is (if you have one) so they know where to properly dispose of waste.
  • If you are a guest, initiate a dishwashing party right away to let the host relax. Use cloth towels to clean as much as possible (and for drying). Ask the host where their recycling and compost waste go (if they have either), and make sure the proper waste ends up in the right bins.


Buy in bulk

I will preface by saying approach with caution. Zero waste shopping can easily get overwhelming. But as you are shopping, whether you are hosting or just bringing a dish, take a look around and see if there are certain products that you can buy in bulk. Make sure you have a plan in mind as to what you are going to do with the food since there will be a lot of it. I find that meal planning really helps with this!




Source: Element5 Digital


Pay attention to packaging when shopping

I have found that the easiest way to reduce packaging is using reusable produce bags (I like using these). Other tips include trying to avoid single serve items or most convenience foods as they produce a lot of waste! I will talk more about this in an upcoming post, however, for right now, just start making note of the packaging as you are shopping.



Cooking the turkey

If you are hosting and don’t have a turkey pan, instead of buying a disposable one, ask friends and family if they have one you could borrow! Save money and waste. Additionally, you could try to find one at a thrift store. Or, try an alternative method of cooking your turkey (I hear deep frying a turkey is good – kidding – kind of).


zero waste tips, holiday zero waste tips


Bringing a dish

If you are not hosting but are bringing a dish, opt for a reusable one to take home, or buy a cute one at a thrift store that you can gift to the hostess afterward.



Decorations are one of those things that are easy to reuse year after year or buy from a thrift store or second-hand store. Another option would be to ask around and borrow some from friends/family. Or, you could bring some hygge’ into your home and decorate with some natural elements from outside. Maybe a grapevine wreath, some dried flowers, berries, etc?




Whether you implement one of these tips or all of them (or maybe you already do them), I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


Related post: The Ultimate Zero Waste Halloween Guide


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Zero waste Thanksgiving

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Katie Braswell
5 years ago

I just recently started using cloth napkins for everyday! I love them! Yes it means more laundry, but it also means a lower grocery, less waste! I also adore your idea about decorating! We used this “natural” approach for our wedding, and have implemented it ever since! Great ideas!! <3

Felicia @ The Starving Chef

All great tips here! I do a bunch of these – I even keep my turkey carcass to make bone broth the next day!

Nina McClure
5 years ago

You have some amazing and simple suggestions here that anyone can incorporate! What great ideas! Thank you for sharing! so easy

5 years ago

We have no problem with leftovers, our three grown daughters always take home food in my containers. I started saving durable plastic containers left from lunch meetings at work so I can send the girls food home in them, as I kept having to purchase new containers all the time. Somehow, they take them home but never bring back any empty containers! I love cloth napkins and reusable decor items for every holiday. Have a very Happy Thanksgiving with your family Laura.

Connie @Lessons and Learning for Littles

Great tips! Thank you! Many of these, I try to incorporate into our daily life, but I never thought about doing it for a holiday meal. You have good suggestions for helping include others in reducing waste too.

5 years ago

Great ideas! I love the idea of giving cloth napkins as a gift! You could make the cutest little basket!

Mary Leigh
5 years ago

I love these tips. I want to transition to using cloth napkins – but don’t really know where to start. What kinds of napkins are best? What is a reasonable number to have? etc.

5 years ago

Wow these are great tips! I never think about some of these, but I need to start!

Karin Rambo
5 years ago

I love the idea of asking others to bring their own containers! When I was in college I backpacked through South America and it’s totally customary in some countries to bring your own to go container when eating at other peoples houses. The hosts find it far more rude when you leave food on your plate because it is wasteful. We should adopt more of that attitude here in the US. 😊

Kristen Raney
5 years ago

I love reading about your zero waste journey! These are some great tips, and I like that you give tips for both guests and hosts.

5 years ago

Excellent tips Laura. We went back to using regular dishes and silverware for our parties. We even went out and purchased a few more cheap beer and wine glasses, so we would no longer have to use plastic. This way we reduce waste. I like the tip about the cloth napkins. We probably need to purchase a few more of them for everyday use. We taught our kids to be the 1st ones up to offer to wash dishes when they go to someone’s house for any kind of party, but especially at the holidays to show their appreciation. .


[…] I wanted to point out the post I shared last week which goes over 10 simple and useful tips for a zero waste Thanksgiving since […]

Shela Yount | Virtual Email + Calendar Strategist

I have read so many things about zero waste! Loved this! It’s inspiring me to start this challenge too! Love these ideas! Thank you!! 🙂


[…] The second post that may be helpful this time of the year is my post on having a zero waste Thanksgiving. While I realize Thanksgiving has passed, the tips are still applicable for any type of gathering/celebration. You can find that post here. […]


[…] –Zero Waste Thanksgiving (the post was written during Thanksgiving, however, the tips are applicable for any gathering) […]


[…] Check out the full post for all the tips! […]


[…] 10 Useful and Simple Tips for a Zero Waste Thanksgiving […]

Amy @ Orison Orchards
4 years ago

Wow, those statistics are crazy! I know I’m not contributing, though, because I live for leftovers! Yum! These are all such great tips, too. If we each just do a little, we can make such a difference!