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Thankful for Clean Air: Celebrating a Sustainable Thanksgiving

It’s finally November, and Thanksgiving celebrations are coming up soon. There’s a lot of things to be thankful for this year, and one of them that we don’t often think about enough, is cleaner air. Although ozone season is officially over, we must continue to practice sustainability in our festivities to reduce food waste and transportation emissions. By following these sustainable practices this month, we are showing our thanks to our shared planet.


Many of us take this holiday to visit family and friends and enjoy the celebrations. As you make your travel plans, consider traveling using more sustainable transportation methods, whether that’s carpooling with family members, taking transit if possible, or driving over flying.

One of the biggest sustainability issues of the Thanksgiving dinner is food waste. Americans throw away 20.3 tons of food every year which exacerbates methane production in landfills. There are many ways to make your Thanksgiving feast into a sustainable, yet fun, and delicious celebration. This Thanksgiving, plan ahead and make sure to only buy and cook as much as your family and guests need. Communicate with your guests on who is bringing which side dishes, and limit the number of dishes and desserts to reduce the amount of food that is thrown away at the end of the celebration.

If you notice that there will be leftovers after your feast, make sure to have reusable receptacles available to freeze your food for the following days. Keep some reusable containers or encourage your guests to bring their own containers if you’re expecting leftovers.

Are you expecting many guests this Thanksgiving? Using disposable plates may sound tempting, but did you know that most paper plates aren’t recyclable? Most paper plates use a wax coating, which are inseparable from the paper so recycle facilities usually cannot accept them. A study found that only 11% of U.S. recycling facilities are able to process and recycle plastic cups. This Thanksgiving try using re-usable cups, dishes, and cutlery for an eco-friendlier celebration. If you are expecting more guests than the number of dishes you have, ask your family members to contribute their plates, cups, or cutlery to the feast, or limit paper plates only for the younger guests at Thanksgiving dinner.


A lot of food waste is produced during Thanksgiving Day, but it starts earlier than the feast. Cooking and baking traditional thanksgiving foods like pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, yams, apple pie, vegetable sides, and salads can produce a lot of fruit and vegetable scraps. This November is a great time to start composting in your own backyard! You can even start earlier than Thanksgiving to compost your old Halloween and fall decoration like pumpkins, gourds, and hay.

To get started with composting you will need a bin that has the dimensions of at least 3x3x3 feet. The location of your bin should have decent shading and enough drainage. We recommend using a lidded bin to keep smells to a minimum and avoid getting critters and scavengers in your compost, just make sure to drill holes in the bottom of your container for proper drainage.

There are 5 simple steps to composting:

  • Step 1: Place a layer of coarse material such as tree branches on the ground (4-8 inches).

  • Step 2: Add a six- to eight-inch layer of organic material such as shredded leaves or grass clippings.

  • Step 3: Add a one-inch layer of manure or rich garden soil.

  • Step 4: Repeat these layers and keep the pile moist.

  • Step 5: Stir the pile weekly during the summer and monthly during the winter.

Did you know that you can compost more than just vegetables and fruits? For an extensive list of items you can and cannot compost, we recommend you to check out this article.

Don’t have a backyard? No worries, you can still contribute to composting! You can use a container to collect your food scraps or a dedicated compost bin, which have filters to stop smells, that you can place in your kitchen. Many cities offer programs where you can bring your food scraps to a local composting center. Some private businesses have pick up services for composting. Reach out to your local council, public library, or nearby university if they offer any composting services or programs.

This Thanksgiving we are grateful for our clean water, land, and air. Make it into your tradition to keep your celebrations green through less food waste, sustainable travel, and composting and encourage your family members to take care of the planet that we are grateful for. Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!


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