Ideas for a Greener Thanksgiving

close view of pine tree branch against blue sky

Treehugger / Julia Cook

Thanksgiving Day is an American holiday that is loaded with tradition, so why not start a new tradition in your family by making Thanksgiving a green and eco-friendly celebration from start to finish?

Here are eight tips to give your Thanksgiving celebration extra meaning by making your day of thanks green and eco-friendly. A green Thanksgiving will enrich your family’s holiday experience because you will know that you have made the world a little brighter by reducing your impact on the environment. And that’s something for which everyone can be thankful.

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Glass, paper, plastic, metal recycling

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To make your Thanksgiving celebration as green as possible, start with the three Rs of conservation: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

Reduce the amount of waste you produce by buying only as much as you need and choosing products that come in packaging that can be recycled.

Carry reusable bags when you do your shopping, and use cloth napkins that can be washed and used again.

Recycle paper, and all plastic, glass, and aluminum containers. If you don’t already have a compost bin, use your Thanksgiving fruit and vegetable trimmings to start one. The compost will enrich the soil in your garden next spring.

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Buy and Eat Locally Grown Food

potatoes and beets for sale at farmers market

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Buying only locally grown food is one good way to have a green Thanksgiving. Locally grown food is good for your table, your health, and the environment. Locally grown food tastes better than food that has to be grown and packaged for maximum shelf life, and it requires less fuel to reach store shelves. Locally grown food also contributes more to your local economy, supporting local farmers as well as local merchants.

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Make Your Meal Organic

Reusable grocery bags mean less waste and less demand for plastic.

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Using only organic food for your feast is another good green Thanksgiving strategy. Organic fruits, vegetables, and grains are grown without chemical pesticides and fertilizers; organic meat is produced without antibiotics and artificial hormones. The result is food that is better for your health and good for the environment. Organic farming also produces higher yields, increases soil fertility, prevents erosion, and is more cost-effective for farmers.

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Celebrate at Home

BIPOC child eating dinner with family at Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving weekend is one of the heaviest for highway travel in the United States. This year, why not reduce global warming and improve air quality by lowering your auto emissions at the same time that you lower your family's stress level? Skip the stressful holiday travel and celebrate a green Thanksgiving at home.

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Plant a Tree

Young trees in a green plastic box standing on a lawn.
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Trees absorb carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming—and gives off oxygen in return. Planting one tree may not seem to make much difference in the face of global climate change, but small things do matter. In one year, the average tree absorbs roughly 26 pounds of carbon dioxide and returns enough oxygen to supply a family of four.

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Make Your Own Eco-Friendly Decorations

Kids coloring crafts for Thanksgiving

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With a few simple supplies and a little imagination, you can make great eco-friendly Thanksgiving decorations and have a lot of fun in the process. Colored construction paper can be cut or folded into simple Pilgrim, turkey, and harvest decorations. Later, the paper can be recycled.

Baker’s clay, made from common kitchen ingredients, can be shaped and molded into holiday figures and colored with non-toxic paints or food coloring. To brighten up your dinner display, try using clay to make whimsical turkey table decorations.

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Make it a Spiritual Day

autumn aspen trees looking up

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Thanksgiving is a good time to count your blessings, beginning with the many ways the natural environment sustains and enriches our lives.

As part of your green Thanksgiving, make time for prayer, meditation, reflection, or perhaps just a walk in the woods to contemplate and give thanks for the wonders of nature.

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Say Thank You

Need a paper idea and looking for inspiration?

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Whatever else you do on Thanksgiving, make it a time to say thank you to the people in your life who matter most. If you are not spending Thanksgiving with some of the people you love, call, email, or write them a letter (on recycled paper) to tell them why they mean so much to you and how they make your world a better place.