The holiday season is wonderful. It’s the time of year to bundle up, spend some time with friends and family, and eat some really good food. However, along with all that food comes extra packaging, leftovers, and ultimately—waste. In fact, over 200 million pounds of perfectly edible turkey meat will end up in our nation’s landfills once Thanksgiving comes to an end. Not only is that a waste of money, as that turkey decomposes it also has the environmental impact equivalent to 800,000 cars driving from New York to San Francisco.

For anyone trying to live green and have a sustainable Thanksgiving, it may feel like a bit of a nightmare. Thankfully, you don’t have to toss out your eco-friendly lifestyle with your turkey when the holidays roll around. Try these 15 green Thanksgiving tips for a more eco-friendly Thanksgiving this year.

Eco-Friendly Decorations

While it’s tempting to pick up some decorations at the store, the number of toxins, glues, and plastics used in creating those cute designs certainly don’t make for an eco-friendly Thanksgiving. Instead, decorate by bringing nature into your home and make your own decorations. Here are a couple ideas for natural decorations you can make using natural, repurposed, or recycled materials that won’t break the bank.

1. Bring the Outdoors In

Fall is the perfect time to take an outdoor walk to find some fun (and natural) Thanksgiving decorations. If you have lots of pine cones in your area, you might consider turning them into place card holders as part of your eco-friendly table setting. They’re cute, eco-friendly, and best of all—they hardly cost a thing.

2. Light Up Your Table

There are plenty of fun, eco-friendly table settings you can create with natural items you can find just outside your front door. A fall leaf candle is as simple as repurposing a glass jar and using Mod Podge to attach some beautiful dried leaves. Add a tea light, and it’s done!

If you have some small pumpkins you’ve grown in your garden or want to pick up a few from the store, they can easily be turned into decorative candle holders for an eco-friendly table setting. After you’ve celebrated your sustainable Thanksgiving, simply add them to your compost pile.

3. Repurpose Materials

Whether you eat meat or not, Thanksgiving and turkeys go hand in hand. Forgo the real turkey and make a turkey out of repurposed toilet paper rolls to decorate your home instead. Enjoy this green thanksgiving tip and enjoy turkey in a different way this year.

Eco-Friendly Dinner Ideas

There are plenty of ways to create a more sustainable Thanksgiving, but perhaps the greatest impact comes from what you decide to do for Thanksgiving dinner. Over-purchasing food leads to wasted food scraps and excess packaging that inevitably find their way into the garbage bin and landfills around the country. Maintain an eco-friendly Thanksgiving with these green Thanksgiving tips below.

4. Try a Vegan or Vegetarian Thanksgiving

You might not be a vegetarian or vegan, but there’s no denying the impact that meat eating has on our environment. On a day when most tables are filled with meat, you might try lightening the environmental load by choosing to try different dishes for your Thanksgiving meal. Taking meat off the menu will also allow you to experiment with some tasty Thanksgiving recipes you might otherwise miss out on.

Try making roasted tomato and fennel bisque for a starter, mashed potatoes with savory mushroom gravy and sourdough stuffing for sides, a shallot and shiitake seitan wellington for your main dish, and a vegan caramel apple pie for dessert.

5. Buy Your Food Locally

Short of growing your own food, the most eco-friendly way to get your produce is to buy it locally whether from farmers markets, farms, or even locally sourced products in your supermarket. Purchasing food grown near where you live reduces the impact it has on the environment because it doesn’t have to travel as far to get to you, using less carbon in the process. Plus, purchasing food locally encourages you to purchase seasonal items which have greater nutritional value.

6. Purchase Organic Food

If local food isn’t available, the next best option is organic. Make organic produce part of your eco-friendly Thanksgiving this year. Organic produce is not only better for you, it’s also better for the environment because it doesn’t use the harmful pesticides and fertilizers used on other produce, and hasn’t been genetically modified in any way. Go organic for a more sustainable Thanksgiving.

7. Get an Organic Turkey

If going without turkey during your eco-friendly Thanksgiving is out of the question, don’t just grab the cheapest bird you can find. Instead, look for an organic turkey that was pasture-raised and enjoy your meal knowing you contributed to ethical farming practices.

8. Bring Your Own Bag

This point isn’t so much about what you eat for your eco-friendly Thanksgiving as it is about how you get it home. Because you’re likely to purchase more food than normal for your Thanksgiving meal, you’re also likely to have more bags to load into your car as well. Instead of using the plastic bags at the store, bring your own cloth bags with you and cut down on wasteful plastic bags that will never decompose.

Eco-Friendly Clean-Up

Making your Thanksgiving dinner as eco-friendly as possible starts with some careful planning and keeping clean-up in mind. Here are a few green Thanksgiving tips on how to reduce waste while you plan the perfect meal.

9. Reduce Your Food Waste

The best way to reduce waste for an eco-friendly Thanksgiving is to cut down on how much food you buy in the first place. While we all love Thanksgiving leftovers, it will save you time and wasted food if you are realistic about how much food your family will actually eat during the holiday. If you have leftovers you know you won’t use, send what you can home with your guests—they’ll appreciate not having to cook on Black Friday.

10. Cut Down on Plastic

Another way you can cut down on waste for a sustainable Thanksgiving clean-up is to be mindful of the packaging when you purchase food for Thanksgiving dinner. Choose foods with minimal to no packaging or with packaging that is easily recycled like cardboard or glass.

11. Get a Good Roasting Pan

Although disposable pans are easy to toss after the meal is over, they are definitely not part of an eco-friendly Thanksgiving. Treat yourself this year and get a good quality glass or ceramic roasting pan that will last for years to come.

12. Forgo Paper Napkins

For great eco-friendly table settings, ditch the paper napkins and use cloth instead. When you realize that the average American uses six napkins each day (2,200 per year), you’ll realize why doing your part to cut down on this waste is so important. Plus, you can even turn your cloth napkins into an eco-friendly table setting by making these cute turkey napkins.

13. Store Leftovers Ethically

For the leftovers, you decide to store in your fridge, skip the plastic wrap and use reusable glass containers, glass jars, or wax wraps instead. There are lots of options to keep your food fresh without creating more waste.

14. Compost and Recycle

This is probably the most obvious way to reduce waste on our list, but composting leftover food and recycling packaging really helps reduce what ends up in landfills during the holidays. You might even put out a small recycle bin and compost bin for guests to make your job easier after the meal is done.

15. Use Nice China

It’s tempting to use disposable plates and cups, especially if you’re planning on lots of guests at your Thanksgiving meal. Do the environment (and your decor) a favor and use the nice china. It will keep those paper plates out of a landfill and make your other eco-friendly table settings stand out beautifully. If you don’t have eco-friendly serving dishes, head over to your local thrift store and find a few for the big day.

Start a Tradition

The holidays are a great time to spend growing closer to our families, spending time with the ones we love, and starting traditions for future generations to follow. Make an eco-friendly Thanksgiving part of your family tradition with our green Thanksgiving tips and promote sustainable Thanksgiving celebrations for generations to come.

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