Cooking for the holidays? Here are 15 tips to an eco-friendly meal

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The holidays can be rough on the environment.

From turkey day to New Year’s Day alone, there’s a 25% uptick in trash produced in the U.S., according to the National Environmental Education Foundation.

And, each year the average American family wastes about 1,160 pounds of food — that’s $1,500 worth of grub, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Here are 15 tips to a more eco-friendly holiday meal.


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  • Mix it up and include items based on your heritage. (Collard greens, rice and potato salad were common turkey day side dishes in this reporter’s home.) Cooking the same dishes for Thanksgiving means mass production of ingredients like turkey and cranberries — and undue stress on food systems, according to the New York Times.

  • Containers. If you plan to share the grub afterward, ask your guests to bring their own. Also consider sustainable containers at home: mason jars, silicone bags, stainless steel tiffins, or upcycle those old spaghetti jars for a solid eco-friendly reusable option.


  • Avoid single-use items. Replace paper plates, plastic cutlery and cups with real dishware and cloth napkins, where you can. If you do use disposable items, opt for plates and utensils made from compostable materials.

  • Add a meat-free option: If you have vegetarian or vegan guests, make sure to have some plant-based protein options and reduce the amount of meat you are serving accordingly, said Mindy Granley, City of Duluth sustainability officer.

  • Share your environmental values: If you’re feeling brave, share your concerns about climate change with your family. A recent Yale climate communications study showed that 72% of American adults agreed the weather is changing. You can talk about the climate change impacts you are seeing, what you do in your daily life to reduce your environmental footprint, or brainstorm ways to make a difference in your community, Granley added.

  • Go natural with your decor. Consider pumpkins, gourds, pinecones, colorful leaves and branches for a centerpiece or table accent. These can be returned to earth, composted or eaten, which means they will avoid the landfill.


  • Go for bulk. Buy what you need from bulk bins, which are perfect for items such as beans, rice, flour, brown sugar, etc.

  • Local, local, local: Buy local and in-season produce, such as sweet potatoes and apples.


  • Share or prep leftovers. There are many ways to put leftovers to use. Incorporate them into a new recipe. Freeze leftovers that you know you will eat, or create a leftover station for your guests to fill up on before they leave.

  • Compost, compost, compost: Composting is a great way to keep food out of the landfill where it can’t break down. You can compost anything that was or is edible — meat, cheese, veggies, bones, tea bags, coffee grounds — at several local locations. Visit for more information.

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