Thanksgiving is upon us, and as you contemplate what you are thankful for, don’t forget your thanks for Mother Nature. After all there would be no food on your plate without her.

It may be too late for a full green overhaul of your Thanksgiving plans -- and let’s face it -- you’re just trying to survive your family, finish the cooking and get your football on. We’re not going to try to get you to buy a home composting system or track down a Wednesday-night farmer’s market for an all-organic menu makeover.

But there are subtle, seemingly obvious ways you can “green” your Thanksgiving holiday. They may seem like small gestures, but with millions of people celebrating, if we all make a few changes we can really show the Earth our thanks.

  • 1
    Take (Any) Reusable Bag
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    You hear it all the time. What you don’t hear is that you don’t have to buy a bunch of Whole Foods logo recycled bags to be green on your grocery trip. Look in your closet. You have that tote they gave away at last year’s convention. Or your kid’s beach basket that you retired for the winter. Use whatever you have at the house. Anything is better than a plastic bag. And repurposing something you already own is greener than buying a reusable bag anyway.
  • 2
    Avoid Superfluous Food Packaging
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    When choosing between the lettuce in the plastic container and the loose leaf, take the extra minute to gather the loose leaf. Don’t pick the single cucumber in seran wrap. Get rice and nuts from the bulk bins -- and again -- bring your own bag to scoop it in.
  • 3
    Don’t Use Paper Plates Or Plastic Cutlery, Even If It’s A Big Crowd.
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    Soiled products like paper plates and napkins are typically NOT recyclable. Styrofoam is not only not recyclable but also often leaches toxic chemicals when exposed to heat (like from a hot slice of turkey). Use cloth napkins, and if you don’t own enough plates, buy bamboo plates and cutlery for the event and save them for the next party. Get super cheap mason jars at a hardware store and reuse them as flower vases or candle holders later.
  • 4
    Skip The Beef
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    While a common staple, beef is not an essential ingredient in your stuffing recipe, and in light of the recent study that found the U.S. might be emitting 50% more methane than previously thought, we could all stand to go easy on the beef (cattle are one of the biggest emitters of methane in the U.S.).
  • 5
    Carpool -- Or Bike!
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    Carpooling is so often overlooked, when in reality, just a tiny extra effort to coordinate rides cuts your overall gas consumption by at least half, depending on how many people ride together. Pick your cousins up on the way to Grandma’s. Going to a gathering in your own neighborhood? Bike there! Afterward, you’ll feel more justified in gobbling that extra slice of pie.
  • 6
    While Serving Yourself, Err On The Side Of Full
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    Food waste is probably the biggest environmental tragedy that comes out of Thanksgiving. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates Americans throw away 40 percent of their food every year. Our Thanksgiving instincts are to plop as much grub in front of us as possible. But once that food hits your plate, any leftovers are likely ending up in the trash. Start with a small portion and get more as you need it. Added bonus: you’ll probably end up consuming fewer calories with this strategy too.
  • 7
    Don’t Mindlessly Pour Water
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    Unless you’re planning to water your plants with the leftovers, the above rule on waste applies to drinking water as well. Don’t fill your guests’ water glasses as soon as they’ve taken a sip. Leave glass pitchers or carafes out on the table and think about attaching a cute note encouraging people to only pour what they need.
  • 8
    Take To-Go Containers To The Party, Or Ask Guests To Bring Them
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    If one household is overwhelmed with the leftovers, it’s more likely than not that a lot of that food will get thrown out. Bring an eco-friendly to-go container (something with a lid, ideally plastic-free), or if you are the host, ask your guests ahead of time to bring a to-go container for leftovers. Being prepared with a container prevents the use of ziplocs, seran wrap, and other single use plastics.
  • 9
    Give It Away The Next Day
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    If you get stuck with the leftover pie but fear the calories, don’t throw it away. Give it to a neighbor, take it to work or have your kids’ friends over for a dessert party.
  • 10
    Clean Green
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    Use rags instead of paper towels or even sponges. Hang dry linens after washing them. Turn the water off every time you stop to add soap to dishes. Choose environmentally-friendly cleaning products from the Environmental Working Group’s database of human and environment-safe cleaners (you’ll be surprised which make the cut and which don’t). EWG grades over 2,000 cleaning products and you can search by which kind of cleaning you're doing or just how green you want to go.
  • 11
    Help Your Guests Help You Clean
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    If you don’t use all reusable supplies for your dinner, set out bins that make it easy for your guests to properly dispose of their waste. Clearly mark where recycling goes versus trash. Remind them what is recyclable, and make sure every one of those beer and wine bottles make it into the recycling bin.
  • 12
    And Just Maybe ... Skip Black Friday?!
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    Think of all the things you could be doing with that day instead of driving all over town (gas) buying brand new stuff you don’t reaaaally need (don’t forget you’re buying that superfluous item’s carbon footprint, too). Go on a hike on Friday. Read a book. Play a board game. Or, repair something you otherwise planned to replace. (The outdoor retailer Patagonia, in its perpetual enlightenment, is actually throwing “A Party To Celebrate What You Already Own” at selected stores as part of their Worn Wear campaign, where visitors can learn how to repair the clothes they already own).

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