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Published November 21, 2008 08:43 PM

Green Your Thanksgiving, from Travel to Turkey

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday – I show up, stuff myself with some of my favorite foods, help clean up a little, and then lay on the couch and watch TV. No agonizing over the perfect gift, no holiday crowds…I don’t even have to cook.

But all of that gluttony does have a price that’s paid by the environment. From travel to turkey and beyond, there are many ways that this wonderful holiday can be more eco-friendly.

The not-so-friendly skies

Getting to your destination is half the battle, but the other half is what all of our travel does to the environment. If you can avoid flying, particularly short-haul flights, do so. Buses and trains are less expensive, and can be a bit of an adventure because you actually get to see things along the way. Regardless of your mode of transportation,consider offsetting your emissions. The money you pay for offsetting goes to projects that reduce carbon in the atmosphere, like reforestation and renewable energy.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving at your house, make sure to pay attention to what waste is being generated. Having a big crowd over for dinner can make it tempting to use disposable products instead of the real deal. This is especially true of cups, since we all tend to set them down, forget which one is ours, and grab another. If sheer numbers dictate that you must use disposable cups, have each person write their name on theirs so that they’ll only need one for the day. Then wash them and save them for next year.

With a little forethought, you can also reuse packaging to send leftovers home with guests. For those treats that you’re keeping yourself, don’t use plastic containers. Plastic leaches chemicals into food, especially when heated, so even if you store food in plastic transfer it to glass before reheating. Forgo disposable plates and utensils altogether, if possible. After all, it’s Thanksgiving – what better opportunity to use the good china and Grandma’s silver?


Gobble, gobble!

Thanksgiving is all about the food (well, other than that whole “giving thanks” part) so the choices you make with the menu are important. As you plan your shopping trip, consider what you might be able to buy at the local farmers’ market, and look for organic options.

Local food travels fewer miles, so it’s often fresher and more nutritious. It also saves on transportation-related emissions – do we really need to ship in an orange from Australia when we have Florida and California right here at home? Organic choices reduce your exposure to chemicals, which also affect the earth. Look into the organic, pasture-raised turkeys available at many stores and on the internet. As for produce, since organic is often more expensive than traditionally-grown, check out this list of the most chemical-laden fruits and veggies if you’re watching your budget. It will help you to get the most organic bang for your buck. Also, look back on last year’s Thanksgiving post for some great resources and recipes!

Finishing touches

A beautiful centerpiece can really make the Thanksgiving meal feel special. This year, forgo a short-lived flower arrangement – cut flowers are often flown in from developing countries that don’t have the same environmental protections that we rely on in the U.S. Try a green plant or several small pots of herbs, which will clean the air and season your cooking long after Thanksgiving is over. Oh, and FYI, those cute combination pots of different kinds of green plants don’t generally live very long either, due to the different watering needs of each variety. Stick with a single, hardy plant for best results.

If you enjoy breaking out the candlesticks for a little added ambiance, consider using soy or beeswax candles. Traditional paraffin wax candles are made from a petroleum derivative and create toxic fumes when burned – they have even been linked to bladder and kidney cancer in lab animals! Similarly, scented candles can contain artificial fragrances, as well as toxic chemicals like benzene and acetone. Look for candles that use essential oils for fragrances.

Go Cowboys!

If you’re not the one slaving away in the kitchen, odds are you’re in front of the TV for the parade or a football game. If you’re considering a new TV (maybe as a Christmas present for your football-loving honey?) make sure to look into energy-efficientEnergyStar-rated versions. New, more stringent requirements for achieving the rating make this an even more important consideration when buying a TV. Some models are also using new technologies to improve their impact on the environment. For example,Philips’ new EcoTV is a lead-free model that senses the amount of light in the room to automatically adjust screen brightness. It’s HD and 42”, so there’s no sacrificing quality for the environment on this one. Just don’t forget to properly dispose of your old model.

Black Friday

For many people, the day after Thanksgiving is the real highlight of the weekend, with millions hitting the malls for deals. If you’re into the thrill of the hunt, just keep in mind that poorly-made goods will live a short life that ends in a landfill. Think quality over quantity, and consider what your friends and family members actually need. Does your father-in-law really need (or want?) a fake singing bass nailed to a board? Does your child need another plastic toy that they will bore them by December 26th? Think about gifts that enable you to spend time with the people you love, like family outings to the aquarium or books that you read together. Ask for gifts that help the community, like a donation to your favorite charity. These gifts bring meaning to our lives, and can even save a few dollars – what better gift is that?

Do you have other ideas for ways to make your Thanksgiving more environmentally-friendly? Share them with us!

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