Ask Eartha: Enjoy a sustainable Thanksgiving |

Ask Eartha: Enjoy a sustainable Thanksgiving

Eartha Steward
Ask Eartha
Forgoing the turkey and opting for plant-based options results in much lower carbon emissions. If you must gobble down the “gobble-gobble,” consider preparing less meat and more healthy vegetables instead.
Larry Crowe / AP | FR41490 AP

Hi, Eartha! With the holidays coming up I want to be conscious of the impacts holiday traditions have on our planet. How can I practice a more sustainable Thanksgiving?


Dillon Valley

Elsie, thanks for reaching out! The Thanksgiving holiday is all about expressing gratitude. Practicing sustainable behaviors, especially over the holidays, is a fantastic way to thank Mother Nature. Did you know that more than 90 percent of Americans spend Thanksgiving with family? Sharing your sustainable holiday ideas with loved ones is a great way to get others involved and make a broader impact.

There are several ways to be more sustainable over the holidays. For example, being aware of wasteful practices is a start. Consider food, water, trash, energy, transportation and shopping habits. Here are my top tips to ensure plentiful holidays for future generations.

Go with local & organic food

At its core, Thanksgiving is a national feast. Celebrating autumnal flavors with local food is a great way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On average, conventional food travels 1,500 miles from farm to fork. Those miles use up to 17 time more fuel — and emit up to 17 times more CO2 — than local food.

To start, pre-order your local or organic turkey from local retailers like Whole Foods or Vitamin Cottage. Vail Meat Co. offers humanely raised turkeys from nearby farms. And, local and organic produce is found in all major grocers in the area. Concerned about the cost of organic food? Try buying in bulk and check discounts regularly.

Consider eating less meat

Undoubtedly, turkey is the staple of the Thanksgiving meal. In fact, Americans consumed approximately 46 million turkeys on “turkey day” last year. These birds, although delicious, accounted for roughly 500 million pounds of CO2 emissions in just one day.

Forgoing the turkey and opting for plant-based options results in much lower carbon emissions. If you must gobble down the “gobble-gobble,” consider preparing less meat and more healthy vegetables instead.

Eliminate food waste

There are zero excuses for tossing extra food in the landfill this Thanksgiving — or ever. In the U.S., 133 billion pounds of food is lost or wasted each year, accounting for the single largest component of waste in our landfills. All that food waste creates methane, so it’s no surprise that landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions in the country.

First, do not toss food — eat it! Thanksgiving leftovers are delicious. Get creative with anything that was not eaten. Make soup stock from the turkey carcass and gravy, an egg hash of leftover veggies and turkey cranberry sandwiches (yeah!). The possibilities are endless, and the Instagram feed will surely reflect this. Use your freezer if you cannot scarf down any more green bean casserole or mashed potatoes. It will be a treat to eat at another time.

If you must toss some food, you can compost food scraps at the Frisco and Breckenridge recycling centers. This requires a fee-based membership to High Country Conservation Center’s Food Scrap Recycling Program. Learn more at

Choose reusable tableware

We know that disposable plates and napkins are not the environmentally friendly option. What you may not know is that it takes a lot of water to produce these disposable items. In the long run, it’s more efficient — both from a waste and water conservation perspective — to wash reusable tableware.

Plastic ends up in our oceans, which pollutes our water and harms wildlife. Additionally, paper plates and towels promote deforestation, which leads to biodiversity loss and increased CO2 emissions.

Drink from the tap

In Summit County, we have some of the cleanest and most mineral-dense water in the world. Use refillable containers and avoid the waste that comes with plastic bottles. Making mashed potatoes? The water left over from boiling potatoes provides an excellent nutritional supplement to your indoor plants. Just be sure the water is not salted and continue your usual fertilizer regimen. Dogs also love this treat as a topper to their crunchy kibble.

Be a conscious consumer

Consumerism drives continual creation of new products. This leads to depletion of resources, and degradation of our environment through greenhouse gas emissions. Remember, REFUSE is the first of the four Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. If you do not need something, do not buy it! If you are purchasing something new, commit to businesses with sustainable practices and packaging.

The holidays can quickly become a time of excess. Start with these tips and you’ll see that it’s not only feasible, it’s fun to cultivate sustainable holiday — and everyday — behaviors.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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