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How to have a low-waste, eco-friendly Thanksgiving

Dealing with leftovers is only one aspect of a greener Turkey Day.

Manny Rodriguez / Getty Images
This story is part of 2019 Holiday Survival Guide, featuring tips on the best ways to manage the holiday season.

I have so many childhood memories of standing at the kitchen counter next to my mom, helping her pick the leftover meat off the bones of the turkey, before placing it in a large pot with a mix of bones, spices and vegetables to make turkey soup. I used to resent the giant pot of soup -- namely, the effort that went into making it and how the seemingly bottomless pot meant we'd be eating turkey for a week. But now that I'm an adult with my own grocery bills, I appreciate the ingenuity of my Mom's soup making ritual. It's a delicious and economical way to use up leftovers.

The idea of low/no-waste cooking is nothing new. Frugal chefs have long found ways to get creative with leftover ingredients instead of discarding them (my mom's turkey soup is an iteration of my Russian-German great-grandmother's chicken soup). However, thanks to innovative eco-friendly products and easy-to-access recipes for every kind of ingredient, it's now easier than ever to create a low-waste Thanksgiving meal.

Get the right gear

Eco-friendly equipment for the big day can make a big difference.


Instead of using a disposable turkey pan, consider investing in a meat roaster that will serve you for many years to come. Not only does a roasting pan like this one reduce waste, it also makes for a better cooking experience. The solid stainless steel racks allow heat to circulate and the meat to drain as it cooks, while the handles make it easier to lift out of the oven.


A set of glass containers provides a versatile no-waste solution for cooking smaller side dishes and storing leftovers. Pyrex glass is dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave, preheated oven and freezer safe; which means you can use the containers to cook food and store leftovers -- thanks to BPA free lids. Unlike plastic food storage containers of yore, Pyrex glass and lids are non-porous so they will never absorb food odors, flavors or stains.


Whether you're baking cookies for dessert or roasting veggies to go along with your turkey, forgo aluminum foil in favor of parchment paper. However, what most people don't realize is that regular parchment paper isn't recyclable or compostable. To keep your waste to a minimum, use a biodegradable parchment paper which is unbleached and certified compostable.


Even if you think you have enough storage containers, there's always going to be a few dishes left over that need to be wrapped up (hello, 20 pound turkey carcass). Instead of using plastic wrap that will end up in the garbage once it's served its purpose, stock up on reusable food wrap. Try Bee's Wrap, an eco-friendly reusable food wrap made from organic cotton infused with sustainably harvested beeswax, jojoba oil, and tree resin. Available in a variety of adorable patterns, Bee's Wrap will keep your food fresh without the use of plastic. Simply wrap, wash with mild soap and reuse.

Speaking of soap and washing things, when cleaning up, consider eco-friendly cleaners and eco-friendly products that help reduce paper waste in the kitchen, including cellulose sponges and reusable paper towels.

Waste not, want not

Use (almost) every part of the turkey, and don't trash your vegetable trimmings -- but compost what you can't cook.

Buy local

A lot of the food we eat on a regular basis makes a long journey before it arrives in store and onto our plates. Reduce your carbon footprint by purchasing ingredients that have been produced locally. Whether you're shopping at your local farmer's market or grocery outlet, bring your own reusable bags to carry home produce and other items.

Freeze veggie trimmings for stock


Gnarly bits on carrots. Extra onions. Discarded green bits. Instead of disposing of these bits and bobs, collect all of your veggie trimmings and freeze them in a freezer-safe container (like these gallon size silicone zip-top bags) that you can add to throughout the holidays. Vegetable discards make the perfect base for homemade stock that can then be used in other dishes.

Read more on Chowhound: Easy ways to help fight food waste | Our favorite cookbooks for using up scraps, peels, and leftovers

Make carrot top pesto or chimichurri

Did you know you can eat carrot tops? Before you toss them in the compost, consider turning them into a tasty carrot top pesto or chimichurri sauce that you can then use to add an extra touch of flavor to turkey sandwiches. These often neglected greens also make a great addition to lentil soup. Use them right away or freeze them for future use.

Use the turkey neck and giblets for gravy


While your first impulse may be to toss these less than desirable parts of the bird, don't. They're packed with flavor. Use the neck bone and giblets to make the perfect gravy with this recipe that uses a mix of veggies, kosher salt, fresh sage, rosemary and whole peppercorns.

Cook up the giblets for your four legged friends

While the neck bone is off limits (the bones are a choking hazard), the giblets (which include the liver, kidneys, heart and gizzard) can make for a nice treat for your dog. Remove giblets from the cavity and/or their package and rinse with water. Next, put giblets in small pot and cover with water or broth. Place on stovetop and bring to boil. Reduce to medium and cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until giblets are cooked through. Remove from heat and allow to cool before serving to your thankful pup.

Make bone broth

If turkey soup isn't your scene, you can still use the carcass to make amazing bone broth (this Instant Pot recipe for bone broth is a great place to start). Freeze in smaller portions so that you add this nutrient-rich broth to your hearty stews, soups and chilis after the holidays.

Give a meal to a friend

The easiest way to make sure that leftover food doesn't go to waste is to give it away. Check in with your social circle. Do you have any friends that weren't able to go home for the holidays? What about an elderly neighbor who could use a warm meal? Show your gratitude this season by inviting others to experience the bounty. The more you share, the less you have to repurpose and freeze.

This story was written by Simone Paget.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.