I love Thanksgiving because our kitchen fills with good smells, lots of cooking commotion and laughter. It is a time we feel connected to each other, our community and our history as we come together to feast, celebrate and give thanks. At our house, that means sharing a turkey dinner with all the fixings — gravy, cranberry sauce, squash, potatoes, green beans, stuffing and pie — with family and friends. There are always leftovers, and we enjoy snacking on them for days.
Unfortunately, Thanksgiving Day feasts can also result in too much waste. In fact, the USDA reports that Americans waste about 35 percent of the turkey we purchase, and much of that food waste ends up in landfills.
The Agency of Natural Resources has worked with partners around the state to provide better alternatives for handling Vermont’s food waste. Over the course of the next several months the state will begin implementing Vermont’s new Universal Recycling Law. Under this new law, all of Vermont’s food waste will be put to beneficial use by 2020, with the businesses that are the largest generators of food waste beginning to divert their food waste by July 2014. This is great for Vermont because food waste and other organic materials constitute nearly a third of what we throw into our landfills, using up valuable space. Once in our landfills, these materials slowly decay, emitting methane gas — a greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change. In contrast, when composted, food waste becomes a valuable soil amendment, making our fields more fertile and our gardens more productive.
Although the Universal Recycling Law won’t be fully implemented for a few more years, you don’t have to wait to ensure that less food is wasted and landfilled this year. Below are five tips to help you have a zero waste Thanksgiving celebration.
Smart shopping. A well-planned shopping list helps reduce waste at the source. Buying a smaller bird allows us to be thankful for each and every morsel.
Celebrate for days. Stretch your dollars and reduce your waste by enjoying leftovers for days. Turkey sandwiches and hearty soups are great post-Thanksgiving treats.
If you don’t eat it, freeze it. Leftovers you don’t get to can often be frozen for later enjoyment.
Share the bounty. Donating food is an enriching way to express the spirit of Thanksgiving and reduce food waste.
Compost. Food scraps that are not consumed still have value as compost. Backyard composting at home, and centralized commercial composting turn food scraps into nutrient rich soil to grow more food.
Like the earliest Americans, Vermonters know that our continued prosperity depends upon the stewardship of the land we live on. We can protect and preserve Vermont’s natural environment for future generations, and one way to do this is to make sure we don’t waste our important resources. By keeping these tips in mind we will all have one more reason to be thankful this Thanksgiving Day.
Deb Markowitz is the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.
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