Say No to Fake Plastic Wishbones & Other Thanksgiving Waste

8 years ago

Lucky Break WishboneFake plastic wishbones? Around Thanksgiving time last year, I read a post by blogger Rejin from Urban Botany blasting People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for promoting plastic Lucky Break Wishbones. She wrote:

Hasn't PETA ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? They claim these wishbones and their packages are recyclable, but let's face it: 99.99% of them are going to end up in a landfill, or in the ocean, where they will probably be swallowed by sea turtles [And I would add baby albatross chicks] who will choke and die.... Animals, PETA, animals! Do you hear me?

Apparently PETA did not because the organization promoted the wishbones again this year. Products like these are what blogger Linda Anderson from Citizen Green would call "stupid plastic crap."

But I'm not here to pick on PETA. I relate this story because it got me thinking about other types of Thanksgiving waste. According to Bob Lilienfeld of the Use Less Stuff Report, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans generate 25 percent more waste per week than during the rest of the year. This creates an additional 1.2 million tons per week, or an extra 6 million tons, for the holiday season. Whether we're vegans, vegetarians, or carnivores, we can all find ways to reduce the amount of waste we generate during Thanksgiving, helping the planet as well as our wallets. So, here are a few suggestions I've come up with, beginning with that plastic wishbone:  

1) Don't Buy Stupid Plastic Crap. It's a waste of money. And although the company claims the wishbones are recyclable, I don't know of a single curbside recycling program that will actually recycle them. Sure, they'll pick them up if you put them in your recycle bin, but that's probably just another route to the landfill, or sadly the ocean which is where much of our plastic ends up. This single use item leads me to think about a few more we see during the holidays, in food packaging for example.  

2) Cook At Home to Save Money & Packaging Waste. In the past few years, more and more families have gone the take-out route for Thanksgiving, opting for pre-made Thanksgiving dinners from grocery stores like Safeway, and Whole Foods in an effort to save time. But author and eco-blogger, Terra Wellington, says that instead of saving time, we ought to plan to take time:

The irony of today’s world is that you have to set aside time to relax. Preparing a Thanksgiving meal that is meaningful and home-based takes time. So, plan for it. Take off the day. Ask for family help. Work together to prepare the meal and create family ties and traditions in the process.

Cooking at home is much less expensive than purchasing pre-made meals, and it can also generate much less packaging waste, depending on how you shop. Which brings me to my next suggestion...  

3) Shop the Farmers Market & Bulk Bins. Why skip the packaging waste from pre-made meals if you're just going to end up with packaging trash from all your cooking ingredients? Bring your own reusable bags and containers to the farmers market to buy fresh, seasonal, local foods for your Thanksgiving table.

EcoEastEnd's NO TRASH Thanksgiving Challenge is urging all residents of Long Island's East End to commit to zero waste this year. They go the extra step when encouraging market shoppers to bring their own containers:
You can even bring your own turkey pot to the farm and they will load the bird (all prepared) straight into your pot. No trash brought home.

Depending on where you live, there might be dishes you simply have to forego by shopping at the farmers market. But think of the fuel wasted to ship foods across the country, and you'll appreciated the food miles saved by eating locally.

Consider taking the 100 Mile Thanksgiving Challenge and get support and inspiration from the stories of other participants. Local Harvest and Slow Food USA ares good resources for finding foods for your Thanksgiving table.  

4) Choose a local, organic turkey. To give PETA and other environmental organizations their due, eating meat takes a heavy toll on the earth. In his beautiful article The Trouble With Turkey on Blue Avocado, Bob Kim lists the full range of environmental and ethical issues associated with eating turkey. While he doesn't insist that we stop eating it altogether, he does want us to be mindful of where our turkeys come from, how they were treated, and their impact on us and the planet.

With any luck, this year, as we begin to feast on that 20-pounder, we may find ourselves chewing a little more slowly, and not just because of the tryptophan. We may even pause for a minute to reflect: Hmm, a lot went into this turkey. Someone raised, killed, cleaned, packaged and delivered this bird to me. Someone rallied for cleaner and more local turkey production. Someone fought for better conditions for the worker, the consumer, and the turkey itself. Here, then, lies a picture-perfect product of the American food system, from start to finish.

5) Skip the Turkey Altogether. If buying an organic turkey is out of your price range, consider skipping it altogether. Unthinkable? No way. One of my happiest Thanksgivings was spent with friends at a vegetarian Thanksgiving potluck that really was a feast. Because "vegetarian" does not automatically mean ToFurkey, that processed tofu turkey that to me is just as fake as a plastic wishbone (albeit biodegradable) and is full of sodium and wheat gluten. Why buy a processed, overly packaged vegetarian substitute for turkey that will never taste like the real thing anyway? As Grist's April McGreger wrote last year:

When we begin to reconnect to land and place and attempt to eat a diet of locally grown whole foods, we have to reconsider our reliance on industrially produced soy burgers with lengthy ingredient lists full of words we can't pronounce.

For our feast, we had vegetable dishes, lentil casseroles, stuffed acorn squashes, yams, and all manner of savory delights. We just didn't have meat.

Vegetarian blogger Hannah from Bittersweet writes that while she normally considers Thanksgiving, with its emphasis on meat, to be a waste of time, one of her best memories is of a Thanksgiving meal she prepared for friends that included mashed potatoes, wild rice salad, butternut squash soup, asparagus casserole, glazed carrots, fresh bread, and her own homemade Cider-Marinated Tofu Turkeys, which look as delicious as they are cute.

Wendy from Fit & Frugal Natural Kitchen, in her post Greener Gobbling, describes a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner she prepared recently for some vegetarian friends who will be away during the actual holiday. She writes:

If you’re uncertain about toning down the prominence of Mr. Turkey, think about the brilliant colors, readily coordinated cooking times of veggie dishes, and efficiency of space less bird allows for. For our veggie-menu, I made: lentil and bean loaf, curried stuffing-topped carrot and broccoli casserole, honey-roasted root vegetables, whole wheat pumpkin cranberry loaf, garlicky mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy, and a spinach and tomato quinoa skillet, plus dessert. It was A LOT of food, and felt totally festive…but the best part was, in spite of all the dishes, the prep wasn’t all that demanding, and it seemed really easy to get the timing right.

Apparently, giving up the turkey is one way to save time without creating extra waste or sacrificing health. And speaking of health...

6) Purchase Organic Ingredients When Possible. Organic foods might cost more, but in the long run, they can help spare the health of our bodies and the planet from harmful pesticides and other chemicals. Check out for the list of the worst offenders and make sure to switch to organic for the foods at the top of the list. Potatoes, for example, rank #15 out of 47. Apples rank #2. Make sure milk and other dairy products are organic as well to avoid the health problems related to hormones in our food system. Read the IATP Smart Guide to Hormones in the Food System (PDF) for more information.

7) Choose reusable foodware, containers, and cookware. Remember that fake plastic wishbone? How many other single-use products do we buy in the interest of saving time? Paper plates and napkins? Plastic cups and utensils? Disposable turkey pan? Plastic wrap and disposable Gladware? It's all money down the drain. And a huge load on the planet. Thanksgiving is the time for giving thanks for what we have; not wasting it. Kristina Surface from sent me a ton of great waste-busting ideas via Facebook:

  • Using cloth napkins [Beth's note: my friend Jen uses colorful cotton bandanas that she bought for pennies. We enjoy looking up the hanky codes to find out what each color means, but that's just the kind of people we are. Don't click the link if you are easily offended.]
  • Borrow extra dishes, platters, serving ware from friends instead of buying more for just once a year use.
  • Use a "real" turkey pan instead of a throw-away foil one. Try to borrow one if you will only use it once or twice a year.
  • Ask guests to bring their own containers to carry home leftovers. If you're going to someone else's house, bring your own reusable container.

8) Skip the plastic oven bag. It might be tempting to cook your turkey in a plastic bag. And I have to admit that the only time in my entire life that I hosted Thanksgiving dinner, I used one of these. And it worked great. But aren't you somewhat worried about the chemicals that could leach out of the plastic during cooking? I realize the bags have been approved for food use by the FDA. But so has Bisphenol-A. Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. from the Mayo Clinic blog explains why it's crucial to remember to remove the plastic bag of giblets before cooking the turkey:

If the giblets are wrapped in plastic and the plastic bag melts, harmful chemicals may leach from the plastic into the surrounding meat. If you suspect that a plastic bag has melted inside the turkey, don't eat the giblets or the turkey.

So if that's the case, why is it okay to roast a turkey in a plastic oven bag? Even if the bag doesn't leach chemicals into the food, it's plastic, which means it's made from petroleum and is not biodegradable or recyclable. Zero waste means no plastic oven bags.

9) Don't Waste Money On the Plumber! The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday because it's the start of the holiday buying frenzy. But it's also Black Friday for plumbers, in part from all the clogged drains and disposals. Know what you should and should not put down your garbage disposal. Mary Kennedy Thompson, the president of Mr. Rooter Corporation, has a great list of Thanksgiving Plumbing Tips on the Mrs. Rooter Blog. Specifically, don't put grease, turkey bones & skin, or potato and onion peels down the disposal.

10) Compost and Recycle Food Waste. According to the recycling directory Earth 911, "At least 28 billion pounds of edible food is wasted each year – more than 100 pounds per person. If you can compost your food waste, now is the time to do it. But what about all that grease? San Francisco residents should check out for drop off locations. Where I live in the East Bay, we can bring our used cooking oil to several EBMUD locations. Colorado residents can participate in Holiday recycOil® 2009 - Saturday, November 28th - 10am to 2pm. Each of us can search for "cooking oil" on Earth 911 to find out where to take our old cooking grease.

Check out Earth 911's 10 things to know about recycling cooking oil. And for those who don't have a drop-off facility nearby, Earth 911 suggests other ways to reuse cooking oil.  

11) Find Uses for Leftover Foods. Why compost or recycle leftovers when it's not necessary? Donate extra food to a food bank. Or get as much use out of it as possible yourself. Lisa from Condo Blues offers How to Get Three Meals from Leftover and Seemingly Stripped Turkey Bones.  

12) Turn down the heat. Several bloggers have mentioned that when you have a house full of people generating body heat, as well as an oven working overtime, it really is easy to turn down the thermostat on Thanksgiving.  

13) Save Money on Travel. Sometimes flying is inevitable. But finding alternative modes of transportation can save energy as well as money. Here in the Bay Area, my husband and I take public transit to the home of whichever friend happens to be hosting Thanksgiving this year. Or we carpool with others. Driving can be a good option for longer trips, as long as you plan ahead to avoid traffic jams that lower your gas mileage. In her post, Green Your Thanksgiving from Travel to Turkey, Cassie Walker from Low Impact Living writes:

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.

And the author of Budget Travel Blog says of her last minute Thanksgiving plans:

I insisted that we drive. We usually fly to my in-laws house because the drive is on the long-ish side and the kids get really bored in the car but it’s a lot cheaper to drive. Our car gets great gas mileage and there are five of us so that’s a lot of savings compared to buying plane tickets.

She also plans to pack food for the trip, to avoid spending money at fast food restaurants.  

14) Bring Your Own. Since I am generally the guest at Thanksgiving dinners rather than the host, I have my own personal list of items I don't leave home without. First, I bring my own cloth napkin in case the host is using paper. Seriously. Because I know my friends and they aren't offended. Or they shouldn't be.

Hey, if you guys are reading this, are you offended when I bring my own cloth napkin? My own glass? Reusable drinking straw? :-)  

15) Express Thanks. Isn't it nice to have a day set aside each year to express thanks? We don't need plastic wishbones to do that. We don't even need a feast. Just the simple gratitude we feel for being alive right now on this remarkable planet.

Here are a few more links to ideas for a green and waste-free Thanksgiving:

Katy Farber: Green Your Thanksgiving

Linda Anderson: Have A Green Thanksgiving - Don't Gobble

Robin Shreeves from Mother Nature Network: 10 Easy Ways to Green Thanksgiving

Cool Foods Campaign: 10 Thanksgiving Tips

EPA's Thanksgiving tips


Beth Terry writes about finding creative ways to reduce her plastic consumption and plastic waste at Fake Plastic Fish and encourages others to join the fun. We only have one planet. Let's enjoy it instead of polluting it with plastic!

This is an article written by a member of the SheKnows Community. The SheKnows editorial team has not edited, vetted or endorsed the content of this post. Want to join our amazing community and share your own story? Sign up here.

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