Every year I look forward to the week after Thanksgiving almost as much as I look forward to Thanksgiving itself. I love creating turkey or ham sandwiches and mishmash bowls filled with different sides from all of the leftovers.

I have leftovers covered when it comes to reducing how many resources get wasted at Thanksgiving but there is a lot more that you and I can do before, during and even after the holiday beyond microwaving a few meals.

Before Thanksgiving arrives, our days are filled with recipe planning, shopping and decorating. To cut down on waste after your event, begin by prepping the ingredients. Check your pantry and fridge before heading out to buy ingredients so you don’t buy unnecessary duplicates, and try to plan for some plant-based sides to cut down on meat consumption during the event so the meal and leftovers can get more mileage.

Avoid plastic grocery bags when heading into the store by bringing canvas bags that are now widely optional to use again in stores, or avoid bags altogether by using a short and long laundry basket in your cart that can be easily unloaded into the car and into your home.

When you come back home, make plans to defrost the turkey in the refrigerator a few days ahead instead of running it under water to decrease your water usage and make cooking easier.

During your holiday, have natural decorations out to celebrate and set the mood as you give thanks with family and friends. There are plenty of holiday decorations that can be set out or made using dried leaves and pine cones, just make sure to first bake the pine cones for 30 minutes at 225 degrees Fahrenheit to kill off any bugs hidden in them so you don’t have any unwanted guests at your feast.

Children in the family can make old-fashioned paper chains with reused paper, listing the things that everyone in the family is thankful for that year to hang around the house.

It’s always great to clean up as you go when cooking, especially during big meals like Thanksgiving dinner. As you clean, collect all of the paperboard boxes that you use such as the box your stuffing mix and brown sugar may have come in.

Rinse out any glass bottles and jars that are clear, brown or green and bi-metal cans, such as your soup cans, and then put them in the recycling bin. Your plastic tubs, any flexible plastic packaging, cartons and food-stained materials should go in the trash to be disposed of correctly.

Enjoy your meal with real silverware when possible and opt for paper plates made of recycled materials if you use disposables. Choose the aluminum cans for soft drinks and make sure to recycle them during the meal by having your recycling bin clearly visible and labeled for family and friends that are visiting.

As the meal finishes, throw your food scraps into the compost bin, but leave out the meat and dairy and keep it for leftovers or the trash. Meat and dairy in compost bins or piles can often attract pests or curious wildlife, while vegetables, bread and fruit scraps have limited risk.

To pack up the leftovers use reusable containers or ask guests to bring their own to take some leftovers home.

If you aren’t about to fall asleep from eating all of that turkey, you can even go ahead and load up your dishwasher for clean dishes. Only run your dishwasher when it is completely full, though. Dishwashers use between seven and 12 gallons of water a load so making sure you use it fully each time helps make sure each gallon is fully used and not wasted.

Hosting Thanksgiving can lead to a lot of stress and a lot of waste but it is worth it in the end to plan ahead how to handle the holiday. By planning ahead, you can save some money and show your thankfulness for the planet this Thanksgiving.

Amy Hartline is the recycling and education program coordinator for the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority. Have a recycling question? Contact her at (706) 278-5001 or ahartline@dwswa.org.

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