The Reality Of My First Zero Waste Thanksgiving

It was this time last year that I wrote about hosting my first Thanksgiving.  I was lucky enough to be able to host Thanksgiving again this year. Being a military family, living close enough to have my in-laws join us for two years in a row is almost unheard of! I never take celebrating the holidays with my family for granted.

This year was a different kind of Thanksgiving feast. I’ve pledged to greatly reduce the amount of plastic we use as a family and go zero waste.  That meant planning out and shopping for our turkey day was going to be a challenge. The goal was to buy what I needed to make everything either unpackaged,  in bulk in my own container, or in a way that was compostable or recyclable without buying anything in a plastic container.

Unlike other forms of packaging products such as glass, aluminum, or paper, plastic is never truly able to be recycled. It can only be down-cycled until it’s reached the end of its life, where it then winds up in a landfill, forever. Forever. Let that fact sink in. That is what turned my life upside down as a consumer. I don’t want to contribute to that. That is the one of the many reasons that I’m going zero waste.

What’s for dinner?

First let’s talk about the food. I tried to find sides that were easily made with fresh ingredients and that I knew I could find unpackaged. Some of these items, such as the deviled eggs, are traditions within our family. I’ve created links to the recipes in case you are interested in them!

Appetizers- Deviled Eggs, Baked Brie and Homemade Triple Berry Sauce wrapped in a Crescent Roll, Black Olives, Pickles

Entree- Turkey

Sides- Triple Berry Sauce, Sweet potato casserole with a pecan streussel topping– This is suuuucchh a good recipe!! It’s my go to every year. Mashed Potatoes, Brown Sugar Glazed Roasted Carrots, Homemade Dinner Rolls, Gravy, Stuffing (provided by my mother in law)

Dessert- Pumpkin Pie, Pecan Pie (both with homemade crusts)

The Shopping List

  • Carrots (loose at Walmart)
  • White and Sweet potatoes (loose at the Military Commissary)
  • Cranberry’s (compostable cardboard box with *plastic window, at Hunger Mountain Co-op in Vermont)
  • Blueberry’s (recyclable plastic container)
  • Raspberry’s (recyclable plastic container)
  • Eggs (compostable paper carton at Walmart)
  • Mayo (recyclable plastic container)
  • Mustard (recyclable plastic container)
  • Pumpkin Puree (recyclable tin can)
  • Pecans (*plastic bag)
  • Flour (compostable paper bag)
  • White Sugar (compostable paper bag)
  • Brown Sugar (*plastic bag)
  • Corn Syrup (recyclable plastic container)
  • Butter (recyclable paper packaging, compostable wax wrapper)
  • Yeast (glass jar with tin lid, will be reused for bulk spice storage when empty)
  • Evaporated Milk (recyclable tin can)
  • Olives (recyclable tin can)
  • Pickles (glass jar with metal lid, will be reused for bulk storage when empty)
  • Brie (compostable paper carton, wrapped in plastic)
  • Crisco (*aluminum lined paper container with *plastic lid)
  • Pillsbury Crescent Roll (*aluminum lined plastic lid with *metal sides)
  • Turkey (*plastic bag with *plastic netting)
  • Olive Oil (*plastic and tin lid with recyclable glass bottle)
  • Spices (all I had on hand already, some came in glass bottles with tin lids that I’ll reuse for future bulk spice storage, some in recyclable plastic containers with plastic lids that I’ll also reuse for spice storage)
  • Milk (recyclable plastic container)

*Trash Created

There are areas I feel I could’ve done better. For example, I could’ve made the crescent roll sheet instead of buying it, as well as the pumpkin puree. I couldn’t find loose raspberry’s, blueberry’s or pecans.

I had to go to three different places to get this close to zero waste. Those include the Military Commissary on base, Walmart, and The Mustard Seed Natural and Organic Food Store. Luckily they are all fairly close, so the time spent and gas used was minimal.


Last year I made these linen napkins for our Thanksgiving meal, and they’ve continued to be our replacement for paper napkins ever since. I was gifted these gorgeous New Mexico (that’s my home state <3 ) linen napkins for Christmas last year, which is what we used for this years dinner. We use the same dishes and silverware every year also, given to me by my mother in law. It’s our special occasion set. There was no special “table setting” or centerpiece this year.

The Reality Of My First Zero Waste Thanksgiving-- Table Setting |


I stored all of our leftovers in glass jars, with one exception. I still have ziploc bags leftover from pre zero waste days that I wash and reuse until they become unusable. I portioned out the turkey and stored them in those in the freezer for future recipes.

We threw in the leftover veg and some turkey into turkey pot pies. I turned the leftover sweet potato casserole into sweet potato muffins. Aside from that, everything else was eaten quick enough that it didn’t go to waste.

Except for the multiple shopping venues, creating this low waste holiday meal was pretty easy. This years successes and fails will shape next years dinner, and every one after that.

What are some ways that you kept waste down during Thanksgiving? I’m always open to suggestions and tips!

Happy Holidays!



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