Zero Waste Team: Thanksgiving – Leftovers, Not Landfill


A Message from the Zero Waste Team*

Zero Waste Tip Encourage guests to bring their own reusable leftover containers. Leftovers make a yummy snack the next day or can be frozen and reheated another time. 

Every year, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.  While there may be debate about the holiday itself, this article is about how to thoughtfully prepare for and arrange after to avoid piling up servings at the landfill.

In addition to just the plain old yuck factor of having too many leftovers and having to throw out food, we know that food waste is a major contributor to climate change.  While daily food waste is an issue that must be combatted, Thanksgiving could arguably be called the holiday for leftovers.  So many of us cook enough to ensure that we will have turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, among other culinary treats, for at least a week after the holiday.  People are encouraged to bring their own leftover containers when invited to another’s home for the day.  I am not going to argue about leftovers.  They’re terrific, especially if you have loved ones on a budget who could use a few extra meals in the fridge.  But if those leftovers don’t get eaten, we’re pulling the supply chain to create food items that could have been kept in its original form, whether that is a living animal or grains or other plant items or could have been used by those who would actually eat it.  

ReFed (food waste think tank and nonprofit) estimates that Americans waste 305 million pounds of food at Thanksgiving.  Production of that food is estimated to produce 1.1 -trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide and uses 1-billion gallons of water.  The waste, estimated by the Center for Biological Diversity, is broken down to 200 million pounds of turkey, 150 million pounds of side dishes and a few million pounds of dinner rolls.  

What can we do to mitigate this food waste, save money, and help our country meet its goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030?  The USDA has a few tips:

  • Plan your holiday meal per person realistically (1 lb. of turkey per person or 1.5 lbs. for leftovers) and reduce the side dishes, especially for smaller gatherings
  • Put leftovers in easy to identify containers for guests who attended the celebration or for others you know would appreciate and use the leftovers
  • Be creative with leftovers and specialty items used in meal preparation, e.g., make turkey chili or use whipped cream for French toast, use bones to make soup stock, etc.

However you choose to face this holiday season, being considerate of the environment and of those who experience food insecurity are good strategies for feeling good

Share your favorite experience, tips, and solutions to reduce food waste for Thanksgiving on the Los Alamos County Environmental Services Facebook page.

For more information, check out the Los Alamos County Environmental Services webpage at For those with questions or concerns, please contact Environmental Services at 505-662-8163 or

* Zero Waste Team:  The Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB) and Environmental Services Division (ESD) formed the Zero Waste Team to educate the community on: 

  1. reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions, and 
  2. conserving energy and water. 

Comprising community volunteers and Los Alamos County employees, the team achieves the ESB and ESD charge through printed and digital messaging that is shared through traditional media sites, social media, and brochures. Moreover, the Zero Waste team members work with individuals and organizations, such as restaurant owners, businesses, schools, and residents, to incorporate these best practices to reduce and conserve into daily routines. To join or contact the Zero Waste team, contact