Zero Waste Committee: Feast! But Don’t Waste


Holidays are the time for sharing our bounty with family and friends. Unfortunately, all that generosity can lead to waste.

Over Thanksgiving last year, Americans wasted about 204 million pounds of turkey alone, and it’s estimated that we will toss over 5 million tons of food between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

 Food waste is a year-round problem: In the U.S., we waste roughly 40 percent of the food we produce, enough to feed 2 billion people every year. When we throw away food, resources are squandered: food waste consumes 25 percent of our freshwater, 18 percent of our cropland and 21 percent of our landfill volume.

If wasted food was a country, it would be the third largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world, after the United States and China.

Locally, food makes up 17 percent of the waste Los Alamos residents send to the Rio Rancho landfill. This amounted to nearly 900 tons of food in 2017!

Here are a few ideas to reduce waste in the coming holiday season (and beyond):

  • Plan ahead … Before grocery shopping, make a plan. Think about the meals you’ll be cooking, the ingredients you’ll need to buy and what you already have on hand. Many useful meal planning apps and websites can be found at
  • Make a list—and stick to it! Use an app like Grocery IQ ( to help build your shopping list, or make one with old-school pen and paper. When shopping, avoid buying things not on your list. Don’t buy more than you can eat—you can use the Guestimator ( to estimate how much food you need to buy.
  • Shop package-free … Take your reusable shopping bags, jars and produce bags, and shop the bulk and produce areas of the store. This will help avoid packaging waste. Check for great ideas on zero waste shopping.
  • Keep food fresh … Learn to store foods properly to keep them fresh as long as possible. Check out Save the Food’s Food Storage Directory (
  • Use smaller plates … A lot of food gets wasted because our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, especially on Thanksgiving.
  • Plan ahead for leftovers … Keep containers on hand to store leftovers. Freezing is excellent for longer-term storage. Accumulate yogurt tubs, jars, etc. to send leftovers home with guests, or suggest that they bring their own containers. Plan to make stock out of leftover poultry and veggies.
  • Don’t toss food before it spoils … Often perfectly edible food is thrown away due to confusion about expiration dates and/or unjustified fear of spoilage. Labels such as Best By, Use By, Sell By and Expiration (EXP) are not food safety dates — they’re established by food manufacturers to provide an indication of “peak quality.” Find shelf life estimates for just about any food at When in doubt, if a food looks spoiled or smells off, toss it!
  • Share your bounty … Bought too much? Donate packaged food to LA Cares Food Bank (661.8015) or through Famine to Feast ( Even if you don’t have extra, donate anyway and help make the season brighter for others in the community.
  • Don’t send your food to the landfill – compost it! … Compost your food scraps and leftovers at home, ask your guests who compost, or find a friend or neighbor with a compost pile, or chickens! There are many ways to compost, here is some info to get started:

Other ideas to reduce waste during the holidays include: As a host, you may feel that you need to provide an over-abundance of food rather than just enough. But just enough is okay. Or, cook “just enough” of things that don’t reheat well. Decorate with natural elements like colorful leaves, pine cones, vegetables, etc., or use things you already have at home. Thrift stores are great places to find holiday décor! Attending large holiday gatherings at church, work, etc? Bring your own utensils, mug, plate, napkin, etc. to avoid using disposable tableware. Hosting a large meal? Ask folks to bring their own service ware, or see if a friend has an extra set to lend you.

After Thanksgiving, avoid over-buying of gifts by taking a hike or other family activity, and skip the Black Friday sales.

Remember that reducing waste during the holidays not only saves resources (and money!), it sets a great example for family and friends who may visit, and shows that you are truly thankful for the abundance that life offers us.

Have questions about waste reduction at the holidays, or in general? We’d love to help! Contact the Zero Waste Los Alamos Team at

Happy Holidays to all!