How to reduce the carbon footprint of your Thanksgiving dinner

Written by TerraPass


Thanksgiving is all about family and tradition. Cooking the turkey, watching football, enjoying the company of friends and family are all time-honored traditions. The problem is many of these favorite activities have an increasingly negative impact on the environment. This year, consider starting some fresh turkey day traditions of your own—ones that are better for your health and the planet. Need some inspiration to help get you started on the path to an environmentally-conscious Thanksgiving day? We’ll help break down the real impact of your holiday dinner, and ways you can work to reduce your carbon footprint without sacrificing the fun or food of Thanksgiving.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Your Thanksgiving Dinner?

If you have ever hosted a Thanksgiving dinner, then you know how much time and effort goes into preparing the food, setting the table, and making sure guests arrive safely. However, what you may not realize is that each one of these things has a carbon footprint that has an effect on climate change. Below are a few common Thanksgiving traditions along with their estimated carbon footprint.


While many factors, including how you cook your bird, can affect the carbon footprint of your Thanksgiving meal, on average, each turkey produces 10.89 pounds of C02.


Your typical Thanksgiving side dishes of corn, potatoes, cranberries, and pumpkins are a little better when it comes to your carbon footprint because they are seasonal vegetables that can be stored longer and require less travel to get to your table. [1]


In 2019, the Transportation Security Administration expects record travel numbers, including more than 26.8 million airline passengers between November 22 and December 2. [2] Add that to all the local and cross-state driving, and the carbon footprint begins to jump significantly.


Watching football on TV can have a relatively low carbon footprint—around 0.088 kg CO2 per viewer-hour. [3] However, the real number can depend on the source of your home’s energy. That number may be even lower if your home is powered by renewable energy or a solar panel on your own roof.

Shop Locally, Buy Locally

Buying local is one of the best ways you can help reduce the carbon footprint of your food consumption, especially during the largest meal of the year. Shopping locally grown produce reduces the distance your food has to travel, which reduces carbon emissions and air pollution from the food production cycle. As a bonus, locally grown organic fruits and vegetables will taste great and help support more sustainable farming practices. [4]

What to Do With Your Leftovers

Americans are expected to throw away about $282 million dollars of turkey this Thanksgiving. Those leftovers, in the form of food waste, will be responsible for GHG emissions that are equal to 800,000 car trips from New York to San Francisco! Do your part this holiday to reduce and eliminate your leftovers. Be sure to use up what you can, and consider composting the rest.

How Are You Traveling?

How you get to your Thanksgiving dinner will have the most substantial impact on your carbon footprint. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) American cars emit close to 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. [5] While this makes driving to your destination not ideal, flying is even worse for the environment. A family of four who flies 600 miles to their destination will produce a carbon footprint ten times larger than your average Thanksgiving dinner before they even take their first bite! [6]

Reducing Your Travel Carbon Footprint

To help reduce your potential emissions, be considerate of how you travel. Some ways to help reduce the environmental impact of your travel include:

  • Ride your bike or walk when possible
  • Carpool with friends and family
  • Avoid air travel when possible
  • Take public transportation
  • Use electric vehicles

How Much Time Are You Spending in Front of the TV?

Watching TV is one of the most popular activities during Thanksgiving weekend, with viewers tuning in for an average of 3.7 hours per day. [7] Unless you get your power from green, renewable energy sources, then you may want to consider swapping out those hours of TV with some greener alternatives like going for a walk, talking with friends, or even looking through some old family photos.

How to Host a Carbon-Neutral Thanksgiving Event

While following some of the tips mentioned above will help you celebrate a greener Thanksgiving, eliminating your carbon footprint all together is more complicated. For those wanting a carbon-neutral event, carbon offsets might be your best bet. Carbon offsets can help balance your impact, especially when substantial carbon-emitting activities like air travel are unavoidable. You can start by using our free carbon footprint calculator to calculate the carbon footprint of your daily activities. This can give you a better idea of your personal impact and how many offsets it will take to balance it.


  1. Blouin, Lou. “What’s the Carbon Footprint of a Typical Thanksgiving?” The Allegheny Front, 21 Nov. 2018,
  2. “Thanksgiving Travel Rush Likely to Shatter Records.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report,
  3. Chandaria, Jigna, et al. “The carbon footprint of watching television, comparing digital terrestrial television with video-on-demand.” footprint_of_watching_television_comparing_digital_terrestrial_television_with_video-on-demand.
  4. “The Environmental Benefits of Buying Locally.” Go Green,
  5. “Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 21 Nov. 2016,
  6. staff, Science X. “Thanksgiving Dinner’s Carbon Footprint: A State-by-State Comparison.”,, 22 Nov. 2016,
  7. “Thanksgiving: BLS Spotlight on Statistics”

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