The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

November 18, 2009

Say No to Fake Plastic Wishbones & Other Thanksgiving Waste

Lucky Break WishboneFake plastic wishbones?  Around Thanksgiving time last year, I read a post by blogger Rejin from Urban Botany blasting People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for promoting plastic Lucky Break Wishbones .  She wrote:

Hasn’t PETA ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? They claim these wishbones and their packages are recyclable, but let’s face it: 99.99% of them are going to end up in a landfill, or in the ocean, where they will probably be swallowed by sea turtles [And I would add baby albatross chicks] who will choke and die…. Animals, PETA, animals! Do you hear me?

Apparently PETA did not because the organization promoted the wishbones again this year.

But I’m not here to pick on PETA. I relate this story because it got me thinking about other types of Thanksgiving waste.  According to Bob Lilienfeld of the Use Less Stuff Report,  between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans generate 25 percent more waste per week than during the rest of the year. This creates an additional 1.2 million tons per week, or an extra 6 million tons, for the holiday season. Whether we’re vegans, vegetarians, or carnivores, we can all find ways to reduce the amount of waste we generate during Thanksgiving, helping the planet as well as our wallets.  So, here are a few suggestions I’ve come up with, beginning with that plastic wishbone:

1) Don’t Buy Stupid Plastic Crap. It’s a waste of money.  And although the company claims the wishbones are recyclable, I don’t know of a single curbside recycling program that will actually recycle them.  Sure, they’ll pick them up if you put them in your recycle bin,  but that’s probably just another route to the landfill, or sadly the ocean which is where much of our plastic ends up.  This single use item leads me to think about a few more we see during the holidays, in food packaging for example.

2) Cook At Home to Save Money & Packaging Waste. In the past few years, more and more families have gone the take-out route for Thanksgiving, opting for pre-made Thanksgiving dinners from grocery stores like Safeway, and Whole Foods in an effort to save time.  But author and eco-blogger, Terra Wellington says that instead of saving time, we ought to plan to take time:

The irony of today’s world is that you have to set aside time to relax. Preparing a Thanksgiving meal that is meaningful and home-based takes time. So, plan for it. Take off the day. Ask for family help. Work together to prepare the meal and create family ties and traditions in the process.

Cooking at home is much less expensive than purchasing pre-made meals, and it can also generate much less packaging waste, depending on how you shop.  Which brings me to  my next suggestion…

3) Shop the Farmers Market & Bulk Bins. Why skip the packaging waste from pre-made meals if you’re just going to end up with packaging trash from all your cooking ingredients?  Bring your own reusable bags and containers to the farmers market to buy fresh, seasonal, local foods  for your Thanksgiving table.

EcoEastEnd’s NO TRASH Thanksgiving Challenge is urging all residents of Long Island’s East End to commit to zero waste this year.  They go the extra step when encouraging market shoppers to bring their own containers:
You can even bring your own turkey pot to the farm and they will load the bird (all prepared) straight into your pot. No trash brought home.

Depending on where you live, there might be dishes you simply have to forego by shopping at the farmers market.  But think of the fuel wasted to ship foods across the country, and you’ll appreciated the food miles saved by eating locally.

Consider taking the 100 Mile Thanksgiving Challenge.    Local Harvest and Slow Food USA ares good resources for finding foods for your Thanksgiving table.

4) Choose a local, organic turkey. To give PETA and other environmental organizations their due, eating meat takes a heavy toll on the earth.  In his beautiful article The Trouble With Turkey on Blue Avocado, Bob Kim lists the full range of environmental and ethical issues associated with eating turkey.  While he doesn’t insist that we stop eating it altogether, he does want us to be mindful of where our turkeys come from, how they were treated, and their impact on us and the planet.

With any luck, this year, as we begin to feast on that 20-pounder, we may find ourselves chewing a little more slowly, and not just because of the tryptophan.

We may even pause for a minute to reflect: Hmm, a lot went into this turkey. Someone raised, killed, cleaned, packaged and delivered this bird to me. Someone rallied for cleaner and more local turkey production. Someone fought for better conditions for the worker, the consumer, and the turkey itself. Here, then, lies a picture-perfect product of the American food system, from start to finish.

5) Skip the Turkey Altogether. If buying an organic turkey is out of your price range, consider skipping it altogether.  Unthinkable?  No way.  One of my happiest Thanksgivings was spent with friends at a vegetarian Thanksgiving potluck that really was a feast.  Because “vegetarian” does not automatically mean ToFurkey, that processed tofu turkey that to me is just as fake as a plastic wishbone (albeit biodegradable)  and is full of sodium and wheat gluten.  Why buy a processed, overly packaged vegetarian substitute for turkey that will never taste like the real thing anyway? As Grist’s April McGreger wrote last year:

When we begin to reconnect to land and place and attempt to eat a diet of locally grown whole foods, we have to reconsider our reliance on industrially produced soy burgers with lengthy ingredient lists full of words we can’t pronounce.

For our feast, we had vegetable dishes, lentil casseroles, stuffed acorn squashes, yams, and all manner of savory delights.  We just didn’t have meat.

Vegetarian blogger Hannah from Bittersweet writes that while she normally considers Thanksgiving, with its emphasis on meat, to be a waste of time, one of her best memories is of a Thanksgiving meal she prepared for friends that included mashed potatoes, wild rice salad, butternut squash soup, asparagus casserole, glazed carrots, fresh bread, and her own homemade Cider-Marinated Tofu Turkeys, which look as delicious as they are cute.

Wendy from Fit & Frugal Natural Kitchen, in her post Greener Gobbling,  describes a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner she prepared recently for some vegetarian friends who will be away during the actual holiday.  She writes:

If you’re uncertain about toning down the prominence of Mr. Turkey, think about the brilliant colors, readily coordinated cooking times of veggie dishes, and efficiency of space less bird allows for. For our veggie-menu, I made: lentil and bean loaf, curried stuffing-topped carrot and broccoli casserole, honey-roasted root vegetables, whole wheat pumpkin cranberry loaf, garlicky mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy, and a spinach and tomato quinoa skillet, plus dessert. It was A LOT of food, and felt totally festive…but the best part was, in spite of all the dishes, the prep wasn’t all that demanding, and  it seemed really easy to get the timing right.

Apparently, giving up the turkey is one way to save time without creating extra waste or sacrificing health.  And speaking of health…

6) Purchase Organic Ingredients When Possible. Organic foods might cost more, but in the long run, they can help spare the health of our bodies and the planet from harmful pesticides and other chemicals.  Check out EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce to avoid the worst offenders, as well as IATP Smart Guide to Hormones in the Food System (PDF) for more information.

7)  Choose reusable food ware, containers, and cookware. Remember that fake plastic wishbone?  How many other single-use products do we buy in the interest of saving time?  Paper plates and napkins?  Plastic cups and utensils?  Disposable turkey pan?  Plastic wrap and disposable Gladware?  It’s all money down the drain.  And a huge load on the planet.  Thanksgiving is the time for giving thanks for what we have; not wasting it.

Kristina Surface from sent me a ton of great waste-busting ideas via Facebook:

  • Using cloth napkins [Beth’s note: my friend Jen uses colorful cotton bandanas that she bought for pennies.  We enjoy looking up the hanky codes to find out what each color means, but that’s just the kind of people we are.  Don’t click the link if you are easily offended.]
  • Borrow extra dishes, platters, serving ware from friends instead of buying more for just once a year use.
  • Use a “real” turkey pan instead of a throw-away foil one.  Try to borrow one if you will only use it once or twice a year.
  • Ask guests to bring their own containers to carry home leftovers.  If you’re going to someone else’s house, bring your own reusable container.

8) Skip the plastic oven bag. It might be tempting to cook your turkey in a plastic bag.  And I have to admit that the only time in my entire life that I hosted Thanksgiving dinner, I used one of these.  And it worked great.  But aren’t you somewhat worried about the chemicals that could leach out of the plastic during cooking?  I realize the bags have been approved for food use by the FDA.  But so has Bisphenol-A.

Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. from the Mayo Clinic blog explains why it’s crucial to remember to remove the plastic bag of giblets before cooking the turkey:

If the giblets are wrapped in plastic and the plastic bag melts, harmful chemicals may leach from the plastic into the surrounding meat. If you suspect that a plastic bag has melted inside the turkey, don’t eat the giblets or the turkey.

So if that’s the case, why is it okay to roast a turkey in a plastic oven bag? Even if the bag doesn’t leach chemicals into the food, it’s plastic, which means it’s made from petroleum and is not biodegradable or recyclable. Zero waste means no plastic oven bags.

9)  Don’t Waste Money On the Plumber! The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday because it’s the start of the holiday buying frenzy.  But it’s also Black Friday for plumbers, in part from all the clogged drains and disposals.  Know what you should and should not put down your garbage disposal.   Mary Kennedy Thompson, the president of Mr. Rooter Corporation, has a great list of  Holiday Plumbing Tips on the Mrs. Rooter Blog.  Specifically, don’t put grease, turkey bones & skin,  or potato and onion peels down the disposal.

10) Compost and Recycle Food Waste. According to the recycling directory Earth 911, “At least 28 billion pounds of edible food is wasted each year — more than 100 pounds per person.  If you can compost your food waste, now is the time to do it.  But what about all that grease?   San Francisco residents should check out for drop off locations.  Where I live in the East Bay, we can bring our used cooking oil to several EBMUD locations.  Colorado residents can participate in Holiday recycOil® 2009 – Saturday, November 28th – 10am to 2pm.  Each of us can search for “cooking oil” on Earth 911 to find out where to take our old cooking grease.

11)  Find Uses for Leftover Foods. Why compost or recycle leftovers when it’s not necessary?  Donate extra food to a food bank.  Or get as much use out of it as possible yourself.  Lisa from Condo Blues offers  How to Get Three Meals from Leftover and Seemingly Stripped Turkey Bones.

12)  Turn down the heat. Several bloggers have mentioned that when you have a house full of people generating body heat, as well as an oven working overtime, it really is easy to turn down the thermostat on Thanksgiving.

13)  Save Money on Travel. Sometimes flying is inevitable.  But finding alternative modes of transportation can save energy as well as money.  Here in the Bay Area, my husband and I take public transit to the home of whichever friend happens to be hosting Thanksgiving this year.  Or we carpool with others.  Driving can be a good option for longer trips, as long as you plan ahead to avoid traffic jams that lower your gas mileage.

In her post, Green Your Thanksgiving from Travel to Turkey, Cassie Walker from Low Impact Living writes:

Getting to your destination is half the battle, but the other half is what all of our travel does to the environment. If you can avoid flying, particularly short-haul flights, do so. Buses and trains are less expensive, and can be a bit of an adventure because you actually get to see things along the way. Regardless of your mode of transportation, consider offsetting your emissions. The money you pay for offsetting goes to projects that reduce carbon in the atmosphere, like reforestation and renewable energy.

And the author of Budget Travel Blog says of her last minute Thanksgiving plans:

I insisted that we drive. We usually fly to my in-laws house because the drive is on the long-ish side and the kids get really bored in the car but it’s a lot cheaper to drive. Our car gets great gas mileage and there are five of us so that’s a lot of savings compared to buying plane tickets.

She also plans to pack food for the trip, to avoid spending money at fast food restaurants.

14)  Bring Your Own. Since I am generally the guest at Thanksgiving dinners rather than the host, I have my own personal list of items I don’t leave home without.  First, I bring my own cloth napkin in case the host is using paper.  Seriously.  Because I know my friends and they aren’t offended.  Or they shouldn’t be.

Hey, if you guys are reading this, are you offended when I bring my own cloth napkin?  My own glass?  Reusable drinking straw?  :-)

15)  Express Thanks. Isn’t it nice to have a day set aside each year to express thanks?  We don’t need plastic wishbones to do that.  We don’t even need a feast.  Just the simple gratitude we feel for being alive right now on this remarkable planet.


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3 years ago

Preparing a “holiday” meal is NOT a holiday for most women. It’s the opposite of fun. We work at jobs, come home, and DON’T clock out. We keep on working until we fall into bed. Here’s a thought: Skip making a freaking feast which includes driving, parking, shopping, schlepping it all into the house, washing, chopping, baking, blah blah blah, and the dreaded DISH WASHING afterward. Then guess where we go? Back to work! For the luvva gawd, go to a restaurant, make a toast, eat some great food, and have a true holiday. Sit down. Relax. Don’t wear pantyhose (if you remember those). You’ve earned it, sister.

13 years ago

My husband and I have been thinking of inviting our families to our house this year for the holidays so that no one is offended with not seeing the new baby and you just gave me the idea for how we can deal with the simplicity issue. We only have 8 plates, 3 glasses that aren’t plastic or coffe cups (though we also have 5 other plastic cups), and an assortment of silverware. We also don’t have enough seats. So why not make it truely potluck (since my dad makes the best turkey and my mom-in-law makes the best mac salad) and have everyone bring their own dishes, chairs, and take home containers? :) We have enough for 8 people mismatched but why do that when everyone can be mismatched! Sides, I fidn that our tableware tends to have stories.

13 years ago

Just say “no” to celebrating big commercial holidays. Make your own holidays – treat your friends to dinners when there is no “thanksgiving” – you should celebrate it more often than once a year anyway. Tomorrow, I’m going to figure out where to go camping and will hop on the motorcycle and spend the afternoon picking out a camping spot. Maybe I’ll eat persimmon cookies for two days but I won’t have to hear any farking xmas music. The cats will be perfectly happy to eat out of open buckets for two days. :)

13 years ago

Yeah, I like the idea of choosing reusable food container rather than using plastic bags because like you’ve said, plastic can harm wildlife and are not biodegradable, that contains toxic chemicals. When it comes to food, we should be more practical. We should become smart. Using the alternative container which is the stainless steel container. Study shows that it is totally safe, and more suggested to use because it doesn’t have any harmful chemicals like plastics have. Other types of these food storage are expensive but I know another steel container that is very affordable. By using this steel container you can even save more. It is durable, flexible, portable, dishwasher safe, eco-friendly and trendy. Happy Tiffin offers these cool stainless steel tiffin carriers which are really reusable. Perfect for gift giving ideas.

Rejin L
13 years ago

PETA, PETA, PETA, you’ve done it again.
I just read that Wishbone Contest post and clearly most of the commenters are thinking only of pets and livestock when they refer to animals. Because in the wild, all animals can’t be “safe” and “loved and cared for by their humans.” It just reveals a very anthropocentric view of the world which is really at the root of the problem of animal cruelty.

As commenter Mary says, “Animals deserve their habitats back!” but those habitats should be free of our useless plastic crap.

13 years ago

Beth, you’re in my brain making me do better, these days.

We aren’t in charge of Thanksgiving and we have to travel for it – but i’m finally making the effort to make my own granola bars for the trip. We’re good about packing food so we don’t have to stop somewhere for lunch but the number of plastic granola bar wrappers we generate has really been bugging me.

13 years ago

Hi Beth,

Another inspiring post, thank you!

I purposefully cook my birds upside down after accidentally doing it once and a kind guest pointing out that gravity helped enhance the flavor :D When you cook poultry upside down, all the juices drip down to… where the meat is. Seriously, gravity is your friend. When you cook the bird right side up, all those lovely juices drain down to where there is no meat. Whether I’ve taken a polite compliment too seriously or not, it doesn’t seem to hurt anything. Though the skin isn’t as crispy on the “top” of the bird, but I give it to the raccoons anyway.

Lara S.
13 years ago

This is one of the times when I get surprised about the huge amount of crappy inventions that haven’t (yet?) arrived to Argentina: Oven bags?? Giblets bags?? Plastic wishbones?? Tofurkey?!? I had to look a few of them up in Google because I couldn’t get the meaning of them. The idea of oven bags is specially disturbing to me. My mom used to wrap chickens in brown paper to cook them in the oven (back when we ate meat), and it worked great.
Anyway, talking about holiday trash, I’ve been collecting pinecones and other natural things to make Christmas ornaments to give as presents, to avoid buying useless stuff. I just hope I have enough time!!

13 years ago

Beth – I cooked a chicked upside down – don’t feel bad. Those durn poultry are confoosing. Anyways, you don’t have to bring anything except takeaway containers to dinner. You know I have the dinnerware, straws and the napkins down. Lighten ur load :)

John Costigane
13 years ago

Hi Beth,

An excellent topic which rings true in the UK as well, though Thanksgiving is missing here. I enjoy turkey and a steak & kidney pie over the festive season but appreciate those with a more restricted view of diet.

Eliminating plastic from this time of year is essential due to the massive landfill impact which occurs. Home cooking, local shopping, buying from specialist retailers using containers, promoting Zero Waste alternatives (and companies with such products) all help to keep such waste to a minimum. Happily, retailers are making some of the necessary changes.

The reference to tinfoil was misplaced, in my view, since the cleaned metal has value in recycling, though it has a far lower price than aluminium cans.

13 years ago

I find the plastic wishbones mildly disturbing. Especially because there are so many of them. Does expanding the wishbone breaking to include everyone really serve the cause? I don’t see it.

And your tips are great. I think that buying locally-produced food holds special significance at Thanksgiving, when you’re celebrating the harvest. Having a direct connection to the farmer just makes it that much more meaningful for me.

Beth Terry
13 years ago

Jen, I have no idea why there are plastic turkey bags in your cupboard. I didn’t buy them. The one time I made Thanksgiving dinner was in 2003 right before I married Michael. Red ruined Thanksgiving by telling Michael his music (Talking Heads) sucked. And as I recall, I think we did bake a plastic bag of giblets into the bird, too. We are royally screwed.

Oh, and I also think we cooked it upside down! We were all confused about why there was no meat on it, and it turned out we had it lying on its breast.

And no, we were not on drugs, although we may have been high from the melting plastic fumes.

7 years ago
Reply to  Beth Terry

ThanksLiving wouldn’t be ThanksLIving without somebody ruining the day. (And Talking Heads DOES suck.) For the life of me, I cannot understand why you rag on PETA. They’ve done more to cut down on climate change due to animal food processing than your blog has done for saving the environment from plastic, their contribution to getting people to eat less meat and/or go completely vegan is enormous, and that says something about their contributing to planetary health.

. But I think many meateaters really want to get their digs in at PETA because of their … guilt? An understanding that their diets really do cause heart disease, cancer, and diabetes? The horrendous conditions of the animals? The huge contribution to climate change?

So yeah let’s all knock plastic wishbones while eating turkey!

13 years ago

shakes head. I thought that the breaking of the wishbone was your reward for eating the turkey and being patient enough to let the wishbone dry and then remember it weeks later.

anyway, Beth – is that why there are plastic turkey bags in my cupboard? Did you buy them? I actually thought about using it – then decided against because you’re coming!

Condo Blues
13 years ago

Personally I think that organization that I cannot name without retching is misguided. Their tactics are more about being offensive than actually protecting animals. Cheap plastic wishbones are silly and wasteful. How about drawing one on paper, cutting it out and pulling that apart? The paper remains will compost or recycle just fine after the event.

I wouldn’t be offended if you brought your own table service to my house for dinner but quite honestly you wouldn’t have to. My silver is vintage – my grandmother’s. My tablecloth was cross stitched by my mom. All of my napkins are cloth. The china and stemware are non plastic. Many of my good servicing pieces were painted by grandmother who was a porcelain artist. No plastic on my table! Heck, I won’t even let my dog eat out of a plastic bowl – I grab one of our regular bowls from the cupboard and use them for his food and water. Of course I would extend the same courtesy to your cats if they would choose to join us for dinner. They only thing you would have to bring is extra containers for leftovers. I have a few empty glass jars in my pantry – but I’m saving those to fill up with goodies for Christmas gifts.

7 years ago
Reply to  Condo Blues

No, their “tactics” are actually to protect animals and bring attention to the high planetary and moral cost of eating animals. Most meateaters usually bash PETA probably because of guilt. PETA members have more guts in their pinky fingers than you do in your entire body.

Enjoy your clogged arteries and contribution to climate change, though!

13 years ago

How crazy! While nobody will ever convince me that processed tofurkey is better for the environment than the healthy, happy, sustainably, organically and humanely raised turkeys that my in-laws raise, I really enjoyed reading your post. I think these are great ideas in general, not only around Thanksgiving.

13 years ago

Good post MissBeth!
Nevah evah O-fended when you bring your own utensils and such! I look at it as a gentle reminder to do the same myself.

Thanks for reminding me to bring containers to the purple palace- so I can score some yummy T-Giving leftovers!

13 years ago

Not one to berate PETA but… WTF??? I think this is another stupid campaign. Don’t worry about me buying fake bones from PETA… aint gonna happen. I like snapping the real ones. LOL.

Linda Anderson
13 years ago

I wish PETA would get into using common sense. I know of cases besides this one where PETA’s actions were harmful to the environment. The idea of treating animals ethically is wonderful but sometimes PETA is misguided.

These stupid wishbones were the beginning of my monthly nominee for Stupid Plastic Crap. They really illustrate the stupidity of making plastic items that have no redeeming value. My November nominee is coming soon.

Your posting was really thorough! What else could be added?????

13 years ago

I read your reply on the peta post. Let me say it was great. So many people fight for a cause so narrow-mindedly and don’t even think about how their cause may be affecting other important areas. I was talking to a vegetarian friend about this and she said the following “should peta be advocating the pulling apart of a creatures bones whether real or fake?” Seems they hadn’t thought of that. While not a vegetarian myself, I don’t believe animals should be harmed unnecessarily but I could never get behind the things that peta advocates. Thank you for all your insight and hard work in educating people about plastic. You are an inspiration.