skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Dana Gunders’s Blog

The Eco-Case for Eating Your Thanksgiving Leftovers

Dana Gunders

Posted November 21, 2011

, , , , , , , , ,
Share | | |

As if Turkey Pot Pie and Turkey A La King aren’t enticing enough on their own, here’s another reason to eat leftovers this holiday season:  about 1 million tons of CO2, 95 billion gallons of water, and $275 million will be thrown away this Thanksgiving in the form of leftover turkey.

The USDA reports that 35% of perfectly good turkey meat in the U.S. does not get eaten after it is purchased by consumers (and that’s not including bones).  This compares with only 15% for chicken.  Why is so much more turkey wasted than chicken?  “Possibly because turkey is more often eaten during holidays when consumers may tend to discard relatively more uneaten food than on other days,” the USDA writes.

leftovers 2.JPGHere’s the math:   Producing one pound of turkey meat releases 5 kg of CO2 emissions according to the Environmental Working Group and uses about 468 gallons of water (if it’s similar to chicken production as estimated by the Water Footprint Network.).  That’s equivalent to driving your car 11 miles and taking a 94-minute shower.  Nationwide, consumers will purchase around 736 million pounds of turkey this Thanksgiving, of which about 581 million pounds will be actual meat.  Unless we take action to prove the USDA wrong, we’ll be throwing away about 204 million pounds of that meat and about 1 million tons of CO2 and 95 billion gallons of water with it. 

And that’s to say nothing of the vast amounts of antibiotics used to produce turkey meat, leading to antibiotic resistance, which you can read more about here.

For anyone watching their dollars, throwing away all that turkey isn’t cheap.  According to prices from the Farm Bureau’s annual Thanksgiving price survey, nationwide we’ll be trashing $275 million in painfully cooked, delectable turkey meat.

Friends, I challenge you to feast thoughtfully this year and not to succumb to this wasteful holiday trend.

The good news is a host of websites have creative turkey leftover ideas that make it easy to use all the turkey you buy.   There are some mouth-watering recipes at Tastespotting andBon Appetit, and of course, you always can use turkey in your favorite chicken recipe. 

So, search no more for a reason to go in for that extra helping!  Pile it on, dig in, then wrap it up, and repeat—enjoying holiday treats that keep on giving and saving the earth while you’re at it. 

Share | | |


Valerie FranklinNov 28 2011 03:09 PM

Great post! Mark Bittman just wrote a great article with twenty mini-recipes to use your Thanksgiving leftovers. They have been an inspiration for me this year:

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Dana Gunders’s blog

Feeds: Stay Plugged In