Creating a Festive Tablescape

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Adding beauty and a sense of plenty to the holiday table is easily accomplished without creating waste. Like most waste-reducing efforts, the benefits of eco-friendly table decor extend beyond shrinking the trash pile and enjoying a gorgeous centerpiece. Since beginning my zero waste journey, I have taken unexpected pleasure in mindfully walking outdoors, finding beauty and inspiration in seemingly lifeless landscapes and preparing post-holiday meals using decor from the table. Whether I am hosting or helping a host decorate, I love using these possibilities for creating a beautiful low-waste tablescape.

Gather from Nature. Enjoy a leisurely walk collecting natural tablescape treasures. Search the ground for colorful fallen leaves, acorns and pine cones. Prune bushes and gather sticks with various textures, colors and shades. Clip grasses and plumes of wild sumac. Store leaves in the freezer to preserve color until thawing and using as decor. If keeping acorns longer than a few days, bake at 175-200 degrees with the oven door slightly open for two hours to dry and debug them. Stir occasionally.

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Use edible produce & other foods. Apples, squash, cranberries, nuts, popcorn cobs as well as herbs like sage, thyme and rosemary work well for decorating and are likely to be eaten after the holiday.

Light natural candles. Instead of relying on battery-operated candle replacements, use natural candles made of beeswax, soy wax or vegetable oils. This subtle difference makes a cozier feel at the holiday table.

Reuse items. When it comes to decor, using what is already available is always less wasteful than buying new. Typically used items have stood at least some test of time and have “proven” their worthiness for being kept out of the landfill so it is no coincidence used items are usually of higher quality than new items. When it comes to reusing, use what you own, borrow from others or acquire second-hand items through resale shops such as ARC Value Village or Goodwill, local consignment stores, Craigslist, NextDoor, Facebook Marketplace, etc. Any of these options can help allow for enough table linens and cloth napkins so that all single-use items can be avoided.

Low-Waste Thanksgiving

Only two firsthand accounts of the first Thanksgiving were ever recorded. Although the pilgrims and Wampanoag people likely did not feast on wild turkey according to these sources, one can safely assume no paper napkins or disposable baking pans were present. Embrace this no-waste tradition by reducing waste at your next Thanksgiving celebration.



Bring your own bags. Bring bags for carrying groceries home as well as a water-resistant bag for the turkey to avoid any new plastic or paper bags from being used.

Buy unpackaged produce items. Choose loose onions, potatoes and other unpackaged produce over packaged ones.

Shop loose bulk. Items such as wild rice, nuts, and spices tend to be sold in packages with larger portions than needed, leading the remaining contents to expire before being used again. Buy exactly the amount needed by shopping the loose bulk section of the store.

Reduce drink packaging waste. Choose recyclable containers (glass is preferred), make juices from concentrates, and avoid plastic bottles--especially water bottles. Take it one step further by choosing returnable containers such as beer growlers and glass milk bottles from the local micro brewery, liquor store, and/or grocery store.


Rely on reusable items. Use what you own, use what others own (borrow) or acquire second-hand items (ARC/Goodwill, local consignment, Craigslist, NextDoor, etc.). Any of these options can help allow for enough dishes, glasses, silverware, table linens and cloth napkins so that all single-use items can be avoided.

Decorate with nature’s bounty. Apples, pumpkins, corn, squash, sage, nuts, leaves, acorns, and pinecones add beauty and add sense of “plenty” to the Thanksgiving table. Natural aromas can also be used to add to the ambiance.



Refuse single-use items. Aluminum foil and plastic oven bags are unnecessary and create waste. Bake the turkey and allow it to rest without using these products. Simply bake uncovered and then drape with a cloth kitchen towel as it rests. Steam will escape more easily, allowing the skin to stay crispy instead of becoming soggy under the stream-trapping foil.

Make ice. Avoid a plastic bag by making ice at home.

Reconsider wasteful traditions. Leaving skin on the potatoes tastes delicious, adds nutrition and simplifies preparations. Eliminating unpopular dishes from the menu also reduces food waste and saves time.

Use real baking pans. Ditch disposable foil baking pans and resolve to clean real baking pans instead. 



Use reusable food storage options. When storing leftovers, avoid single-use products like plastic wrap, zip-top bags, and aluminum foil. (Use the Food Storage Basics guide for ideas.)

Make turkey stock. Keep vegetable scraps and turkey bones for making homemade stock or broth. Collect scraps in the freezer until ready to cook using this recipe.

Freeze leftovers. Reduce food waste by allowing food to last longer.

Eat the edible decor.

Compost. Compost organic waste using residential organics recycling or a backyard compost bin.