Turkey, Travel, Black Friday: A Thanksgiving Feast of GHGs

It’s the weekend of Thanksgiving in the USA. On the menu: turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, pumpkin pie… and greenhouse gases. What is the carbon footprint of the festivities that mark the start of the holiday season? We did the math.

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29 kg of GHG per turkey

Every year, some 45 million turkeys end up on American tables at Thanksgiving. As this poultry weighs approximately 9 kg, the production and consumption of each turkey emits the equivalent of approximately 29 kg of CO2.

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It is therefore no less than 130,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHG) on a national scale, which corresponds to the annual emissions of 28,261 cars.

And that’s without counting the accompaniments. A single meal for 12 guests can thus emit 47 kg of CO2 equivalent.


And what about wasted food?

But the carbon footprint of the meal does not stop there. Thanksgivingit is also the festival of food waste in the land of Uncle Sam. Some 305 million pounds of food are thrown away each year during this festival where food is in the spotlight, according to an analysis by the NGO ReFed.

All the food waste associated with American Thanksgiving is thus responsible for the emission of 476 tons of GHGs, according to calculations by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation carried out in 2016.

Remember that if food waste were a State, it would be the third largest emitter of GHGs in the world, estimates the UN. It is responsible for around 8% to 10% of emissions globally.

• Read also: Food waste responsible each year for 4% of GHG emissions in Quebec

When thrown in the trash, food does in fact produce methane, a greenhouse gas 25 to 80 times more warming than carbon dioxide over a period of 20 to 100 years.

55 million travelers

Who says Thanksgiving weekend also says trips.

In the last hours, around 55 million Americans have taken to the air, the road or the rails to celebrate with their families, estimates the AAA insurer.

The majority (49 million) traveled by car, traveling over 80 km, while 4.5 million traveled by air. The others preferred to take the bus or the train.

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Getty Images via AFP

For a round trip, we are talking about 0.02 tonnes of CO2 per motorist. It is still the least carbon-intensive means of transport – apart from public transport –, especially if there is more than one person in the car.

It should be noted that commercial aviation accounts for approximately 2.4% of total GHG emissions worldwide. Even if it doesn’t seem like much, the carbon footprint of this sector continues to increase year after year; emissions could quadruple by 2050, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

• Read also: Reduce air travel to fight climate change

The heavy dependence of this sector on hydrocarbons makes it difficult to decarbonise. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) therefore calls on travelers to reduce their flights to limit global warming.

Polluting discounts

After the feast, the shopping. It’s become a tradition that’s spread across the globe: Black Friday deals kick off holiday shopping.

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And the environmental cost of the sales that are made for the occasion is not negligible. According to an analysis by the British price comparison site Money.co.uk, purchases made during the famous Black Friday in 2020 emitted 429,000 tonnes of GHGs in the United Kingdom. This corresponds to 0.12% of the state’s total emissions for 2019 or 435 return flights between London and New York, calculates for its part Forbes.

This is without taking into account that up to 80% of products purchased during Black Friday, as well as their packaging, most of the time in plastic, often end up in the trash, incineration or recycling after a short life. , reveals a study from the University of Leeds, UK.

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