By Mike Pomranz
Updated November 29, 2016
Credit: © Maren Caruso/Getty Images

No one – except maybe your dietician – is going to fault you for eating a bit more during the holidays. It’s part of the festive spirit, and I’m pretty sure someone somewhere scientifically justifies it as a way to help us bulk up and stay warm during the winter. But just because you have a bonafide scientific excuse (from me) for eating more, doesn’t mean you should be wasting more. And the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) wants you to remember that even something as simple as uneaten turkey can create massive amounts of food waste.

According to the non-profit environmental advocacy group, projections suggested that “about 204 million pounds of turkey meat will get thrown away over this Thanksgiving” in the United States. To put that in perspective, that’s an extra 10 ounces worth of turkey for every single person living in the entire country. This is part of the reason you should have let your dad carve the turkey: I know you want to prove you’re the man of the house, but you have no idea what you’re doing and your knife skills are terrible.

But kidding aside, the impact of that waste goes far beyond simply throwing out edible turkey. The NRDC says it has a financial impact too – to the tune of $293 million. Even more alarmingly, keep in mind that a turkey is a living animal, which takes time and resources to raise. “Depending on which estimate you use, [raising] that amount of discarded turkey required over 100 billion gallons of water—enough to supply New York City for 100 days,” the NRDC writes. “And when it comes to climate pollution, it wasted emissions equivalent to driving a car across the country 800,000 times.” That’s a lot of extra holiday travel.

So how can you do your part to waste less? Though Thanksgiving is in our rearview, the NRDC had some suggestions that can be applied to upcoming big holiday meals as well: Be more practical when choosing the size of your turkey, and have a post meal plan. That means not just being mentally prepared for leftovers, but also having some creative dishes up your sleeve to get over the boredom of daily turkey sandwiches. Also, if you have guests, give them leftovers (assuming they’ll actually eat them), and also don’t forget that you can freeze leftovers as well.

The overall takeaway: The holidays may be a time to get excessive, but there’s a distinct difference between excess and waste. 204 million pounds of turkey is a lot of waste. If our grandmothers ran the country, we’d all be forced to eat leftover turkey sandwich until August 2017.