Guest post by Ariana Palmieri of @greenifyme
Halloween is a spooky time – and not just in spirit, but for our planet. All those plastic candy wrappers, single-use costumes, and rotting pumpkins add up. The average trick or treater generates approximately 1 pound of trash. With over 41 million children annually taking part in Halloween, that adds up to a lot of waste. Here are some ways you can reduce waste during this spooky time of year (without ditching the fun!).
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1) Thrift your costume
An estimated 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste – equivalent to 83m bottles – was generated from throwaway Halloween clothing sold by leading retailers in the UK alone during 2019. I couldn’t find an actual estimate for Halloween costume waste in the US – but I’m sure it’s just as bad, if not worse.
I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you, considering how most people only wear their costumes once. On top of this, 83% of the material used in Halloween costumes is polluting oil-based plastic likely to end up in landfill.
Instead of buying into the Halloween costume hype, why not try thrifting for your next Halloween costume? Sit down and decide what you’d like to be first – generic things like a witch, an alien, a vampire, or a cat are good choices.
Then, hit up the thrift store and see if you can find pieces to make your costume come to life. Two Halloweens ago I was a witch and I thrifted a beautiful black dress I still have in my closet and wear today! The whole goal is to be able to reuse your costume again. I finished it off with boots and stockings I already had, and a cape from an old Halloween costume I could reuse.
Thrifting for your costume is also much cheaper – I don’t know about you, but last time I tried to buy a Halloween costume it cost me around $80 (I’m sure it went up by now).
Get creative and see what you can find! You can also make your own costume using materials on hand – cardboard and aluminum can be use to make a fun robot or alien look. And if you’re good at sewing, you could literally sew something from scratch!
2) Use natural decorations
Some people go out and buy new Halloween decorations every single year. That’s just a waste of resources, time and money to me. Instead, using what you already have is the best option – so keep a cardboard box in storage with all your favorite Halloween decorations.
But my favorite kind of “Halloween” décor is the natural decorations that just go with the entirety of the season. Bringing nature into the home and highlighting fall will never get old or look tacky.
To do this, you can decorate using pumpkins, gourds, squash, apples, acorns, foraged flowers, pinecones fall leaves, dried corn, hay, and whatever else reminds you of fall really. I have a whole post about zero waste fall decorations, including how to preserve autumn leaves with wax and how to make a hanging leaf display using them.
You can also make a beautiful fall wreath for your front door using foraged items like twigs, pinecones, acorns, and fallen leaves. You can use a hanger as your base – it can be bent into a circle – and twine can be used to secure your foraged items.
The best part about all these decorations is that they’re compostable at the end of their life!
Candles are also a great way to add mood and atmosphere to a fall home. I recommend looking into eco-friendly candles though, as any candle made from paraffin wax is toxic and is derived from petroleum.
If you prefer something a little spookier, you can always make a Jack o’ Lantern – just make sure to save the seeds for roasting, compost or use the guts to make stock, and don’t bleach your pumpkin. Bleaching it will make it toxic and you won’t be able to compost it at the end of its life.
3) Give out low waste candy
So much Halloween candy comes in wasteful packaging. When you head into CVS, you’re bombarded with big plastic film bags that contain mini bags of candy also wrapped in plastic film. FYI, plastic film cannot be recycled in most curbside recycling and can only be recycled at plastic film drop off locations.
Instead, choosing low waste Halloween candy is ideal. Opt for candy that comes in recyclable cardboard boxes like Nerds, Dots, Milk Duds, Junior Mints, Good and Plenty, and Good and Plenty. Cardboard’s recycling rate was 91.4% in 2021, whereas plastic only gets recycled 5-6% of the time (down from 9% in 2018!).
You can also choose chocolate wrapped in foil, or fair-trade chocolate bars. Foil can be easily recycled, but only if it’s bunched up into a ball the size of a fist. Make sure to tell trick-or-treaters to bunch up their aluminum foil into a ball before recycling (or make out little cards you can hand out alongside the candy that informs them and their parents of this).
I also really love Alter Eco chocolate – they make organic chocolate truffles that come wrapped in compostable wrappers. This is amazing, but only good if you have access to composting (if not, it’ll likely end up as garbage too). Still, it’s a step in the right direction.
Obviously, once the candy is out of your hands, it’s not on you how the packaging gets recycled. But these are just some ways to keep the waste to a minimum.
4) Make plant-based Halloween recipes
If you’re having a Halloween party, you can reduce waste by cooking up some grub and skipping the pre-packaged meals and treats. I recommend getting some farm fresh ingredients to work with at your local farmers market. During this time of year, pumpkin, squash, pears and apples taste their best at the market. Plus, it’s pretty easy to get everything plastic-free if you bring your reusable tote bags and produce bags!
Some plant-based Halloween dishes you can make include:
- Vegan pumpkin squash soup
- Finger foods (like banana ghosts – use peanut butter to make the raisins stick for “eyes”, clementine pumpkins, veggie tray skeletons, and apple monster bites).
- Ghost cupcakes
- Halloween stuffed peppers
These are just a few ideas you can whip up, but reducing your meat and dairy consumption greatly helps the environment. Make sure to compost any food scraps you create while making your meals and encourage people to take home leftovers!
5) Choose reusables for trick or treating
Did you know Americans throw away an estimated 100 billion plastic bags each year? Plastic trick-or-treat bags are key contributors to this.
Instead, why not send kids out with reusable buckets or canvas bags? When I was little I would trick or treat using the same plastic pumpkin several years in a row.
I love the idea of buying a canvas bag your child can decorate and will reuse for years to come. Using fabric paint, they can draw ghosts, bats, pumpkins or witches onto their bags – anything that will make it feel customized and fun. This way, they’ll actually look forward to using it.
Here are a few other zero waste trick-or-treat bag options:
- Brown paper bags (compostable – only use this if you have nothing reusable tho)
- Pillowcases (you can also decorate these using fabric markers)
- Old handbags
- Tote bags (look through your closet – you probably have a bunch you don’t really use already)
- Drawstring bags
So, what do you think of these sustainable Halloween tips? Would you be willing to give them a try? Let us know what your favorite idea was in the comments!
Meet our Guest Writer – Ariana Palmieri
Ariana Palmieri is the founder of Greenify-Me, a blog dedicated to zero waste and sustainable living. Her work has been featured on Going Zero Waste, Green Matters, Mother Earth Living, and several other online publications. Get her free e-book “10 Ways to Reduce Trash” by signing up to her newsletter and learn how to reduce your waste today.