As autumn leaves flutter to the ground and the chill in the air sends shivers down our spines, there's no denying that Halloween's spectral presence is looming. But beyond the phantoms and the folklore, a pressing reality haunts our celebrations: the ghost of environmental impact.
This year, as jack-o'-lanterns cast their golden glow and children dream of candy mountains, it's time to reflect on our festivities' shadows on Mother Earth.
With mounds of disposable decorations, single-use costumes, and candies swathed in plastic layers, the waste specter threatens to overshadow the joy of this beloved holiday.
But what if we could weave sustainability into our celebrations? What if our preparations for the spookiest night of the year could also champion the cause of the planet?
By merging tradition with eco-conscious choices, we can ensure that our Halloween is as green as a witch's brew and just as enchanting.
Halloween is a cherished custom in the United States, with an estimated 70 percent of the population gearing up to join the 2023 festivities.
Eco Friendly Halloween Treats
Support local candy makers and chocolatiers who often utilize fewer preservatives and minimal packaging. This also reduces transportation emissions.
Halloween is second only to Christmas regarding sugary treats, with $397 million spent on candy, confectionery, and snack foods each year.
And all those mini-candies are wrapped in….you guessed it, plastic! But it’s a little more complicated than just the plastic wrap.
Buy Sustainable Handouts
Prioritize candies with less or biodegradable packaging, like paper or foil. Promote using recyclable or reusable bags over plastic buckets for trick-or-treating, like cloth bags or old pillowcases. Explore brands offering compostable candy wrappers.
Brands increasingly recognize the importance of sustainable packaging, particularly in the confectionery industry. For instance, popular candies like Milk Duds, Nerds, and Junior Mints have opted for cardboard or foil wrapping, much like Hershey’s Kisses.
On the eco-friendlier frontier, Alter Eco stands out with its commitment to organic ingredients and environmental sustainability; they've introduced compostable wrappers for their truffles crafted from eucalyptus and birch.
Chocolita offers raw vegan chocolate bars enveloped in compostable materials, while Heavenly Organics ensures their honey patties are wrapped in 100% compostable coverings.
OCHO Candy produces organic chocolate bars and minis with compostable packaging, and Torie & Howard, known for their organic hard candies, package them in tins and are exploring compostable bags for bulk candies.
The bigger issue is the consumption of chocolate from brands that don’t have the best track record regarding human rights and environmental stewardship.
The documentary film The Dark Side of Chocolate is a very revealing and disturbing look at child trafficking in the Ivory Coast and how that relates to the harvesting and purchasing cocoa beans. As the film illustrates, the cocoa bean business is competitive, and the desire for cheap chocolate in first-world nations like Canada and the USA only increases the demand placed on these countries.
In the USA alone, people spend $2 billion on Halloween Candy. A few years ago, a lawsuit was filed against Hershey, Mars, and Nestle, claiming they were “duping consumers into unwittingly funding child slave labor trade in West Africa, home to two-thirds of the world’s cocoa beans.”
Another film, Slavery: A Global Investigation, depicts children as young as 11 working 80 to 100 hours a week to harvest cocoa beans.
This is a much larger issue for sure and one that calls for open dialogue between the companies that make the chocolate and the local government, which accepts large kickbacks from the same companies.
There are things we can do. First off, buy ethical chocolate. It’s more expensive, but at least you know that no child was hurt. Look for third-party certifications like Fair Trade Canada, Fair For Life, Fair Trade USA, and Rainforest Alliance Certified.
Here are a few brands that I like:
I'd also always opt for GMO-free chocolate and candy. You see, eco-friendly Halloween candy is not that hard to find!
Sustainable Trick or Trick-or-Treat Bags
Consider purchasing candies packaged in cardboard or foil to sidestep the mounting concern of plastic waste. Not only are these materials more aesthetically pleasing, but they also boast significantly higher recycling rates compared to plastic.
As we venture out for trick-or-treating, switching from the conventional plastic bucket to a cloth bag or repurposing an old pillowcase can make a difference.
These small, conscious choices reduce our carbon footprint and set a responsible example for the younger generation, teaching them the importance of sustainability in even the most festive moments of life.
Sustainable Halloween Costumes
On average, we spend $52 to dress up and most of those costumes are made from cheap (plastic) materials like polyester. And even worse, most of these costumes are worn once and then tossed in the garbage.
All of this begs the question, are Halloween costumes part of "fast fashion", yes they are!
From my research, it was very hard to find any transparency on mass-produced costumes. It’s impossible to really know if the people that made these costumes are working in safe conditions and are being paid a fair wage. But given the cheap cost of the costumes, we can assume they are not being treated well.
In an interview with MTV News, Ilana Winterstein, director of outreach and communications at Labour Behind The Label, said:
"Unfortunately there is a real lack of transparency in the industry, which is one of the big issues we campaign on," Winterstein told MTV News. "It is this lack of transparency which allows human rights abuses to continue unchecked and makes it very difficult to trace an item of clothing back to a particular factory or for consumers to know the working conditions of the garment workers making the clothes."
And then there is the issue of cultural appropriation!
Shop your closet first, do you have an old wedding dress or prom dress? Maybe you or a family member (dad) has a retro bowling shirt you can use? Once you have an idea of what you have, head on over to Pinterest and do a search.
- Static Cling: Wear a plain outfit and attach socks, small pieces of fabric, or dryer sheets to yourself using safety pins. You can even add a balloon or two to enhance the static effect.
- Spice Rack: Attach small containers or empty spice jars to a shirt. You can label them with funny or punny names like "Sugar & Spice" or "Everything Nice."
- Lost & Found Box: Wear a cardboard box and attach random items like single gloves, sunglasses, keys, and small toys. Add a "Lost & Found" sign to the front.
- Bag of Jellybeans: Use a clear plastic garbage bag, cut holes for your arms and legs, then fill it with colorful balloons to represent the jellybeans. Tie a ribbon around your neck and attach a "Jelly Beans" label to the front.
- French Kiss: Dress up in a striped shirt (classic French look), add a beret, and paint your face like one of the members of the rock band KISS.
- Human Calendar: Attach large numbers and month names to your outfit. You can highlight or circle a specific date, like Halloween, and add events or notes.
- Starry Night: Wear dark clothing and attach glow-in-the-dark stars. Carry a small flashlight or lamp to 'illuminate' the night.
- Identity Thief: Attach several name tags with different names to your clothing. Add a mask or a pair of dark sunglasses for a mysterious look.
Remember, the best part of these costumes is the creativity and fun behind them. It's all about utilizing what you have and turning it into something fun and memorable for Halloween!
Vintage/ Thrift/ Consignment
Stepping into a local vintage or thrift shop is not just an eco-friendly alternative, but also a treasure trove of unique finds waiting to be transformed into creative costumes.
The allure of vintage clothing lies in its timeless appeal and distinctive character. These stores often carry pieces from various eras, offering a vast array of options, from flapper dresses of the 1920s to the vibrant disco attire of the 1970s.
Additionally, by choosing consignment or thrift shopping, you're giving pre-loved items a second life, reducing waste, and often saving money in the process.
With a bit of imagination and some DIY flair, you can repurpose these vintage gems into a standout Halloween ensemble that no one else will have. Plus, supporting local thrift stores often means you're giving back to community-based initiatives or charities.
So, not only will you look great, but you'll also feel great about your sustainable and community-supportive choices!
Renting costumes is a sustainable choice that significantly reduces waste by ensuring outfits are reused multiple times, rather than being discarded after a single use.
By choosing to rent, consumers decrease the demand for mass production, which in turn conserves resources and limits manufacturing waste. Rental businesses prioritize durable, quality costumes, ensuring longevity and multiple uses.
Beyond environmental benefits, renting is also economically efficient, providing access to high-quality outfits at a fraction of the purchase price.
Swap or Trade
Apps like BUNZ and Facebook Marketplace make it super easy to find used items that people want to get rid of. A quick search on BUNZ reveals so many cute outfits to choose from. If you already have a DIY costume in mind, you can find accessories like bunny ears, tutus, and tiaras!
Eco Friendly Halloween Makeup
Goes without saying, use nontoxic makeup as much as possible.
In a study conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, it was found that the majority of conventional Halloween makeup on the market contains heavy metals such as lead, nickel, cobalt, and chromium.
Here are some great ones to get you started:
Pumpkin Patches and Corn Mazes
Visiting pumpkin patches and corn mazes often means supporting local farmers. This reduces the carbon footprint associated with transporting pumpkins long distances.
Many pumpkin patches offer organically grown pumpkins, which are better for the environment as they avoid synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Corn mazes are not only fun, but they also promote soil conservation. The dense growth of the corn helps prevent soil erosion, and after the season, the cornstalks can be plowed back into the ground, enriching the soil.
Once you're done with your pumpkin, it can be eaten (if it's a pie pumpkin) or composted, ensuring no waste. The seeds can be roasted for a nutritious snack.
Both pumpkins and corn stalks from mazes can be used as natural decorations for Halloween and Thanksgiving, reducing the need for plastic or synthetic decor.
Many pumpkin patches and corn mazes have educational components, teaching visitors about farming, the importance of pollinators, or the history of the land. In an age of digital distractions, pumpkin patches and corn mazes offer a return to simple, outdoor pleasures. They're a great way to get kids outdoors and moving.
Cloth Sack Races
Reuse old pillowcases or burlap sacks for traditional sack races. It's a fun outdoor activity that requires minimal equipment.
Nature Scavenger Hunt
Provide kids with a list of autumn-related items to find outdoors, like a pinecone, an acorn, or a red leaf. It encourages exploration of the natural world and doesn't require any plastic items.
Collect fallen leaves and use them as stamps. Dip the leaf in paint and press it onto paper to create beautiful patterns and designs.
Sustainable Pumpkin Carving
Begin by choosing pumpkins from local farms or patches. This reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation and supports local agriculture.
If possible, opt for organically grown pumpkins. They're cultivated without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, making them a more eco-friendly choice.
When scooping out the pumpkin, set the seeds aside. They can be roasted with a bit of salt and oil for a tasty and nutritious snack.
Instead of discarding the pumpkin flesh, use it to make purees, soups, pies, or even smoothies. This ensures that no part of the pumpkin goes to waste.
Use beeswax candles or LED tealights to illuminate your pumpkin. Beeswax candles are a natural and sustainable choice, while LED lights are energy-efficient and can be reused year after year.
Instead of buying plastic carving kits that can break easily and end up in landfills, invest in durable, long-lasting tools or use sturdy kitchen utensils you already own.
To make your carved pumpkin last longer, avoid synthetic preservatives. Instead, try natural methods like spraying it with a mixture of lemon juice and water to prevent mold and dehydration.
If you'd like to avoid the mess and waste of carving altogether, consider painting or decorating your pumpkin with natural materials. This also allows the pumpkin to be used for cooking later on.
How to deal with your Pumpkin after Halloween?
Compost it! — Please don’t put it in the garbage. Remove all the seeds and place them in your green bin. If you don’t have a compost bin or pile, check your local government, nearby farms, or community gardens to see if they collect old pumpkins.
Feed Wildlife! — This is the best way to reuse a pumpkin! Turn your jack-o-lantern into a snack-o-lantern for wildlife!
Use the seeds! — You can roast them for yourself or feed them to the birds. If you are feeding them to wildlife, collect seeds from your pumpkins before composting them, and let the seeds dry. Please don’t add salt or seasoning.
Place seeds on a flat surface, tray, or shallow bowl, or mix in with existing bird seeds in your sustainable garden. And keep the flesh to make pumpkin soup or muffins.
Environmentally Friendly Halloween Decorations
Decorating is one of the best parts of Halloween but also the most wasteful. As the second-biggest decorating holiday of the year, many of the decorations are made from non-recyclable plastics. Use natural products like pumpkins and gourds to create an autumnal look.
Shop for things like old mirrors, old dolls, apothecary bottles, etc. You can have so much fun with DIY decor, what a great way to get the kids involved too.
- Twig Spider Webs: Gather twigs and arrange them into the shape of spider webs. Add a few plastic-free, handmade spiders for added effect.
- Mason Jar Mummies: Wrap mason jars in recycled white cloth or paper strips, leaving space for the eyes. Place a beeswax candle or LED light inside for a glowing mummy effect.
- Pinecone Bats: Use pinecones as the body and craft wings from reclaimed black fabric or paper. Hang them around your home or garden.
- Driftwood Witches' Brooms: Gather driftwood or fallen branches and bundle them together to create rustic witches' brooms. Stand them at your doorway or lean them against your porch.
- Cloth Ghost Windsocks: Using old white bed sheets or curtains, cut out ghost shapes and hang them from trees to dance in the breeze.
- Egg Carton Bats: Paint used egg cartons black and cut them into bat shapes. Hang them with string or twine.
- Apple Candle Holders: Hollow out apples and place tea lights inside. Opt for beeswax candles for a more sustainable choice.
- Gourd and Acorn Garland: String together dried gourds, acorns, and other natural fall finds to create a decorative garland.
- DIY Burlap Trick-or-Treat Bags: Craft reusable trick-or-treat bags from burlap or other sustainable materials. Encourage kids to paint and personalize them.
- Upcycled Costume Showcase: If you have old costumes that no longer fit or are unused, display them as decorations. Drape them over furniture, hang them up, or create fun scenes.
- Old Book Pumpkins: Take pages from damaged or unreadable books and fold them into pumpkin shapes for a literary-themed decoration.
- Natural Dye Banners: Use natural dyes made from beets, spinach, or berries to color cloth banners with Halloween messages or designs.
Why does Halloween have such a big impact?
As the amber hues of fall envelop the trees and carved pumpkins light up doorways, Halloween aficionados gear up for an evening of eerie excitement.
Yet, lurking beneath the masquerades and myriad of candies lies an unsettling reality: the holiday's haunting strain on the environment.
Consider this: the sugary treats that are synonymous with Halloween leave behind not just sweet memories but also a cascade of non-biodegradable wrappers.
In the span leading up to Halloween, the US witnesses a staggering expenditure of nearly $5 billion on candies, as noted in a 2020 report by the NCA. This figure likely soared even higher by 2023. The aftermath? A trail of plastic and metallic waste.
Further darkening the scene are disposable, often petroleum-based costumes, menacing glow sticks brimming with hazardous chemicals, and over a billion pounds of pumpkins.
Rather than being returned to the earth, these pumpkins often meet their doom in landfills, where their decomposition releases methane—a greenhouse gas with a potency that's nothing short of terrifying.
But is there a way to bask in the eerie glow of Halloween while also being kind to our planet?
Absolutely. By adopting eco-friendlier choices—such as picking sustainable candy options and ensuring our pumpkins are composted—we can recast Halloween as a celebration that's not only spine-chilling but also eco-conscious.
How are you celebrating Halloween this year? I'd love to hear from you and, if you found this post helpful, please help someone by sharing this article — sharing is caring 🙂!