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Zero Waste of Time: Tricks for an environmentally friendly Halloween

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Posted on: October 10, 2022


I’ll admit it, I am not a big fan of Halloween (sorry, Lauren Flynn Kelly). The holiday is a horror movie in itself, and since I am scared of being scared, I find it exceedingly difficult to enjoy this spooky season. 

Growing up in France, I never celebrated Halloween as a child. I never celebrated Thanksgiving — a quintessentially American holiday— either, but it has, nonetheless, become one of my favorites (though don’t get me started on Black Friday or Cyber Monday). 

Halloween is a typical wasteful holiday, filled with excess, stress and unhealthy candies stuffed with palm oil. It has become a giant costume-and-candy party that has lost its connection to warding off ghosts and evil spirits. This celebration — which is not an official religious or federal holiday — does not promote togetherness, quality time or the sharing of a good meal with people you love. 

That being said, I’ve done it all to keep the fearless magic alive for my kids: I’ve carved pumpkins (that became soggy in the rain), put together costumes (that my kids refused to wear after 15 minutes), and gone trick-or-treating in our super Halloween-friendly neighborhood (too crowded for my introverted self). 

To me, the spookiest thing about Halloween is the amount of waste it generates and the toll it takes on the environment. My witchy eyes can’t detach from the flimsy mass-produced costumes, single-use decorations, oodles of plastic wraps, and toxic makeup. After this one-night event, many households will throw out the decorations, pumpkins, candy wrappers and even the treats themselves.

It’s difficult to eliminate waste from this holiday completely, so don’t pressure yourself to be perfect. Instead, have fun while working toward sustainability. Take these simple tips to have a lower-waste Halloween.

Candy packaging is probably the hardest Halloween waste to manage. Choose candies that are packaged in cardboard or foil, like chocolate coins. Collect foil wraps together and make a ball (the tiny bits are otherwise too little to be recycled). Buy treats in bulk, and wrap them in mini brown paper bags to hand out. Support farmers by purchasing mini chocolate bars from Equal Exchange, an online fair-trade food company. Consider giving out fewer but healthier treats, if your budget allows. 

Fruit is an excellent alternative to treats (and it’s allergy friendly): clementines with jack-o-lantern faces drawn on, tangerines, apples, or boxes of raisins

If you decide to give away non-candy treats, don’t raid the Halloween section at Target, as you’d replace candy with plastic treats that are just as harmful to the planet. Shop your toy box first! 

You can rent, borrow, swap, reuse or buy second-hand costumes. Dress your kids in costumes that can be used again by others, or serve double-duty (like animal onesies). For trick-or-treating, use one of the tote bags you already have and decorate it.

Keep the house decorations minimal, ditch the plastic and go au natural. If you already have items that you bring out year after year, use these! Look for straw bales or dried corn stalks that you can leave up through Thanksgiving. Build your own scarecrow with bamboo poles, straw and clothes you already own. It will look way better than expensive plastic inflatables that waste electricity and end up in a landfill after a couple of years.

After the frightful festivities, compost as much as possible. This will provide value to your soil, complete the circle of life, and perhaps provide new pumpkins for next year’s Halloween. 

Speaking of pumpkins, save the seeds and roast them with spices in the oven. And consider composting whole pumpkins and jack-o’-lanterns through the city’s free curbside composting program: The city picks up compost buckets every Monday, or you can drop them off in compost bins located in several city parks. Pumpkins must be free of paint, candles or wax.

By putting a little bit of thought into your decorations, costumes and treats, you can make a big difference in how much waste you generate — without taking anything away from the spooky spirit of the holiday. Start planning your plastic-free Halloween today!



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