Spooky season has arrived, and we are here for it. But one thing that weighs on my mind every Halloween—every holiday, really—is the amount of waste it creates. One UK study revealed that more than 2,000 tons of waste are generated yearly from the costumes alone. How can we have all the fun, all the high-spirited spoookiness and treats without creating excessive waste? With that in mind, we rounded up these ideas to have a more sustainable Halloween and reduce the amount of stuff you have to throw away.
Compost your decorations
While it’s tempting to purchase plastic decor (which isn’t the worst thing, provided it can be re-used), eventually those giant orange pumpkins will need to be chucked into a landfill. Instead, decorate with items found in nature: pumpkins, gourds, hay, and corn stalks. Use leaves to make a fall wreath, or frame and hang them on your walls. Cut the tops off of gourds and scoop out the pulp to make natural flower vases. Assemble squash, mini pumpkins, pine cones, and leaves under a bell jar. Issue a challenge to your family to build their own scarecrow, with only upcycled materials from your home. When fall turns to winter, compost all your organic matter. (Remember: Anything painted can’t be composted, so carve but don’t paint your pumpkins.)
Make your own costumes (or buy them used)
Instead of buying something mass-produced on Amazon, repurpose things you already own to make a costume. An old white sheet makes a perfect ghost (or mummy), you can turn a black umbrella into killer bat wings, and, well, have you considered being Trader Joe? (It’s cuter than it sounds.) If you’re into Squid Game, check out these DIY costume ideas. Or take a trip to your local consignment shop or Goodwill to see what treasures might be buried.
Thrift shops, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and your own friend circle can be great sources of recycled costumes. If you really need to buy your costume, make it something you can wear again.
Make decor from your recycling
Take a gander through your recycling bin for items you can use to spook out your front yard. Use old milk containers and Christmas lights to make howling “Spirit Jugs,” paint paper egg cartons to make bats, and transform cardboard boxes into tombstones.
Use an eco-friendly trick-or-treat bag
Want to hear something truly scary? Americans use an estimated 100 billion plastic bags per year. Instead of adding to this waste with a single-use plastic Halloween bag, decorate a paper bag, tote, drawstring bag, a plastic bucket you already own, or go old school and use a pillowcase (which holds way more candy anyway).
Curate your candy
No one wants to be that house that gives out apples or pretzels, but candy wrappers are a major offender in Halloween’s overall waste. What can you give out to trick-or-treaters instead? Consider greeting trick-or-treaters with fresh-baked cookies, hot buttered popcorn served in small paper bags, or something they can use, like Halloween pencils, tattoos, or glow-in-the-dark erasers. If you go the traditional candy route, buy in bulk to decrease plastic packaging.
Pare down your party supplies
If you have a Halloween-themed shindig, avoid single-use, disposable plates, cups, and cutlery; in fact, you can avoid utensils as much as possible and focus on finger foods. Use biodegradable plates, or purchase a set of thicker plastic plates that can be washed and re-used over and over again. Use labels or markers so guests can use just one cup the whole evening.
Dispose of Halloween loot responsibly
Cut down on post-Halloween waste by donating, selling, or organizing a swap for your family’s costumes. Send any organic materials, like pumpkins or leaves, to the compost bin. Save fake spiderweb material to stuff a throw pillow that’s gone soft (and perhaps a future scarecrow) and make unique art and jewelry with…candy wrappers? While some may be too complicated for the non-crafting set, who among us can’t glue a wrapper to a cardboard square and make a super fun coaster?
If you just can’t stomach your kids eating all that candy, enlist Switch Witch, ship if to Operation Gratitude, or save it for their stockings, or even Easter. (Candy lasts longer than you might think. Just make sure there are no bats on those wrappers or your cover will be blown).