Zero Waste Living

A Zero Waste Halloween – The Ultimate Guide

With the holidays, comes waste. And when you’re living a low-waste lifestyle, or on your zero waste journey, it can be overwhelming to know where to start or what to do to reduce waste.


The good news is that there are many ways we can reduce waste and feel better about our celebrations.


Before I get into the nitty-gritty of how you can reduce waste, let’s look at some really staggering numbers regarding Halloween celebrations.

How does Halloween affect the environment? 

In 2016, Americans spent an average of $82.93 on Halloween celebrations, for a total of $8.4 BILLION DOLLARS.

 If that seems like a lot, think about how quickly everything adds up:

  • Costumes (the category that we spend the most on)
  • Decorations
  • Party goods
  • Pumpkin carving
  • Candy






And speaking of candy, Americans purchase nearly 600 million pounds of candy A YEAR for Halloween. 90 million pounds of chocolate candy is sold during Halloween week alone. Not only is that a lot of sugar, that’s a LOT of waste when you think that most of that candy is individually wrapped.

And while we don’t necessarily know EXACTLY how much waste that produces, we know that the amount of money we’re talking about (again, BILLIONS of dollars) equals a lot of stuff. And stuff means resources used up, waste, and clutter. 

But I know you’re busy, so let’s get right into it. 


Would you rather listen to this content? Check out my podcast episode on the topic here!




How can I be more eco-friendly and reduce waste for Halloween?



I often hear something along the lines of: 

What is the best Halloween treats for trick or treaters  – what do I give out?

I already gave you those insane statistics regarding candy sales in the US each Halloween. So what is a zero-waster to do?





Non-candy trick or treat options 

When my son was born, we quickly found out he had a peanut allergy. This completely changed what we hand out to trick – o – treaters. Upon some research, I found out about the teal pumpkin project.

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What is the teal pumpkin project? 

The teal pumpkin project has gained popularity over the past few years due to the increase of kiddos with food allergies. Basically, you put a teal pumpkin out (or sign up here to be put on the teal pumpkin map), and by doing so you are alerting other parents that you are handing out non-food-related ‘treats’.

Unbeknownst to us, we were already taking a step in reducing our waste when we made this switch from candy to other items.

But even handing out non-food items can produce a decent amount of waste if you aren’t careful. Some of the affordable non-treat items, while fun, are made of cheap plastic and quickly end up in the landfill (ex. Glow sticks, vampire teeth – we handed these out our first year going non-candy, plastic spider rings, etc). The trick (haha) is to find something with as minimal waste as possible/containers you can reuse.

Here are some ideas (*Note* I realize these are not perfect zero waste alternatives, AND I link to Amazon. Please try to find an alternative place to shop if you can. Also, the items at least have the option to reuse instead of immediately ending up in the trash):







Low (Zero) Waste Candy 

If you don’t want to go the non-candy option (or offer both), here are some ideas for some low (zero) waste candy: 

  • Allergy-free candy like EnjoyLife
  • Candy in boxes like Junior Mints, Dots, Nerds, Milk Duds, Dove Chocolates, Hershey’s Kisses, or Glee Gum (vegan)
  • Fair trade chocolates like Alter Ego, which also has a compostable wrapper, or these mini Equal Exchange bars 
  • Candy in foil like these cute Halloween themed chocolates 
  • Candy in paper wrappers like pixie sticks
  • Drinks in aluminum cans like La Croix or soda 

I know cost can be a factor when trying to purchase low waste items, and some of the candy listed above is no exception. If you are watching your budget, and/or don’t have access to lower waste options, here’s a tip: 

When purchasing items to hand out, buy the biggest bag possible! Not only will you have more options to reuse said bag, but you are also producing less waste overall.






What not to hand out to trick or treaters 

Homemade items: I know homemade items could be an option here as well. However, as a parent, I am very wary of homemade items and usually don’t let my son consume them, thus contributing to more waste. There have been some scary instances of people doing messed up things to treats they give out to kids, and to me, it’s just not worth it. I also wouldn’t give out homemade items for this exact reason. If homemade items are more widely accepted in your area, by all means, go for it!

Can candy wrappers be recycled?

The short answer is, no. At least not in your curbside recycling or industrial recycling site. 

However, there is one way that I know you can recycle candy and snack wrappers, and that’s through Terracycle

Basically, you order a box, fill it up, and send it back. The bad news is that there is a cost, and it’s fairly steep. However, it’s a great excuse to gather some people in your community to crowdfund or combine money to get a box. Talk to your local PTO, moms group, toy library (this is what ours does!), or other groups. You may be surprised at how quickly you can get people together to raise the funds!

Otherwise, there are fun crafts you can do to upcycle candy wrappers into things like jewelry or wallets/purses. Pinterest is a great resource for ideas. 




Where to donate Halloween candy

We are lucky that we live in an area where we have the opportunity to visit as many houses as we want. However, that leads to a lot of candy if we’re not careful! 

To help combat all the sugar, and the excess amount of candy, we do a couple of things:

  • We limit how many houses he goes to as much as possible. We monitor his time and how full his pumpkin is and go from there
  • Donate some of the candy

One thing that surprised me was how many places actually take excess candy! 

Here are some places to donate to:

If you don’t want to donate the candy, there are ideas on what to do with leftover candy (if you get tired of hearing the kids whine, ha!). 




What to do with leftover halloween candy 

If you are looking for ways to use up leftover candy on top of or instead of donating, don’t throw that candy out!

Here are some ideas:

  • Make a Halloween gingerbread house
  • Save the candy for a winter gingerbread house
  • Make monster brownies
  • Make monster cookies
  • Make a candy cake!

Now that we’ve got candy out of the way, let’s talk costumes.



 

 

 






Zero waste costume ideas

We personally try and avoid buying costumes from the store. Not only are they expensive, but they are also usually cheaply manufactured (read: not going to last a while), and made with lots of plastic covered with plastic packaging. All that for something you or your kids may wear 1-2 times.

Luckily, there are tons of other options out there these days! 

Here are some options for zero waste and budget-friendly costume ideas:

  • Raid your own closet – you may be amazed at what you can use as is or upcycle
  • Borrow from a friend – once you have a costume idea in mind, check around with friends/family to see if they have a particular piece you need to borrow. I have a flapper costume (pretty sure I was one in a past life) that I reuse every year (see below). My friends have seen my costume before, and have asked if they can borrow items from it for their own 20s/costume parties
  • Reuse costumes each year
  • Host a costume swap! Grab together a group of friends and swap adult and kids costumes
  • Check your local Buy Nothing Project Group, Freecycle.org, FB Marketplace, Nextdoor, etc. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Post an ISO (in search of) post! You’d be amazed at what people have laying around that they’re willing to part with
  • Buy second hand – remember what I mentioned above about new costumes being expensive and plastic-heavy? Buying second hand eliminates these two things AND saves even more waste because you are purchasing something already made. Second-hand stores know people are out looking for costumes around this time of year, and many have pulled out their best costume items
  • Make them! Here is a post with some fun DIY cardboard box costumes for inspiration
  • Rent! There are some companies that are starting to offer costume rental options – which I think is an amazing idea! Here are a few: 
  • Use eco-friendly face paint (like this option from Earth Hero where you can get 10% off with code: LAURAD10 [not case sensitive, can’t be used on sale items, can’t be paired with other coupons, can’t be used on Gift Cards, TerraCycle boxes, Zeal Optics, or Naturepedic products])



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I put together my favorite flapper costume using the following:

  • A dress I found second hand for $7
  • Black flapper-esque shoes I found second hand for $4
  • A lacey pouch I already had
  • Pearl necklace I already had
  • A feathered headband I got from a friend
  • A boa I’ve had since college
  • White long gloves from my prom days (if I’m feeling like a classy flapper)

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This may all seem like a lot, but it took little time to put together and as you can see, only cost me $11. Bonus: I’ve been able to use it for YEARS (and friends have used pieces as well).



Related post: An eco-friendly Halloween with kids

 

 





Zero Waste Pumpkin Carving

Carving pumpkins is a tradition that many people take part in. It may not be the most obvious area for reducing Halloween waste, but here’s the thing: 

“Over one billion pumpkins end up in the trash on November 1st.” (source: NPR)

We know by now that organic matter that ends up in the landfill doesn’t break down (a common misconception that I used to believe), but instead, lacks the necessary nutrients to compost so it slowly breaks down releasing methane gas (a very potent greenhouse gas). 

But that’s not the only place we can work towards a zero-waste Halloween when it comes to pumpkins. 





Here are some tips:

  • Buy a pumpkin from a local farm. This not only supports your community and small businesses, but also reduces transporting emissions
  • Use your phone or computer for carving ideas instead of buying the paper booklets
  • Look for pumpkin carving kits at garage sales or second-hand stores (I see them all the time). Or, ask around to see if your friends/family have any they aren’t using, OR…use regular kitchen utensils for carving
  • Save pumpkin carving kits from year to year. We have one we’ve had for 5+ years!
  • Make pumpkin seeds!
  • Use up any tea lights you have on hand already for achieving that spooky pumpkin glow
    • If you don’t have any tea lights, you can purchase battery operated ones and replace and recycle the batteries when they’re done (you could probably find some at second-hand stores)
  • Check out these awesome tips from TheKitchn for picking out the best long-lasting pumpkin AND ways to keep your carved pumpkin fresh longer
  • Compost the pumpkin once it starts looking sad and droopy. If you don’t have access to compost, consider asking a neighbor or check out the app ShareWaste






Zero Waste Halloween Party

I have written multiple posts on hosting/attending a zero waste gathering, and the tips in those posts are applicable for any type of low waste party.

I will share the link to a full article below, but first, here are some quick tips:

  • If you’re hosting
    • Decor: use natural items, look in your Buy Nothing Group, shop secondhand, or ask family and friends
    • Use reusable dishes: set up a bucket of soapy dishwater for guests to put their own in
    • Invite guests to bring their own dishes
    • Have a plan for leftovers ahead of time
    • Do it potluck style
    • Compost!

  • If you’re attending
    • Bring your own plate/utensils
    • Offer to help the host to wash dishes
    • Bring a dish to share

Check out the full post for all the tips!






Eco friendly and plastic free Halloween decorations

As briefly mentioned above, the natural world provides us with so many beautiful things to decorate with. 

Here are a few things to consider when decorating for the season (bonus – these can also be used generally throughout the fall season! A minimalist win):

  • Pumpkins
  • Squash
  • Guards
  • Cornstocks
  • Hay
  • Secondhand
     
  • DIY/Upcycle
  • Leaves
  • Mums






Final thoughts on a zero waste Halloween

While we can’t make our Halloween completely zero waste, there are things we can do in order to keep waste down and save some money in the process.

What are your favorite low/zero waste Halloween tips? Do you have any low-waste ‘treat’ ideas to give out to trick – o – treaters?



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Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early

Fabulous tips! You have me thinking about alternate trick or treat ideas. This will be our son’s fourth Halloween and only his second costume (which he’s already started wearing now). I purposefully bought it multiple sizes too big so he can get a lot more fun out of it 😉 When he gets older, I think we will go the route my parents always did and head to the thrift store to piece together costumes.

Tiffany Staples
3 years ago

Wow! I am glad I read this – I never really thought about how wasteful we may have been during Halloween (and now other celebrations). Thanks for such great advice!

Alissa Berry
3 years ago

These are great ideas! I live in a rural area so I’ve never had to buy candy for trick-or-treaters but when we go to town this year we will definitely hit up the houses with the teal pumpkins.

Echo
3 years ago

I love this. We are slowly turning our family into a nontoxic and less waste household. Which can be SO HARD because society doesn’t really focus on less waste. But I love all your ideas, those statistics are INSANE!

Audrey Lee
3 years ago

Such an interesting article! Unfortunately, we don’t celebrate Halloween in my country, well at least Singaporeans do not go trick or treating but there are some cool activities like Halloween Horror Night which basically is like a haunted house experience. But keep up the good work! And I love your logo!

Loz
Loz
3 years ago

Fantastic tips! Because eating all the candy isn’t realistic… haha!

Lindsay
3 years ago

I love this! I’m trying really hard to reduce the amount of crap our family uses and produces. We go to second hand stores for most of our clothes, use cloth napkins, cloth diaper (most of the time) and try to avoid the dollar store. My recent focus has been thinking about how to decommercialize and de-waste Christmas this year, but I never even stopped to think about Halloween! We are already partway there with thrifted costumes and pumpkin carving (we use kitchen utensils, tea lights, save the seeds and compost the jack o lantern). But candy! Ugh the candy!… Read more »

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