Zero Waste Living

The Ultimate Zero Waste Halloween Guide

I’m going to start immediately with a disclaimer here: I haven’t been able to figure out how to make Halloween completely zero waste other than not participating in it, which for my family, isn’t something we want to miss out on at this stage in our life.

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

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
  • 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 that’s just the candy! We haven’t even gotten into the other Halloween-related items.

Before things get overwhelming here, let’s get into how you can REDUCE the following this Halloween:

  • the amount of waste you are putting into the landfills
  • the amount of ‘stuff’ you bring into your home
  • the number of items on your to-do list (by using what you already have at home – fewer errands)
  • the amount of mental clutter by overall simplifying your celebration (while still having a ton of fun!)

Let’s get into it.


Related posts: 10 Useful (and simple) Tips for a Zero Waste Thanksgiving

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?

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.

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 handing out candy to handing out other items.

But even handing out non-food items can produce a decent amount of waste. Many of the other 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.

zero waste trick o treat

Here are some ideas (*Note* I realize these are not perfect zero waste alternatives, but they offer items that you can at least have the option to reuse instead of immediately ending up in the trash.):

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!

zero waste halloween

One more 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.

Where to donate Halloween candy

Going trick – o – treating produces waste. It just does. All the individual candy wrappers and plastic items create trash. The only way to completely avoid this waste is by not trick – o – treating. My husband and I decided that we wanted Little E to enjoy that experience, despite the waste and despite the sugar overload.

To help combat all the sugar (and the fact that Little E can’t eat a lot of the candy he gets due to his peanut allergy), we do a couple of things:

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

Related posts: Reduction-based living resources for a minimalist and zero waste holiday season (filled with less anxiety)

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.

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

  • Raid your own closet – you may be amazed what you can find! For Little E’s second Halloween, we dressed him up using some air force PJs he already had!
  • 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.
  • 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. But don’t just limit yourself to second-hand stores.
  • Make them! Here is a post with some fun DIY cardboard box costumes for inspiration.

Here are some other options:

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.

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)

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).

zero waste pumpkin carving

Related post: How to recycle and get rid of clothes responsibly

Zero Waste Pumpkin Carving

Keeping pumpkin carving zero waste is actually pretty simple. Here are some tips:

  • Buy a pumpkin from a local farm
  • Use your phone or computer for carving ideas
  • 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
  • Save pumpkin carving kits from year to year. We have one we’ve had for 5+ years!
  • Use regular kitchen utensils for carving
  • Compost the pumpkin ‘scraps’ and guts (minus the seeds)
  • 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.
zero waste halloween party

Zero Waste Halloween Party

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

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

  • Hosting
    • Buy decorations secondhand, or borrow from a friend
    • Use reusable dishes: set up a bucket of soapy dishwater for guests
    • Invite guests to bring their own dishes
    • Have a plan for leftovers
    • Ask guests to bring their own meal
zero waste halloween party
  • 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!

While we can’t make our Halloween completely zero waste, there are things we do (and that you 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
2 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
2 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.

2 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
2 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!

2 years ago

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

2 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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