Halloween! Fun, Festive and Zero Waste
Can you feel it? Fall is in the air. At our house, that means Halloween is coming!
Costumes, pumpkins, decorations, candy… it’s all part of the deal. Retailers estimate Americans will spend over $6.9 billion on Halloween this year – and most of the stuff people buy will be used once and then thrown away, along with its packaging. But, just because Halloween is here does not mean you have to spend piles of money and generate even bigger piles of garbage.
Over the years, we have figured out ways to give our family a fun and festive holiday without the waste. I’d love to share our ideas with you…
We start planning our costumes in August, around the time school starts. (I told you we take Halloween seriously!) But even if you’re not as, uh, gung-ho as we are, you can save money, eliminate waste and still rock an awesome costume:
- Hit the thrift store. Have some ideas in mind to help guide you, but be flexible and open to inspiration.
- Shop your home. Look at what you and your family already have in your closets and storage.
- Repurpose old costumes - use your imagination to mix and match pieces from Halloweens past to create something new. I have been using the same black wig on and off for years and am using it again this year.
- Borrow from friends. They probably have costumes kids have outgrown or stuff they won’t use again.
- Organize a costume swap. Similar to borrowing from friends, but more people can participate and there’s more variety.
- Make a costume out of a cardboard box or scrap material: gift, robot, Minecraft characters, TV, Wall-E, framed painting, train… The possibilities are endless
Part of the fun of Halloween is decorating, especially in our neighborhood. But it’s not necessary to run to the Halloween store to buy a bunch of stuff you’ll use once a year and have to store for the remaining 11 months. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that our family has a box of Halloween decorations from the years before going Zero Waste and we do use them. But we have committed to not buying any new decorations and have stuck to that commitment for the past five years.
However, on the inside of the house, we use very simple decorations such as:
- Pumpkins and squashes. Bonus: you can eat them after Halloween is over! Make soup, toast the seeds and serve them at a party.
- Branches, leaves and pinecones (we love to collect branches with interesting moss and lichen on them – they make fantastic decorations).
- Repurpose household items to make your own – get creative!
You will never hear me suggest skipping Trick-or-Treating as a way to reduce waste. Some things are sacred! But there are ways to go Trick-or-Treating and still generate less waste, or at least mostly recyclable waste:
- Trick-or-Treat up and down your street or around the block instead of through the entire neighborhood.
- Encourage kids to choose plastic free treats – paper or cardboard wrapped candies, fresh fruit, pencils, etc. Definitely ask them to avoid plastic toys.
- Use a cloth bag, an old pillowcase or a basket or bucket from your home instead of buying a new bucket or bag for trick-or-treating.
- Have your kids select treats to keep, then encourage them to take the rest to a Candy Buy Back program. Many dentists offer this after Halloween. They pay your child by the pound and then donate the candy to troops overseas.
One of the highlights of Halloween at our house is seeing all the cute Trick-or-Treaters come to our door. We wouldn’t dream of sending them away empty-handed. We do offer them something either reusable, recyclable or compostable such as:
- Mandarins (use a marker to draw a Jack-O-Lantern face on them!)
- Boxes of raisins or other dried fruit
- Bulk candies (purchased in your own bag, which have foil or paper wrappers)
- Small boxes of crayons or chalk
- Mini pumpkins
- Money (coins)
We used to be famous for our annual Halloween party. It’s much tamer now that we have kids, but we still love a party! There are lots of ways to reduce waste at your own party:
- Drinks: serve mulled wine or sangria for adults; for kids: apple juice (spiced or not), from a glass bottle – no juice boxes, please!
- Serve finger food to cut down on the need for plates and utensils. Search online for “zero waste Halloween” for fun ideas.
- Serve it all with real glasses, cups, plates and utensils. You can use a washable crayon or pen to mark glasses and cups.
To make it easier, remember the 5 Rs when you’re shopping or planning:
Refuse: plastic toys, plastic wrappers, disposables, new costumes and decorations
Reduce: Trick-or-Treat on one street or block, decorate minimally, with what you have or with seasonal produce, encourage kids to sell a portion of their candy through a Buy Back programs
Reuse: buy used clothing and costumes, use what you have on hand, rescue stuff from recycling to make decorations, take those decorative pumpkins and use them to make soup and toasted pumpkin seeds
Recycle: encourage kids to choose treats wrapped in recyclable cardboard, paper or foil wrappers
Rot: Compost the non-edible parts of your decorations (pumpkin rinds, corn husks and cobs, branches, leaves, etc.)
Happy Halloween, everyone!