Dancing skeletons, spooky costumes, and jack-o-lanterns – oh my! Nothing says October like a trip (or ten) to the Halloween aisle. From grownup costume parties to trick or treating with the kids, around 70% of Americans celebrate the holiday in some form.
Consumers in the US are expected to spend an estimated $10.6 billion this Halloween season, a record high. If you want to have a sustainable Halloween, however, all this consumption can feel scarier than any bump in the night.
What is Halloween’s Environmental Impact?
The novelty products we consume at Halloween all require energy and resources to produce. Since we have little use for fake spiderwebs and witches hats the rest of the year, most of these items wind up in the landfill come November 1st. This creates an annual cycle of consumption, pollution, and waste that’s incredibly taxing on the planet.
Research suggests the UK generates an estimated 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste (comparable to 83 million bottles) from throwaway Halloween clothing alone. In the US, which has around five times the population, that figure is expected to be significantly higher.
Throw billions of plastic decorations, bite-size candy wrappers, and rotting pumpkins into the mix, and Halloween takes on a seriously spooky dark side. But we don’t have to boycott the holiday altogether – sustainable frights and giggles are well within reach.
3 Rules of Thumb for a Sustainable Halloween
Halloween’s environmental impact is daunting, but you don’t have to sit out on the fun. In fact, the principles of a green Halloween are the same as living sustainably in general – with a few spooky twists!
- Don’t buy new if you can help it. Reuse what you already own and get crafty with stuff you have lying around the house.
- Shop with the planet in mind. When you do buy new, prioritize eco-friendly products made by sustainable vendors.
- Find ways to cut waste. Save decorations and costumes for next year – and repurpose, recycle, or compost what you can’t save.
With those principles in mind, let’s take a closer look at the three key culprits behind Halloween’s environmental impact: costumes, decorations, and candy (lots and lots of candy).
For many folks, dressing up as someone, or something, else is the most delightful part of Halloween. In fact, Americans spend more on costumes than any other Halloween purchase. Unfortunately, our ghoulish get-ups can be tough on the planet.
The vast majority of Halloween costumes (around 83%) are made with synthetic materials derived from fossil fuels. This makes them cheap to mass produce, but results in considerable greenhouse gas emissions, manufacturing waste, and microplastic pollution in our environment.
While synthetic materials dominate the fashion industry in general, we toss out our Halloween costumes even quicker than regular garments. One survey found we wear Halloween costumes just twice on average, and nearly 40% only get worn once.
Do you have to skip the alter-ego altogether? Not a chance. Here are a few tips for the green Halloween costume of your dreams (or nightmares!).
- Consult Your Closet: Transform a sequined dress collecting dust into a funky go-go get up, or let black basics moonlight as a vampire, witch, or warlock.
- Get Crafty: If you have clothes or fabric you don’t love or never wear, swing by your local craft store and grab supplies to alter them into a creative DIY costume.
- Spook Secondhand: Thrift stores are awash with costumes this time of year, so head to Goodwill and see what you find! You can also browse secondhand sites like Depop.
- Host a Costume Swap: Get your friends together to swap old costumes and other funky items you never wear.
- Shop Sustainably: If you do buy new, check the label to avoid costumes made with harmful petrochemicals.
Americans spend over $3 billion on Halloween decorations each year, around $30 per household. After Christmas, Halloween is the most popular decorating holiday in the United States.
Unfortunately, cheap plastic Halloween decorations are extremely difficult (if not impossible) to recycle. While it’s tempting to stock up on dark decor at the dollar store, most store-bought products are destined for the landfill – and persist in our environment for generations.
A sustainable Halloween doesn’t have to be bland and boring. In fact, the most unique and creative decorations are better for the planet than ones you’d buy at the store. Here’s how to deck the hallowed halls without the waste:
- Reuse Old Decor: The most eco-friendly Halloween decorations are the ones you already own. If you’ve still got last year’s skeletons in the attic, use those instead of adding more to your collection.
- Make Your Own: Get creative with what you have lying around the house. Bed sheet ghosts, DIY scarecrows, and egg carton bats are just a few ideas to get you started.
- Skip Single-Use: For Halloween parties, use reusable dishes and glassware instead of holiday-themed products you’ll have to toss. Same goes for candy bowls, trick-or-treat bags, and
- DIY Centerpieces: Instead of buying table decor, repurpose leftover glass jars for a spooky mad scientist set-up. Alternatively, go with a sustainable Halloween centerpiece your guests can chow down on (like this mummy cheeseball!)
Lastly, we’ve got to talk about pumpkins. Around 60% of people toss their jack o’lanterns in the trash after Halloween. This results in millions of pumpkins rotting in landfills and producing methane, a highly-potent greenhouse gas.
Cut holiday waste by making yummy pumpkin treats from the flesh and seeds from your jack-o-lantern. Come November 1st, compost leftover gourds and pumpkins or fill them with seeds for birds and other wildlife.
Learn More: Joro’s Quick and Dirty Guide to Composting
Around 41 million trick-or-treaters hit the streets each year in the US. Unfortunately, the bite-sized goodies we hand out at Halloween often come in packaging made from multiple materials (usually plastic and aluminum) which makes them harder to recycle.
Most recycling facilities don’t accept candy wrappers, so our collective sugar high translates to a major spike in landfill waste. In fact, it’s estimated each trick-or-treater generates a pound of trash from candy wrappers alone.
This is worrisome, but you don’t have to be the neighbor who turns off their porch light. You can hand out eco-friendly Halloween treats that are equally delicious.
- Freaky Fruits: If you live in a trusting neighborhood, set out a tray of “poison” caramel apples or jack o'lantern clementines for a healthier, zero-waste alternative to packaged candy.
- Splurge on Fair Trade: If you don’t know your neighbors well, hand out packaged candy from sustainable brands. You can even buy these Equal Exchange mini bars or Alter-Eco truffles in bulk.
- Choose Recyclables: Cardboard packaging and foil wrappers are far easier to recycle than conventional candy wrappers. Bonus points if it’s from a sustainable brand.
- Use a Recycling Service It’s tough to avoid Halloween candy altogether, especially if you have kids. Services like TerraCycle accept mixed material items like candy wrappers and snack bags.
The key to a sustainable Halloween? Just do your best
It’s not always easy to live sustainably in an inherently unsustainable society, especially on major consumer holidays like Halloween. But the climate crisis is spooky enough – there’s no reason to beat yourself up about the things you didn’t get perfect.
When it comes to having a sustainable Halloween, do your best to make choices reflective of the world you want to live in – and have fun! Seek out climate actions that create more joy in your life, whether that’s making DIY decorations or pulling together an epic, eco-friendly group costume.
Joro helps demystify the climate crisis
Americans produce 25% more trash during the holiday season. With Joro, you can keep tabs on your holiday habits – and live lighter all year long!
Joro translates your purchases into a carbon footprint, revealing your biggest carbon drivers. Access personalized tips and tools to cut back and scale your impact. Take action to reduce the emissions within your control, and offset what you can’t avoid through Joro’s Net Zero Membership.
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