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:
- Party goods
- Pumpkin carving
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.
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Zero Waste Trick – o – 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.
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.):
- erasers – we are giving these out this year
- fruit (choose fruit with peels)
- mini coloring books
- felt masks (forest friends) or these ones (superheroes). Reuse for dress up!
- mini puzzles (these are also erasers!)
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!
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:
- We limit how many houses he goes to: right now this is easy because he is only three. As he gets older, I suspect this won’t be as easy.
- Donate some of the candy. Here are some places to donate to:
- Bring in to the office and watch it disappear
- Soldiers’ Angels Treats for Troops
- Check with your local food shelf or soup kitchen
- Create care packages for nursing homes
- The Switch Witch or the Candy Fairy (same things, different names)
- Operation Gratitude (Halloween Candy for Heroes)
- Halloween Candy Buyback
- Check with your local dentist office
- Check with your local Ronald McDonald House
- Operation Stars and Stripes
- Operation Shoebox
- Any Solider
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.
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.
Here are some other options:
- Facebook marketplace
- Facebook local community garage sale pages
- ‘Buy Nothing’ groups
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
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
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:
- 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
- Bring your own plate/utensils
- Offer to help the host to wash dishes
- Bring a dish to share
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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