Halloween has always been a bit scary. It’s the holiday of witches, goblins, graveyards and ghouls, after all. But while hoards of children dressed as the latest Disney character may either be frighteningly adorable or just plain frightening, the waste generated during the holiday is truly terrifying.
North Americans spend more than $6.5 billion on Halloween festivities every year, largely on costumes and decorations that end up in the landfill the next day. For a holiday that began in Ireland to celebrate the riches of the land and the year’s harvest, it seems problematic that Halloween has become the second largest day of waste generation in North America (losing out only to December 25).
Halloween’s not all scary, of course. Who doesn’t find happiness in seeing babies dressed as pumpkins or getting free gifts with only a knock on a neighbor’s door? But you can experience these joys without all the excess waste. Every American can create a magically spooky Halloween night without causing irrevocable damage to the planet. In fact, by “greening” Halloween, you can increase the joys of the season and experience the holiday with a greater focus on community and family.
Below are some suggestions and websites to make your holiday less wasteful and more meaningful:
Don’t limit yourself to vinyl masks and polyester costumes wrapped in plastic; make your own! Use natural items, such as leaves and sticks, for a particularly natural look, or use items you have in your house. Want to be Harry Potter? Use a stick for a wand. A hula dancer? Use straw for the skirt. You can also go to a secondhand shop to mix and match pieces for a particularly creative look. Think about engaging the community by holding a costume swap where you exchange previous years’ costumes. Or go on ThredUp,com to trade online. Always consider donating or reusing costumes the next day as well.
Gourds, pumpkins, straw bales, and corn husks are beautiful and inexpensive ways to make a home or party look festive without damaging the environment. LED or solar-powered lights can help set spooky vibes with less energy generation. Always recycle decorations that you buy or save them in the attic for next year. And while you’re thinking about recycling, be sure to provide recycle bins at any Halloween bash to ensure that guests dispose of items properly.
Fortunately, you’re not limited to individually wrapped Snickers bars. Think about buying all-natural or organic candies, now sold widely. Consider giving out small toys in addition to (or instead of) candy to limit consumption of processed goods. Go to a farmers market to purchase local treats to pass out to kids or have at a party. Don’t limit the creativity of the candy bags either. Who wants a boring plastic bag when you can use a decorative pillowcase, purse, flower pot, or reusable bag instead?
These ideas are simply the basics! Use the brainpower you exerted in designing your costume to think of more creative ways to use less and reuse what you have. Thinking resourcefully and getting family and friends invested in the season will create very sustainable memories. And that’s really the purpose of holidays, right?
Amy Curtis is a student at the University of Virginia and is an intern at New Dream.