Parents and their child carve a pumpkin into a jack-o-lantern, which is fun and cute but could contribute to greenhouse gas emissions once it lands in a landfill.
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Spooky season is here!

How to Have A Spooky, Fun, and Eco-Friendly Halloween

Ashley Robinson
October 4, 2023

It’s finally October, and for a lot of people, that means one thing: it’s spooky season! There’s a little chill in the air, the leaves are turning, and everyone is getting their decorations, costumes, and candy ready for Halloween. But as elaborate Halloween parties and decorations have become more and more popular, the environmental toll has become pretty serious. Between single-use costumes and decorations, landfill waste from pumpkins, and the amount of plastics used, the holiday in the US has become a bit of an environmental monster!

That said, there’s no reason you can’t celebrate Halloween fully and keep the environment in mind. Let’s go through some ways to keep your Halloween spooky and earth-friendly!

The Environmental Dark Side of Halloween

Let’s start with the problem: a lot of stuff gets thrown away every year because of Halloween, and specifically, a lot of food and plastic waste.

Colorful Halloween Candy
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Pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns are a big part of the festivities, but every year in the US, over 1 billion pounds of pumpkins get thrown into landfills. Once food waste (and pumpkins do count as food!) hits the landfill, it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. And growing them has a cost as well—pumpkins require a lot of water to grow!

Halloween costumes create a lot of waste as well. The costume industry is like fast fashion on steroids, as the costumes are designed to be worn once and fall apart. This disposability contributes to millions of pounds of textile waste in landfills annually. And a recent study estimates that 83% of Halloween costumes are made from oil-based materials such as PVC, which are toxic to produce, not biodegradable, and contribute to microplastic pollution worldwide, especially when thrown away.

Decorations can also be an environmental drag. Much like costumes, a lot of store-bought decorations are cheaply constructed out of plastic materials, which means they break quickly and can’t easily be reused. Quite a few store-bought decorations are also electronic, which can increase household energy usage.

The good news is you absolutely don’t have to play along with the wasteful side of the holiday to have a great time! Let’s go through some ways to keep the holiday spooky and low-impact.

Keep the Pumpkins, Lose the Waste

Carving a jack-o-lantern is one of the most fun parts of Halloween festivities. I don’t think anyone wants to take that away! That said, it’s important that we find ways to keep pumpkin waste out of the landfills.

When you’re carving, don’t throw the guts away! If you want to try to use the interior of your jack-o-lantern, there are lots of recipes to try, from roasting seeds to making chutney. And if you’d rather dispose of them, definitely try to compost.

A mom and daughter carve a pumpkin, they are laughing
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Also, if you’re decorating with uncarved pumpkins, keep in mind that pumpkins are actually food! While you might opt for the big, hollow pumpkins for carving, look for the smaller and sweeter “pie pumpkins” to leave whole for decorations. They’ll last a month easily on the counter or porch if you leave them whole, and they’re absolutely delicious. Once you’re done using them for the vibe, you can turn them into pie, muffins, soup, jam, even your own pumpkin spice latte syrup!

Once the season is over, try to keep those old jack-o-lanterns out of the landfill too. You can put them in your own compost, coordinate with a local community garden to help with composting, or even organize a fun pumpkin smashing event in your neighborhood!

Get Creative with Costumes

While it might be easy to go to a Halloween store and buy a packaged costume, these costumes really aren’t great for the environment, especially if only worn once. Consider going the DIY route instead, using thrifted clothing or items you already have around your house.

Kids in a variety of costumes at a Halloween party
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The internet is chock-full of DIY costume ideas and guides, from adorable crafty ideas for kids to creative upcycling tips from your own closet, even guides from Goodwill on how to create a whole costume from the thrift store. Try to use upcycled or earth-friendly materials when you can!

That said, the DIY route can be a little overwhelming and time-consuming. If you’d prefer to buy a costume, try searching specifically for “PVC-free” or “phthalate free” costumes to avoid toxic and environmentally harmful plastics. Consider buying something durable that can be worn for a few years. And if you don’t want to wear something more than once, you could organize a costume swap with friends instead! This saves money and keep those plastic-laden costumes out of the landfill. There are even companies that rent costumes as well!

Buy Right and Make Your Own Spooky Decorations

Decorating for Halloween is so much fun, but it can also get wasteful (and expensive) if you’re not mindful. Instead of buying disposable decorations every year, try to keep these three words in mind: reuse, repurpose, and recycle.

When buying decorations, look for basic durable items that you can use year after year, especially ones you can have fun repurposing. For inspiration, check out Pinterest for some hilarious ideas for the beloved and reusable 12 foot Home Depot skeleton.

Instead of buying pre-made decorations, get crafty and make your own décor from household items and even trash. Make it a party and invite friends to craft with you! And if you can, reuse these next year, or make sure to recycle them.

For a natural look, skip the plastic and decorate with biodegradable things like hay, gourds, dried flowers, and twigs, then make sure to compost when you’re finished.

A porch with pumpkins, a candle and some natural arrangements
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And for trick-or-treaters, there’s not much to be done about individually wrapped candies, but you can still help cut down on plastic waste. Skip the plastic treat bags and plastic party favors and stick to recyclable paper ones instead!

The more you look into it, the real scary part of Halloween is waste, and it’s getting worse every year. But there are so many fun ways to avoid the wastefulness of modern Halloween consumerism. Whether you’re talking about costumes, decorations, or pumpkin carving, embracing the crafty and creative side of Halloween can make the whole holiday more fun, more affordable, and more eco-friendly.

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