Halloween is one of the spookiest times of the year for the environment. Mass-produced fast fashion composed of cheap, one-use polyester costumes; plastic candy wrappers and packaging; throwaway porch and party decorations; and pumpkins left to rot in overloaded landfills are a few examples. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate these wicked offenders while still having fun. With fears of pandemic dangers receding, revelers are dying to get out and enjoy some ghoulish fun, and they are happy to dig deep into their pocketbooks. Surveys by The National Retail Federation state that this Halloween, spending is expected to exceed $12.2 billion on costumes, candy, decorations, and greeting cards. That may be a boost to the economy, but not to our planet. Here are some greener options.
Did you know that every year seven million Halloween costumes are thrown out? That’s equivalent to 83 million plastic bottles. When these synthetic materials decompose, they release toxic chemicals into the environment. According to the environmental charity Hubbub, 83% of Halloween clothing is made of oil-based plastic. Plastic based products also include synthetic wigs, masks, trick-or-treat buckets, and even outfits for dogs. All this waste is hair-raising, but the good news is the best costume is the one you already own or can easily whip up. It’ll save you money, too!
Resist the urge to buy a throwaway store-bought costume and invest in a few pieces that aren’t made of polyester. You can rotate them every few years or even exchange costumes with friends or family. Over the years you can swap out accessories and props like scarves, hats, a kitchen broom, or jewelry to create new combinations. Repurpose a black or white graduation robe and use it as a base for your witch, ghoul, vampire, Harry Potter character, angel, or zombie graduate student costume, to name a few.
Baby boomers may recall “shopping their closet” before it was a thing and made do with their own wardrobe pieces to magically transform into princesses, pirates, Frankenstein, brides, ghosts, and more. Costume ideas from the eighties might include members of the Brat Pack, Madonna, or garden variety hippies or punks. Flannel shirts, bell-bottom pants, leather jackets, and Hawaiian shirts are easy to find and can work wonders. With a few prop twists, you can transform fairly ordinary clothes you already own, such as jeans, vests, or boots, into characters from pop culture series like Star Wars, The Simpsons or Stranger Things. An easy, on-trend costume could be Pedro Pascal’s character, Joel, in “The Last of Us.” His basic outfit consists of jeans, a plaid shirt, denim jacket, boots, glasses, and backpack. Clothes from secondhand shops or vintage stores provide a treasure trove of ideas. Barbie should be popular this year, and incarnations of the famous doll can include something relatively simple in bright pink or lime green, with maybe a handkerchief or cowboy hat. If all else fails, you can always find an old sheet and cut out random holes for a Charlie Brown style ghost! Don’t forget to forego plastic treat buckets and opt for fabric bags, baskets, or pillow cases instead.
DECORATIONS, especially pumpkins!
As with costumes, investing in long-lasting non-plastic decorations you can bring out year after year is the way to go. Here are some DIY decorating ideas. Decorating from nature is ideal. Pumpkins, gourds, maize cornstalks, hay bales, leaves, branches with berries, and other natural materials make beautiful seasonal displays and can last through Thanksgiving. If you’re interested in the huge selection of colorful varieties of pumpkins out there, check THIS out!
Over 1.9 billion pumpkins are produced every year, and 8 million of those wind up in landfill. Plus, the water, energy, and other resources consumed to grow them make a big environmental impact. Once pumpkins have fulfilled their seasonal mission, be sure to consume them! Remember, shopping locally for organic pumpkins at farmers’ markets is better than getting them from big box stores, where pumpkins are likely inundated with pesticides, especially if you plan on eating them later! Saving seeds will provide you with a nutritious and delicious snack full of fiber, zinc and magnesium. Try these recipes for honey roasted pumpkin seeds and turmeric roasted pumpkin seeds. You can also simply rinse seeds, toss with oil, sprinkle with Old Bay seasoning, or salt and pepper, or cinnamon sugar, and roast at 350 degrees for about half an hour until crisp and brown. Some people buy sugar pumpkins specifically for making puree for pumpkin pies. You can even use pumpkin puree for a DIY Enzyme Face Mask!
Used jack-o-lanterns can be given as a special treat for wildlife, whether it’s for birds or squirrels in your own backyard or critters from local farms or zoos. Watch for NextDoor posts from people who raise chickens or pigs that would be happy to take leftover pumpkin flesh and seeds off your hands. Speaking of animals, those fake outdoor spiderwebs look cool, but they can ensnare owls and birds, especially hummingbirds, as well as insects and other wildlife. This is especially a problem in the fall, during peak migration season.
Finally, be sure to compost any pumpkin remnants instead of tossing them into bins that are landfill bound, where the methane gas they emit is 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.
Americans purchase 600 million pounds of candy every year for Halloween, according to the Huffington Post, and most of that candy is packaged in individual plastic wrappers and sold in plastic bags. Some people forego handing out candy altogether and come up with creative alternatives, like greeting their trick or treaters with a tray of paper Dixie cups filled with cider. Others distribute their own homemade treats such as popcorn balls, caramel apples, or trail mix wrapped in more earth-friendly aluminum foil or paper, especially if they anticipate having a small number of trick-or-treaters. If you go this route, it helps if you are already known to neighbors for being friendly and trustworthy. Here are some tasty and cool looking DIY treats.
If you don’t feel like channeling your inner Martha Stewart or aren’t comfortable with making your own Halloween treats, you can still be a little more discerning in your choices of store-bought candy. Candy like Junior Mints, pixie sticks, and Nerds come in paper packaging or tiny cardboard boxes. Hardcore eco warriors may decide to fill their candy bowls with organic treats or Fair Trade ethical chocolate, including Theo chocolate, Loving Earth, Divine Chocolate, Fran’s, and Equal Exchange. All these adjustments make a difference, especially when so many citizens celebrate Halloween -- over 190 million people in the U.S. in 2022!
Happy All Hallows' Eve!
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