Zero Waste Holiday: Tips for a Green Halloween

Growing up in the Philippines, we didn't celebrate Halloween.  In fact, the first time I celebrated it was in 1992, as a third grader.  My mom had taken us to Party City a few weeks before and I remember a very busy scene with costumes everywhere, kids running around.  There was a lot of pressure to pick a costume but needing to make sure it was appropriate and inexpensive.  I ended up purchasing a nurse costume because my mom was a nurse and I could use one of her old stethoscopes.  Our elementary school had a Halloween party where we ate treats, then joined a parade outside before heading home to go trick or treating.  That was a new concept to me as well.  Knocking on people's doors to ask for candy.  Very scary and as an introvert, caused me some anxiety.  Fast forward to now.  It's been a while since I've really celebrated Halloween.  The last time I dressed up was probably a few years post college.  We live in an area that doesn't have a lot of kids knocking on doors so Halloween to me is kind of out of sight.

Now, I know this is going to change when I have children and we get swept into the marketing of it all, but for now, I'm happy to be a bystander during Halloween.  Not sure how I will participate this year, but I know many parents out there that are excited for their kids, but the expense and waste of Halloween can be daunting.  In fact, it's a one day event whose meaning gets lost most of the time. 

I thought it would be good to come up with creative ways to make Halloween more memorable, waste free and reduce it's cost.  Remember to plan ahead though because most of our purchases are made because of last minute decisions.  Don't fall back on "I can just buy it."  Mindful consumption takes time and thought.



How's this for a cute, easy and homemade costume? Image Source: Pinterest

First of all, a $30 dollar, polyester outfit bought for one day is definitely a waste.  When I think about all of the Halloween costumes I've worn over time, they were definitely made out of cheap material and never saw the light of day until we decided to clean the attic.  It's takes a lot of resources to manufacture, package and ship these costumes and what happens to these after they are used?  The end up in the garbage sad and lonely.  So how can you reduce the impact when it comes to costumes?  Get Creative!

Here's my younger sister going as a Facebook profile.  She was very meta!

Browse through Pinterest or through your favorite books and see if there's a character that you or your children identify with.  See if you can use existing things in the house to make a costume such as a black turtleneck painted or taped to make a Where's Waldo shirt or a few colorful pieces of clothing to make a superhero costume.  Your imagination is your only limit here.  My younger sister, who is the most imaginative of the three siblings never purchased a single piece of Halloween costume.  One year, she painted a box to look like an iPod, another year, she was an octopus using an old sweater and attaching socks to it for extra legs, another year she went as a Facebook profile cutout and another year, she went as a zombie by wearing normal clothes with lost of gory makeup.

' Here's a mother nature dress made of course of all leaves. Image Source: Pinterest

Don't be afraid to go through old piles of clothing.  Perhaps there's something in there from another era that can be reused and repurposed.  Look around your home for props that can be temporarily used for Halloween. 

If you can't make your own, borrow from someone.  My sister and I are a year apart and we are very close in size.  Sometimes, we would trade outfits so that we have something new to us to wear.  It allowed us to reuse items that we may have only used once.  Ask your family or check into some Facebook groups to see if anyone is lending or has some old, extra costumes to be used.

How about making your own witch broom?Image Source: Pinterest

Check out your local thrift shops or eBay for pre-owned items. This can be a great place to source inexpensive pieces of clothing that can be used for costumes.  You can reuse something, help a good cause and reduce the amount of new polyester that gets circulated.

Lastly, perhaps a costume is not needed.  A simple black cat pin or some cat ears may be enough to say you are in the spirit without wasting too much money and effort on this holiday.  After all, Halloween is really an observation of All Hallow's Eve for remembering saints and those loves ones that have passed.


When I think of Halloween, I automatically always think of candy and chocolate.  If you go to any grocery store right now, you will see lots of Halloween candy, all wrapped in plastic.  This is a lot of trash for food that is unhealthy and just laden with sugar.  Now, I know it's not easy to offer candy alternatives as we have to be conscious of the safety of homemade goods and to ensure a more lively fete, but here are a few alternatives to candy in plastic packaging.  Also, take note of this if you do end up buying Halloween candy, the price between candy with Halloween decorations on it versus the regular ones.  Note that you pay a premium for candy with the Halloween theme.  It's only a few cents more, but it's the same candy just different packaging.

For actual trick or treating, using old tote bags or pillowcases is an easy way to reduce plastic usage.  Not that you really need a few one-time use plastic pumpkin buckets anyways. 

If you feel like you will ruin Halloween for your kids, check out Terracycle as they accept a lot of wrappers and food packages for recycling.  All you have to do is collect them.  Check out what's available and see what items can be recycled from those bags of goodies.

If you want to limit the sugar intake, instead of throwing away the candy collected, check out the Halloween Candy Buy Back Program that collects candy for our troops abroad.  These are then sent as part of Operation Gratitude.  Your local dentist may also accept them in exchange for a new toothbrush.  You can refuse the plastic toothbrush so it's a win-win.

One option to reduce plastic waste during Halloween is to give out those movie theater boxed candy.



Halloween strawberry ghosts using white chocolate. Image Source: Pinterest

Throwing or getting invited to a Halloween party could be a great way to avoid the trick or treating craziness.  If you are throwing the party, you have a lot more control with not only the food and snacks that get served, but how they are served.  Reusable silverware is probably the number way to reduce waste here. Second is using compostable plates and flatware. Food can be easily composted as well.  Set up waste bins that are clearly labeled for recycling and composting.

An easy party is a movie night featuring Halloween movies that range from slightly scary to gruesome.  If you need games, reusing things around the house or using paper products can be a great way to reduce your impact.  Pumpkins and gourds are not only great decorations, but can be used for carving activities and can be consumed later which makes them double the fun and double the use.  Clean out the pumpkins and gourds ahead of time to save the meat and seeds for cooking because sadly, too many pumpkins are sent to the trash which is a real waste of food and resources.  

Use edible food as your decorations.  Get creative with making ghosts out of white chocolate, a brain out of a watermelon, make homemade cider, the options are endless.  Use leaves, twigs, branches from outside for centerpieces.  Paint old wood as tombstones.  Use newspaper or old pieces of cloth to make ghosts

Skip plastic favors that end up in the trash anyways because who really wants a plastic spider ring?  Opt for buying consumables like candy in bulk and have your guest take away in paper bags or reusable containers. They'll still leave with candy, but without all of the wrappers.

Halloween food and decorations. Banana ghosts and mandarin pumpkins with celery stems. Image Source: Pinterest

Again, this is another chance to get creative.  This is also a great opportunity to get some bulk bin items.  They can be served in reusable containers or paper bags.  See if you can find clever ways to reduce plastic usage here. 



It's difficult to avoid or not participate in Halloween.  It is a social ritual.  We can still celebrate without following the same traditions as before and creating new rituals for ourselves and our families to reduce our impact during these kinds of holidays.  After all, Halloween is for the kids and we want to make sure the decisions we make have long lasting positive impact. 


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