Halloween is an Environmental Horror Story

The air is feeling cooler and crisper, the leaves are changing, and pretty soon neighborhood streets will be filled with ghosts and goblins marching from house to house, demanding candy. Come November 1st, however, it’s out with the jack-o-lanterns and up with the Christmas trees. And what becomes of all that Halloween wreckage? Well, most of it is destined for the landfill. 

As Fast Company points out, Halloween is hell for the environment. Plastic costumes, plastic decorations, plastic wrappers for all that candy. Forget about saying Bloody Mary’s name three times and conjuring up a ghost — the real terror is “plastic… plastic… plastic!”

We’re not foolish enough to think that pointing out Halloween’s environmental impact isn’t a bit of a buzzkill (it totally is) but 83 million bottles is a lot of plastic and that’s what a U.K. study determined equaled the 7 million trashed Halloween costumes from a single year. Around 83% of Halloween costumes are derived from plastic materials. 

Masks, wigs, stockings, and props — it all adds up to a lot of plastic. 
“The scariest thing about Halloween now is plastic, Chris Rose of the Fairyland Trust told the Guardian. “More costumes are being bought each year as the number of people participating in Halloween increases. Consumers can take action to avoid buying new plastic and still dress up for Halloween by buying from charity shops or reusing costumes, or making their own from non-plastic materials.”

It’s been pointed out just how bad Christmas decorations are for the environment before, but by no means does Halloween get a pass. Head to any Dollar Tree, Walmart, Homegoods, or Target and you’ll see row after row of Halloween decorations — a staggering amount of it being plastic. According to Environment Oregon Americans “spend more than $90 per person on Halloween, and almost $2.6 billion total on decorations.”

Even non-plastic decorations, such as the popular jack-o-lantern aren’t without fault.

“Hey what a minute, but pumpkins are natural and biodegradable!” Very true, but the majority of them don’t end up as compost in somebody’s garden or in the feed trough of a farm animal. Instead, they go into the landfill where under mountains of trash they break down without oxygen, and methane gas is released as a byproduct of anaerobic decomposition.

Around 1.3 billion pumpkins are tossed out every year after Halloween and 1.3 billion rotting pumpkins can produce a lot of greenhouse gases.

So should Halloween be canceled in the name of Mother Earth?

Of course not! What you can do, however, is reuse and recycle. Let’s start with that rotting jack-o-lantern that you carved way too early in October and was looking pretty haggard by the time October 31st rolled around. (If your pumpkin isn’t rotten, you can always dig up some pumpkin recipes and eat it!)

One of the best things you can do with your pumpkin is to compost it. Don’t have a compost bin? Find a sunny spot in the yard, dice it up Freddy Kruger style, and then cover it with some leaves to start the composting process. It’ll be feeding your yard or garden by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. 

As for your sexy cavewoman costume, you can avoid the frightening statistic of 85% of Halloween costumes going into the trash and donate it to a thrift store for next Halloween. There are even nonprofits like Halloween Helpers that specialize in reusing gently used costumes for children around the globe.

Here are a couple of other ideas:

  • Gather a group of friends and do a costume swap party for next Hallwoeen.
  • Save your favorite parts of the costume for a mix-and-match costume the following year.
  • Rent a costume instead of buying one.
  • Opt for a DIY Halloween costume using eco-friendly materials. 

Now as for the waste generated from decorations and all those candy wrappers. That can be a bit trickier — especially when it comes to candy wrappers. Most candy isn’t packaged sustainably. If you can find sustainably packaged candy that’s affordable to hand out and taste good, by all means, go for it. Some candy wrappers can be recycled, like the foil that certain candy bars are wrapped in, but good luck getting your kids to neatly unwrap that Hershey bar. 

Your best bet is to buy candy in bulk to cut down on some of the individual wrapper waste. 

When it comes to Halloween decorations, hopefully, you’re keeping them year after year. A single-use Halloween decoration is a bad decoration, and attics were invented for a reason. Consider making your own Halloween decorations out of eco-friendly products or buying decorations from a fall craft fair that are similarly made with eco-friendly materials. They’ll last longer and won’t be contributing to more single-use waste. Plus, you’re supporting local artists! 

Halloween doesn’t have to be devoid of fun and fright, but it also doesn’t need to be an environmental nightmare for the planet. 

Photos via Twitter/Matt Hunt, Twitter/bombshellyyy, Flickr

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