How to Have a Less Wasteful Halloween

Halloween is still scary, but in a different way.

Some of my favorite childhood memories involve dawning a witch costume and running through yards of crunchy leaves and glowing pumpkins, to a front door that opens in the anticipation of giving me candy. 

I’ll always have a fondness for Halloween. But the thrilling fear of the skeletons and zombie masks has been replaced with chills of dread that run down my spine when I think about the ghastly volume of plastic - and other waste- that results from the holiday. 

I guess you’re really a grown up when you find the real world more terrifying than the imaginary. But don’t worry, we have some tricks to keep Halloween scary for the kids and not so scary for the environmentally-minded adults. 

Here are some tips to avoid the triple threat of Halloween waste: Decorations, candy, and costumes.




Most of the plastic used at Halloween is totally unnecessary. And for those of us with chronic arachnophobia, going without the little plastic spiders would make the holiday a lot more enjoyable. Here are some better ways to decorate. 

    • Decorate with pumpkins, obviously. Is it even Halloween without pumpkins? All you really need to be officially decorated is a carved pumpkin and a few gourds. Gourds are colorful and come in all sorts of unique shapes and textures. Plus, they’re incredibly hearty and will last at least until Thanksgiving, so you can use them for two holidays. 


      When Halloween is over, toss the pumpkins into the compost pile. But don’t  forget to save the seeds and stick them in a toaster oven with a little oil and  salt for a crunchy, high protein snack. If you buy a sugar pie pumpkin (and  don’t carve it), you can use it to replace canned pumpkin in a pie.


      It should be noted that although pumpkins are edible and compostable, there’s still a large amount of waste associated with growing and trucking  them to stores to get sold. So 
honor thy pumpkin


    Make sure that whatever  doesn’t get eaten, gets composted.
  • Make a classic ghost with an old white sheet. Hang the sheet in a tree, and it’ll look pretty eerie blowing in the wind at night. Old sheets also make for excellent Halloween costumes. If you have any seriously worn out sheets like we did, Halloween is the perfect time to upcycle them.  
  • Instead of buying plastic-wrapped cotton, use twine to make cobweb patterns. It looks just as cool, and you can repurpose the twine afterwards. Be sure that the twine is made of natural fibers and unwaxed. Alternatively, you can stretch out dryer lint, much the way you would do with cotton. However, it’s not recommended that you use dryer lint outside, as most dryer lint contains microplastics from our clothes. 
  • Use larger rocks and stones to make a miniature graveyard. Kids love miniature things. Use a marker to write R.I.P on the stones. You can also use some sticks (and some of that twine) to make crosses.
  • Egg cartons make awesome Halloween bats. You can see an example here. While you could paint the egg cartons black, you don’t really need to. If you do choose to paint, make sure it’s non toxic and water soluble. And omit the googly eyes.
  • Put tea lights in mason jars, or any repurposed glass jar. The smoke will stain the glass and give it a spooky (and kind of cozy) glow. Of course, you can still use the mason jars when you’re done. Make them shine again with some baking soda and vinegar. 



            You don’t have to buy those huge plastic bags of overpriced candy from the drug store. But if you do, go for the candy in cardboard boxes, like Milk Duds or Junior Mints. 

            Or, opt for foil-wrapped candy, like Hershey Kisses or gold coins. Of course, it’s unlikely that tiny wrappers foil will actually get recycled, but at least they won’t leach microplastics into the soil. Be aware that sometimes wrapping that looks like foil is actually a plastic-foil composite. 

            TerraCycle sells a Candy and Snack Wrappers Zero Waste Box. The box will allow you to collect and send in candy wrappers and snack bags for recycling at the TerraCycle facility. The box costs $86, but if you can get your neighbors to chip in a few dollars, it would also incentivize them to save and contribute their candy wrappers. 

            Explore your local bulk candy options. It’s unlikely in these times of COVID that the already-too-few stores that did have bulk candy will have this option, but if you do have any luck, be sure to bring your own organic cotton produce bag. Of course, make sure that you repackage any loose candy that doesn’t come individually wrapped in small paper bags. 

            Candy Alternatives

            Fruit or home-baked goods are acceptable if you have a healthy level of trust among all of your neighbors. Otherwise, such treats may draw a suspicious eye from parents and end up getting tossed out. 

            You don’t necessarily have to give out anything edible. Pass out small items that will actually get used, such as bracelets or school supplies (think recycled rubber erasers or recycled newspaper pencils). It might not be candy, but I loved getting little gifts as a kid. 



            Homemade costumes are far more imaginative than those wasteful, mass produced costumes bought at a pop up Halloween store that reek of chemicals. With a pair of scissors and some old fabric, you can make practically anything. The key is to not buy anything new.

            First, check your closet. Last year, my dad found some white pants and a white t shirt and dressed as Mr. Clean. Very simple, but it was a hit. Even if you don’t want to represent a corporation like P&G, chances are you can find the outfit to imitate someone or something iconic. 

             Go to the thrift store. You can usually find perfectly good used costumes for sale, for much less than anything new. Or, look for cheap old t-shirts to sew, tie, or pin into something else. 


            Halloween costume from the thrift store


            Or look around the house. That old sheet mentioned above? Fashion it into a toga and smear some activated charcoal on your face for a simple Greco-Roman zombie look. The key is to be creative. When it comes to Halloween costumes, it’s the thought that counts. 

            Do you have any zero waste Halloween tips? Please share them with us! 

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