How to have a more eco-friendly Halloween

Growing up, my favorite holiday by far was Halloween. I loved brainstorming costume ideas and making them come to life. I often made my costume, either alone or in collaboration with a friend. (Perhaps one of my favorites was when I was a spoon to go with my childhood best friend’s can of Campbell Soup.)

I adored the magic of the evening as kids paraded around the neighborhood dressed up in a wide spectrum of costumes, from silly clowns to scary grim reapers.

And the candy.

As a sugar fiend, I relished filling my bag with all sorts of sweet treats, dumping the haul in a big pile on my best friend’s living room rug as we tallied how many coveted Reece’s Peanut Butter cups and the rare full-size candy bars we collected.

Individual size candy bars
So tasty but so bad for the environment! (Image by Andrew Malone via Flickr)

But as I get older and delve deeper into my green journey, I can’t help but notice all the waste associated with Halloween.

From overpriced costumes made from cheap materials derived from fossil fuels to candies individually wrapped in plastic. Glow sticks that last for a few hours to pumpkins cut are cut up for decoration then are tossed in the trash, adding to the huge amount of food waste that is already a huge problem in the country.

I still love the spirit of Halloween and I want to make it as magical and memorable of an experience for my kids as it was for me.

So here’s what I do to try to make Halloween as eco-friendly as possible. (Please note that there are affiliate links below for your convenience. You can read my full disclosure policy here.)

Environmentally friendly Halloween candy options

In addition to the issue of all the waste plastic wrap, a lot of candy contains palm oil.

Palm oil isn’t inherently bad. The issue is that farmers in Malaysia and Indonesia, where the majority of palm oil is produced, burn down rainforests to clear land to plant palm trees.

So your choices are to either buy candy that doesn’t contain palm oil or to do your research and find companies that use sustainably-grown palm oil.

Another issue with so much Halloween candy isn’t actually environmental but is an ethical issue. According to this article in the Washington Post:

“About two-thirds of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West Africa where, according to a 2015 U.S. Labor Department report, more than 2 million children were engaged in dangerous labor in cocoa-growing regions.

When asked this spring, representatives of some of the biggest and best-known brands — Hershey, Mars and Nestlé — could not guarantee that any of their chocolates were produced without child labor.”

So now that you’re scratching your head wondering what candy to buy, here are a few options. Please note, they aren’t a perfect solution since there’s still a lot of waste associated with individually-wrapped candies, but it’s a start:

  • Unreal Candies made with Fair Trade, sustainable, and organic ingredients.
  • Endangered Species chocolates are made from non-GMO and Fair Trade ingredients. The company supports conservation efforts for endangered species and habitats
  • Justin’s makes nut butter cups and uses organic ingredients that Rainforest Alliance Certified and uses sustainably sourced Palm Oil
  • Alter Eco works closely with local farmers to source their ingredients and their wrappers for their truffles are compostable! The company is also a B Corp. And I’m totally obsessed with their chocolate bars!

Alternatives to candy

There are also non-candy options. Not only are they are a more eco-friendly alternative, but they’re also an allergy-friendly treat.Here are some ideas:

  • Little toys from a local thrift shop
  • Plantable pencils
  • Mini notebooks made from recycled post-consumer waste
  • Mini Halloween seed cards made with recycled paper
  • Mini cans of seltzer (although no child wants to carry around a bag full of cans of seltzer)

Of course, you may piss off some of the neighborhood kids by withholding sugary treats. But hey, it’s for their future!

Eco-friendly Halloween decorations

Part of getting into the spirit of Halloween is the decorations. Instead of going out and buying brand new decorations, here are some more eco-friendly options:

Toddler holding a pumpkin with her dad
There’s nothing like a pumpkin you grew yourself!
  • Buy pumpkins and gourds from local farms, and get them organic or at farms that implemented Integrated Pest Management (IPM) when possible. Compost them when you’re done.
  • Use other items found in nature to create decorations, such as orange leaves cut to look like a pumpkin or use sticks to make a pretend spiderweb.
  • A lot of conventional candles are made from petroleum. Instead, use beeswax, soy, or reusable candle to light up your jack-o-lantern.
  • Use objects from your recycling bin to make decorations. Here are some cute ideas to help spark your creativity.

Greener costume ideas

I can’t believe I was ever willing to shell out about 50 bucks for something I would wear once, maybe twice, that was so cheaply made. I refuse to do the same for my kids both out of principle — I won’t spend that much on an outfit they wear year-round — and because it’s just adding to the unnecessary waste in the world.

Mom with two young children dressed up in their DIY Halloween costumes
Our DIY family Sing costumes (Mine the elephant, Rosita the big, and Buster Moon the Koala)

My older daughter and I start planning our costumes months in advance. And I’m proud to say that I have not purchased her a brand new costume. Over the years we’ve done a combination of buying used costumes from local thrift shops, making costumes from used materials, and one year she even dressed in an outfit from a stuffed bear from my childhood. (The bear is about the size of a young toddler.)

Here are some eco-friendly costume alternatives:

Make your own

I prefer to make our costumes. It’s way more fun and we get a unique, one-of-a-kind costume.

You don’t need amazing sewing skills to make a Halloween costume for your kiddos. One year my older daughter wanted to be Anna from Frozen. I bought a few pieces of used clothing, some iron-on hem tape (you can usually get it at your local craft store), and puff paints to make it. It wasn’t 100% waste-free, but it was way less.

My itty bitty Anna!

It was more work than buying a premade one from Amazon, but it was cheaper and it was way more unique. Even though we saw about 42 other Annas parading around the neighborhood, no one had the same exact costume.

But the best part? She absolutely loved it!

Buy it used

There are so many options for getting a costume used. Our local Goodwill always has a section of Halloween costumes, as do some of the local kid consignment stores. Here are some other places to look for used costumes:

  • eBay
  • Craigslist
  • local listservs
  • Facebook marketplace

Check out the bottom of this post for a more complete list of places to look to get things used.

Borrow it

You could also just borrow a costume. Put out a call on Facebook or ask your friends. Don’t be shy!

Eco-friendly trick-or-treating items

The big night is here and it’s time for your little Wookie to collect her treats. Instead of buying a plastic trick-or-treat bag or a cheap plastic pumpkin, here are some alternatives:

  • Decorate an old pillowcase or buy a used one
  • Cut up a t-shirt to make a reusable bag
  • Use a reusable grocery bag
  • Carry a basket

Glow sticks are so much fun, but after a few hours of fun they end up right in the trash. Here are some alternatives to light your way:

  • Flashlight with a rechargeable battery
  • Headlamp
  • Make a handmade lantern from a used container. If you’re using a plastic container, cut out holes for the light to shine through. If it’s clear, you can decorate it with leaves or colored tissue paper saved from gifts. Pop in a reusable tea light or an LED light.

What do you do to make Halloween a more environmentally-friendly experience for your children?

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