I freaking love Halloween. I think I’m more into Halloween now than I ever was when I was a kid, though I’d have to ask my mom to confirm or deny that.
But alas, Halloween, like many Americanized holidays, currently conflicts with my slowly changing agenda and ideals. In recent years I’ve been trying my best to lessen the amount of waste my household sends to the landfill each week, and I think we’re doing pretty good for beginners (we’re down to only 1 bag of trash per week!), but we still have a long way to go.
Since today’s version of Halloween encourages the annual purchase of cheaply-made costumes and plastic-wrapped candies and toys, it therefore also encourages both litter, and (like many other holidays in America) a certain level of gluttony, and because of that, I thought I’d compile a list of a variety of cleaner, lower-waste, and generally more minimal ways to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve.
I’ve separated my compilation of ideas into two main categories that are the main elements I think of when I think of Halloween: candy/trick-or-treating treats, and costumes.
I myself am still fairly new to the zero-waste/low-waste movement. My goal with this list is not to shame anyone who doesn’t have the time to DIY costumes for their kids, or who will be passing out plastic-wrapped candy (full disclosure, I will be passing out some plastic-wrapped candies this year, too; as I said, I’m still a beginner!). Rather, my goal with this post and this list is to offer lower-waste Halloween ideas in good faith to encourage awareness this Halloween season – so that even if we do buy costumes from the store, or candy wrapped in plastic, we can do it with mindfulness and awareness of where those products and their packaging will end up after they have lived their lives in our households. And more than that, this list will hopefully offer some insight into the fact that we can still have the fun, candy-filled Halloween that we’re used to, but with a lot less waste!
The scariest part of Halloween is probably how much waste comes from candy. The candy passed out to trick-or-treaters is usually miniaturized, too, and we know that smaller candies means more wrapping, which means more waste. Here are a few lower-waste ideas for your little boos and ghouls who come trick-or-treating this year (see what I did there?).
*Oh, and when it comes to anything homemade and hand-wrapped – just make sure you know your neighbors and whether they’d be comfortable allowing their children to accept handmade baked goods or candy. If they wouldn’t feel okay with it, just try a different idea!
Homemade popcorn balls, cookies, bars, or candies* – wrap them in wax paper or pop them in a wax paper bag, stapled shut.
Bulk boxes of Tootsie Rolls or fruit chews, or bulk boxes of mini boxes of Junior Mints, Nerds, Dots, Milk Duds, raisins (hey, some kids like them), chocolate-covered raisins (Raisinets), etc. – this is a great option for lower-waste candy to pass out to trick-or-treaters; basically any candy that is wrapped in paper, wax paper, or cardboard is a better option than something that’s wrapped in plastic or plastic-foil. I personally think that even if the mini boxes are packaged in a bulk size with a plastic bag that it’s still slightly better than if the candies are wrapped in plastic individually.
Halloween pencils/erasers – okay, I know, I know. If I was a kid and I got a pencil for a Halloween treat I’d probably get mad about it. But maybe if you passed it out with another goody?
Boxes of chalk/crayons – another potentially lame idea, but who knows, maybe the kids in your neighborhood are a little weird.
Clementine jack-o-lanterns, or bananas with ghost faces drawn on – if you’re like, a dentist or something.
Cans of soda, juice, or tea – since aluminum is eternally recyclable it’s a great low- to zero-waste option for passing out to your trick-or-treaters.
Locally-made candy – try finding a place that sells individually-wrapped caramels or chocolates, or those little paper strips of sugar dots!
Bulk, foil-wrapped candy, chocolate/yogurt-covered raisins, chocolate/yogurt-covered pretzels, trail mix, etc., packaged in mini paper bags* – again, if you think it’d go over well in your neighborhood, and if you’re lucky enough to have a bulk section at a store near you.
Temporary tattoos – these sometimes have a plastic film on them, though, so just be sure you’re checking how they’re packaged if your goal is to kick the plastic.
Bags of popcorn – I read about someone who had one of those mini theater-popcorn machines and they’d pop corn all night for the trick-or-treaters and just pass out little bags of popped popcorn to their visitors. Cool idea if you have the materials! And how cute would it be to hand out popcorn in little pumpkin bags like this!
Costumes are another area of high waste when it comes to Halloween. The ones they sell at box stores and the Dollar Tree are cute, but cheaply made. They fall apart quickly and are often made out of polyester and other plastics. First, try using what you have, if you can, and shop secondhand stores for any extra, simple items you can reuse for multiple costumes over the years. Here are a couple ideas for easy-to-do costumes that only require a few articles of clothing, and maybe a bit of makeup.
Belle (from Beauty & the Beast): blue Goodwill “dress” made of oversized scrubs top; white collared button-down blouse; black flats; white hand towel + string to make an apron; scrap of blue cloth for a hair bow; books from your bookshelf
Bandit: black gloves and beanie hat – search through your winter clothes!; black pants and shoes; black-and-white-striped shirt; scrap of black cloth with eyeholes cut out for “mask”; canvas bag with hand-drawn or hand-cut-out dollar sign
Farmer/scarecrow: jeans or overalls; plaid button-down shirt; work boots; straw hat; pitchfork; makeup or face paint for scarecrow
Witch: black dress, black or black & green/black & purple/black & orange striped tights, pointed witch’s hat, black lipstick, black heels or spool-heeled, pointed-toe boots
Cat: black tee, black leggings, black sock filled with stuffing, black shoes, black gloves, face paint, black cat ears
Ghost: the classic – a white sheet with holes cut out for eyes (My mom even sewed on black mesh for eye holes and a mouth on our ghost costume, and it got many years of use!)
Harry Potter: black robe, black shoes, any pants, red-and-yellow striped scarf, round glasses, maybe a wooden stick/wand if you wanna get crazy
As you can see, there are TONS of ideas for a lower-waste Halloween celebration! Honestly, this doesn't even begin to cover it. There are so many ideas that I couldn’t fit them all in this post or else it would’ve been chaotic and all over the place, and we would’ve been here till Christmas. Maybe you’ll see more of those ideas next year...
Do you have any Halloween traditions or ideas that are low- or zero-waste? Or do you have any traditions that could use a low-waste makeover? Thanks for reading!