How to Go Green for Halloween

pile of fresh pumpkins in various shades of orange

Treehugger / Julia Cook

Halloween is one of the most adored holidays of the year. It's an excuse to indulge in candy, stay up late watching scary movies, decorate the house like a Disney set, and don elaborate costumes. Sadly, the traditions surrounding All Hollow's Eve can create a whole lot of waste.

The U.K.-based environmental charity Hubbub estimated in a 2019 report that the plastic waste from "disposable" Halloween costumes and clothing alone exceeds 2,000 tons per year. And that doesn't include the waste from decorations and Halloween candy. Besides the reckless abandonment of plastic, environmental issues abound around the treats, the unbridled pumpkin consumption, and even the paint you use to decorate your face.

All hope is not lost for the Halloween enthusiast, though. Here are 10 easy ways to reduce your impact throughout the spooky season.

1. Choose Your Candy Consciously

Conventional Halloween candy is synonymous with individually wrapped mini iterations of problematic brand-name favorites. Sadly, the commercial chocolate industry is driving deforestation in the rainforest, as both the cocoa and palm oil needed to produce it grows only within 10 degrees of the equator.

The waste these shareable minis create is a whole other problem. Most candies come in plastic or aluminum wrappers than aren't widely recyclable and take 200 to 1,000 years to degrade in landfills. And that's only if they are, indeed, unwrapped and consumed. Many families accumulate too much candy to eat and wind up throwing away more than wrappers.

One way to reduce your Halloween candy footprint is to choose products containing Rainforest Alliance-certified cocoa and certified sustainable palm oil. If possible, choose organic candies in recyclable packaging or no packaging at all.

2. Rethink Your Trick-or-Treat Offerings

Person holding a tray of homemade Halloween cookies

Carol Yepes / Getty Images

Of course, candy isn't the only thing you can give away to trick-or-treaters. If you're willing to risk your reputation with the neighborhood youngsters, you could instead supply fresh, in-season fruits or homemade goodies like granola, popcorn, trail mix, crisp rice treats, or fruit leather. To make fruits more enticing to kids, consider decorating them. Turn your clementines into mini lookalike pumpkins or advertise your apples as poisonous à la "Snow White."

3. Don't Decorate With Fake Spider Webs

Fake spider webs are a Halloween decorating staple, but they can have major environmental consequences. Firstly, most are made of polyester, a synthetic plastic polymer that, again, can take up to a millennium to break down in landfills. Polyester cobwebs can also pose a major risk to birds, chipmunks, and other wildlife that get caught in their sinewy strands and lack the strength to free themselves. Birds, in particular, are susceptible to these obstacles because Halloween takes place during their migration period.

If you must include a spider web in your Halloween decorations, make your own (leaving plenty of space between the "threads") with yarn.

4. DIY, Swap, or Thrift Your Costume

Child dressed in homemade mummy costume in the lawn

Jodie Griggs / Getty Images

Buying a new costume every year is incredibly wasteful, especially because most are cheaply made with plastic materials that fall apart easily and release microplastics in the wash. Instead of supporting the largely unsustainable $3 billion Halloween costume industry, try DIYing your costume with materials you already have at home or sourcing your costume from a friend.

Make finding a Halloween costume fun by hosting a festive costume swap. Or hit up your local thrift stores and vintage boutiques to curate a unique ensemble of your own.

5. Say No to Plastic Trick-or-Treating Buckets

Trick-or-treating buckets decorated like Jack-o'-lanterns, witch's cauldrons, and Frankensteins are fun, but since when does one need a plastic bucket to schlep candy around the neighborhood? Once the kids grow up, those buckets will sit forgotten in the attic until they're inevitably sent to a landfill. Any reusable bag, basket, or pillowcase could do the same job.

6. Buy Locally Grown Pumpkins

Come October, the produce section of every supermarket in the country erupts with mountains of gourds and squashes. While these quintessentially autumnal fruits grow abundantly throughout the states, the U.S. still imports $438.5 million worth of pumpkins each year. About 90% of the imported bundle comes from our southern neighbor, Mexico. Almost 5% comes from Canada, and the rest comes mostly from the Caribbean and Central and South America.

The global pumpkin trade is a substantial producer of greenhouse gas emissions. You can easily reduce your footprint by instead sourcing your pumpkins locally—therefore also supporting the local economy.

7. Use Every Part of the Pumpkin

heirloom pumpkin cut in half to reveal seeds for saving and roasting

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

The beloved tradition of carving pumpkins is inherently wasteful. You gut the squash and carve it up, throw out the contents, then leave it on your porch to rot for a month. Thankfully, you don't have to forego the activity entirely to make it sustainable. So long as you salvage the pulp for soups or broth and the seeds for roasting, you can justify your pumpkin purchase as a source of sustenance.

After the holiday passes, put the rest of your Jack-o'-lantern out for wildlife to eat rather than throwing it away. Animals like squirrels, foxes, deer, and birds could use the extra food to help fatten them up for winter. Just make sure to cut it in half first so they don't get their heads stuck in it. If you don't have a yard to keep pumpkins in, consider donating them to a local hobby farm or animal shelter.

8. Say No to Toxic Face Paint

A 2016 report from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics revealed that 20% of Halloween face paints studied contained lead and 30% contained cadmium. Earlier studies found temporary hair colors and other cosmetics to contain hazardous chemicals that are banned or restricted in Europe, Canada, and Japan. When those chemicals and metals wash off into waterways, they pose serious risks to wildlife. Lead alone kills 10 to 20 million birds and other animals every year, mostly as a result of them feeding on carcasses that have been shot with lead bullets.

Instead of buying face paint, get creative with eco-friendly, low-waste, and Leaping Bunny-certified makeup. Try coloring your hair the natural way—with carrot juice, beet juice, coffee, or henna.

9. Make Your Own Halloween Decor

Succulents in pumpkins used as Halloween decorations

Elena Fantasia / Getty Images

Most of the Halloween decor you buy from the store is plastic—even if it's made with fabric. Like the average plastic trick-or-treating bucket, autumnal bric-à-brac can only last so long in one's attic. Even if you use it for a lifetime, you still can't justify the thousand years it's destined to spend in a landfill. Instead, decorate with cornstalks, hay bales, mums, or a selection of eccentric gourds. You can even make your own Halloween decorations like garland or scarecrows using waste or materials you have at home.

At the very least, source your Halloween decorations from thrift stores, Ebay, or Etsy.

10. TerraCycle Candy Wrappers

Conventional candy wrappers can't be recycled the traditional way, but you can keep them out of landfills by sending them into TerraCycle. TerraCycle is a private recycling businesses that accepts difficult-to-recycle waste such as mixed-material bottles and laminated paper beverage cartons. The company sells a zero-waste pouch specifically for candy and snack wrappers. Just fill it up and send it back with the provided return label.