Synthetic costumes. Plastic decorations. Candy wrappers. Methane-emitting jack-o-lanterns. Like all holidays driven by consumerism, Halloween is a sustainability nightmare. 

While the environmental impacts of Halloween are not widely researched, some estimates indicate that up to 83% of Halloween costumes from big-box stores are made from synthetic, oil-based fabrics that are nearly impossible to recycle and wind up in landfills. In the U.S. alone, over a billion pounds of pumpkins end up in landfills annually, where they decompose and release methane. Halloween candy perpetuates major sustainability and human rights issues in the sugarcane and cocoa industries, not to mention the mountains of candy wrappers that are most often not recyclable. Even faux-spider webs can be dangerous to wildlife, particularly to birds during migration season. Wildlife rehabilitation centers can expect calls throughout the spooky season regarding chipmunks, squirrels, and even owls trapped in the webbing.   

The good news? An eco-friendly Halloween is not only possible but also a huge money saver and, honestly, more fun.

Get creative

The internet has no shortage of homemade costume and decoration ideas, so try to avoid premade costumes whenever possible. Check your closet first and see what you already have before you rush out to buy something new, or check with friends and family to see if they have anything you could borrow. You’ll save money, keep synthetic materials out of landfills, and connect with loved ones in the process. 

If no one in your immediate circle has exactly what you’re looking for, try shopping secondhand at thrift stores. You might be surprised by how easy it is to put together a costume from entirely secondhand items. There is plenty of Barbie and Ken merch already out in the world, so check Depop and Poshmark before Amazon. And if you really can’t piece together an outfit you’re happy with, consider renting a costume instead.

Reuse, reuse, reuse

Odds are you already have a ton of Halloween decorations waiting to happen. Glass jars from pasta sauce can be cleaned and used as candle holders, tissues can become ghosts, and old paper grocery bags can be cut up into fun patterns. Check out Green Citizen for more specifics and ideas.

If you’re buying specific Halloween gear, always be conscious of its lifespan. Find decorations and costume pieces you can reuse year after year, and only buy plastic if you plan to do so. Check out thrift stores and charity shops after Halloween is over to find next year’s decorations.

Be a responsible pumpkin owner

Composting your pumpkins is a huge way to cut down on greenhouse gasses and give back to the soil. Buying your pumpkins locally cuts down on transport emissions and supports local farmers. And stick to carving—painting your pumpkins means they can’t be composted. If compost isn’t available to you, bury it in your yard or a friend’s yard if you don’t have one. If you have a yard, plant the seeds and grow your own pumpkins for next year. Or better yet, preserve your pumpkins to use for pies, breads, and even dog food. There are tons of recipes out there to make sure your pumpkin decor has a delicious second life, from pumpkin seed pesto to pumpkin spice doughnut holes. The opportunities are limitless!

Go for an ethical sugar high

Homemade Halloween treats are a great way to cut down on plastic waste if you’re throwing a party. The Little Blog of Vegan has a ton of great plant based on-theme recipes to serve to your guests—Harry Potter broom pastries, vegan pumpkin cheesecake, vegan chocolate bat cookies and beyond. If you plan to hand out pre-packaged candy to trick-or-treaters (understandable, don’t take candy from strangers!), look for vegan and ethically-sourced candies instead of the big brands.

Be curious!

Image credit: David Menidrey via Unsplash