Millions around the world celebrate All Hallows Eve – Halloween – on October 31, in spooky costumes, filling their tummies with candy.
When I was a kid, growing up in a suburb of Toronto, Canada, my dad would take my brother and I trick or treating around the neighborhood. “Trick or treating,” as we called it, was a tradition, where parents across the country would dress their kids in Halloween costumes, and let them run from house to house, yelling “trick or treat,” upon which the neighbors would joyfully hand out candy to the cute costumed kids.
As we went around the neighborhood, we’d meet up with our classmates, fellow trick or treaters, dressed in whacky plastic costumes, carting around plastic shopping bags, filled with candy. Our parents would all walk together behind us, while we ran ahead with the other kids, collecting our candy loot.
I still remember my Mom yelling at us for feasting on too much candy when we got back from our night of trick or treating. And I remember the piles, and piles of candy wrappers filling the kitchen table, and later the garbage can.
Many of those candy wrappers may still be intact in landfill sites today, leaching their wasteful by-products into the soil where we grow our food, and into the water we drink. I can only imagine what archeologists in the future will think of our society, when they uncover plastic costumes of Casper the Friendly Ghost, Mickey Mouse, and Mr. T.
Back then, the environment wasn’t a big concern. Thankfully, times have changed, and now it is possible to have an environmentally-friendly Halloween. Here are five tips to help you enjoy a green Halloween.
1. Carry Reusable Bags
Cloth and canvas shopping bags are so common these days this is a no-brainer replacement for plastic or paper bags. If you secretly hope your kid gathers some candy for you while you take them trick or treating – and what parent doesn’t? – pillowcases make great loot bags, they are washable, and if you have a queen or a king-sized one, will hold more candy than a typical cloth shopping bag.
Stay away from those molded plastic jack-o-lanterns sold this time of year. Although they are re-usable, they are still made of – well – plastic. Over 90% of all trash floating in our oceans is plastic, and much of that is eaten by fish, birds and other marine life.
2. Re-Use Costumes
Rent your Halloween costumes from theatrical or costume stores, instead of buying them. Halloween only comes once a year, but last year, Americans alone spent over $8 billion on this one-time event. Of that $8 billion price tag, the largest chunk – about 36% — was spent on costumes.
Renting a costume may be significantly cheaper to purchasing one outright, allows you or your kids to dress up differently every year, and instead of purchasing a new custom which either hangs forever in your closet collecting dust, or gets tossed into the trash, it is returned and re-used when it gets rented by others.
3. Give Environmentally Thought Out Candy
Although more expensive, organic candy is available from chocolates to other treats. Organic foods are healthier and better for the environment, as they are made from products which don’t contain pesticides or other chemicals. You can find organic candy online, in the organics section of many grocery stores, health food stores, and some farmers markets.
Also consider what the candy comes in – avoid purchasing products which have an abundance of packaging, which will fill landfills.
4. Use and Encourage Environmentally Travel
Organize car pools to reduce the amount of people driving to your Halloween party. Or even better, eliminate the cars altogether, and provide special door prizes for those that show up with proof of an environmentally-friendly way to get to your place – say a bus pass, transit transfer, or a bicycle? People will do just about anything to receive a free gift.
Taking the kids trick or treating in local neighborhoods, which you can walk to, not only is more environmentally sound than driving to further communities, but better for them, as they get to meet and play with other children in their neighborhood – and you get to meet other parents locally too. Good fences may make good neighbors, but knowing the other parents and kids in the neighborhood makes for a closer-knit community, where people look out and after each other.
5. Have a Green Halloween Party
Having a Halloween party? Why not make it green-themed right from the start? Invite people to dress up in green-themed, home-made costumes, or ones which they have rented. Serve organic foods, and use dishes and cutlery instead of disposable plates and plastic forks and knives.
Encourage or reward environmental ways of getting to your party, and make sure there are green ways for people to get home.
Halloween may be a night for ghosts, goblins and zombies, but with a little planning and thought, it can be an environmentally-friendly celebration.
Note: This article was originally published in 2013