How to Reduce your Waste during Halloween!

Halloween is almost here, which means it’s time to get the decorations up, pick a costume, and stock up on candy. Like most holidays, a dramatic increase in waste is expected over Halloween — waste that can and should be avoided.

We generate waste in almost everything we do, from pumpkin carving to the plastic used in candy wrappers and costumes (yep, polyester fabric is a type of plastic). The bright side is that there are many ways to reduce, reuse, compost or recycle this unnecessary waste. And Halloween plastic waste is a great place to start.

This year let’s try to take new steps toward sustainability and learn how to reduce your waste during the festivities.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

The Problem with Candy Wrappers

Halloween without candy is not Halloween. The National Retail Federation is anticipating a spending of $10.1 billion this year, up from $8billion last year. Candy wrappers are a big part of the extra waste we generate around this time.

Those shiny wrappers are usually made of plastic and aluminum layered on top of each other, called multilayer packaging. Well, the layering has a reason: they keep food fresh longer and prevent spoiling. However, they are very hard to recycle; are not curbside recyclable and not even accepted at Atlanta recycling center CHaRM. What if the candy wrapper is made of 100% plastic? It’s still unlikely that it will be processed due to its size and it holds no value. It is simply too small to pass in the machines, so it is diverted to a landfill.

Oh well, where to dispose them? Garbage bin it is. If you put it in your recycling bin, it will end up contaminating your “truly” recyclables (paper, metal, glass, and some types of plastic). Candy wrappers will end up in the landfill anyway, flying around and making their way to waterways. Sad, right? As a matter of fact, candy and snack wrappers were number 3 litter in the ocean in the latest Global Beach Cleanup. The amount of wrappers found were only behind cigarette butts and water bottles.

Costumes, Decorations… and the list goes on and on!

Halloween waste goes beyond candy wrappers. Costumes and decorations also create a big amount of waste. Researchers in the UK found that more than 80% of the costumes sold in supermarkets and retailers are made of polyester – an oil-based plastic likely to end up in the landfill.

Costumes and decorations are usually treated as “disposables”, and approximately 2,000 tons of plastic waste is generated in the UK only in a single year. That’s the equivalent of 83 million plastic bottles. Now, guess how much costume waste is generated in the US? That’s spooky!

Now for the best part… Tips on how to have a Green Halloween!

  • Buy bulk chocolate: the best type of packaging is no packaging at all. Many supermarkets have bulk aisles now – yes, it’s becoming trendy – and there is a variety of chocolates, candies, almonds, chews, and lots more. Bring a jar or a paper bag and fill up with your favorite treats. Distribute them in individual brown bags and have fun trick or treating!
  • Look for paper + foil/aluminum, separate: some brands have chocolate bars and candies wrapped in a paper outer layer and a foil inner layer. Both layers can be recycled separately. You may also find candies wrapped in foil or paper only, that’s a good option too.
    • Tip 1: take care not to tear the foil too much, as small pieces that come loose from the main portion are unlikely to actually get recycled once they make it to the recycling facility;
    • Tip 2: if you are not sure the foil is truly aluminum, try to crumple it up in a ball. If it holds, it can be recycled. If it bounces back, it’s likely mixed with plastic and can’t be recycled;
    • Brands I found with this option: Lindt, Ghiradelli, and Chocolove.
  • Choose compostable: a chocolate or candy wrapped solely in paper is a great example of compostable packaging. Lemonheads in those little paper boxes are a plastic-free option… There is also a brand called Alter Eco, that developed its own compostable (not recyclable) plastic wrapper, derived from eucalyptus and birch wood. But watch out: those wrappers are NOT “home compostable”, they are “commercially compostable”, meaning that they can only be composted in a controlled environment such as an industrial composting facility like Compost Now.
  • Re-wear old costumes instead of buying new: those skeletons in the back of your wardrobe will thank you, and so will your wallet and the planet!
  • Costume swap: get secondhand costumes. Some ideas below:
    • Get it for free in your local “Buy Nothing Sell Nothing group”
    • Thrift stores are also full of costumes this time of the year
    • Be in the watch out for a swap stand in one of Atlanta’s fall festivals. I was so glad to see a Halloween swap stand at Oakhurst Porchfest this year!
    • Host a Halloween costume swap at your home!
  • DIY Halloween costumes: there are many ideas on how to create costumes out of materials you already have at home. Here’s an example of an easy homemade skeleton costume.
  • Paint yourself scary: You can pick up non-toxic, cruelty free face paint super cheap from most fancy-dress shops and create amazing looks for almost any outfit you can imagine. YouTube has some great tutorials and when you wash the paint off, you’ll be waste-free!
  • Try plastic-free Halloween decorations this year: there are several ideas online. My favorite one is to use pumpkins and squashes. Once they are done adorning your porch or doorstep, cook them into a tasty dish or compost them if they’ve gone bad. Gourds are generally grown for decorative purposes only, so those you can just compost when the time comes.
  • If buying a brand-new costume or decorations: make sure you store them properly and pull them out again next year to reuse it or donate/sell to someone else.

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