By Sandi Schwartz
Getting dressed up in silly costumes and indulging on tasty treats is a blast at any age, but all that fun comes with an environmental price each year when we celebrate Halloween. Have you ever stopped to notice all the plastic involved with Halloween? Plastic trick-or-treat bags. Plastic pumpkins. Plastic decorations. Plastic costumes. Plastic candy wrappers. All of that plastic can surely add up. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 30 per cent of municipal solid waste in the U.S. comes from packaging, including those pesky Halloween candy wrappers.
Fortunately, by tweaking a few of our Halloween traditions, we can reduce the amount of plastic used and wasted during this time of year. These tips give you the opportunity to get creative and show others how Halloween can be celebrated minus all of that petrifying plastic.
If you head over to a party store or those pop-up Halloween shops to search for the perfect character to dress up as, you will be inundated by cheap plastic costumes wrapped in plastic bags. Although it may be easy to just grab one, these costumes are wasteful and require resources that increase carbon dioxide emissions. Check out some of these much greener ways to dress up.
- Borrow from family and friends.Many families have a bin filled with costumes and accessories that are just collecting dust. Get some family members and friends together in the beginning of October and do a costume share. Before you know it, you will be mixing and matching some unique pieces into inventive costumes. Besides saving money, you will be reusing items and giving old costumes a new life.
- Make your own. Just think how meaningful it will be if you design your own costume for yourself and kids. This doesn¹t have to be difficult. Go hunting for fun clothing and accessories at a thrift shop. During this time of year, many thrift stores set up a whole section dedicated to dress-up costumes. You can also look around your house for materials you can reuse, such as old t-shirts, buttons, wrapping paper, food containers, bottle caps, etc. Need ideas? Google and Pinterest are your friends.
- Rent a costume.Consider renting a costume from a local costume shop or checking out the many costume rental companies online.
- Make a statement.If you really want to go all out for the environment, choose a meaningful costume using plastic waste materials to raise awareness about the plastic problem. For example, dress up as the Great Pacific garbage patch or fill clear plastic bags with the cleaned garbage you collected for a month to represent your monthly waste. If you are crafty, make your costume completely out of plastic bags, bottle caps, cups, food containers, and food wrappers. These ideas can provide a meaningful learning experience and an opportunity to get people thinking about taking action.
Everyone wants to out-spook their neighbour with the best Halloween decorations, but be aware of the endless plastic décor at the store. Typical Halloween decorations often include synthetic spiderwebs, black plastic spider rings, plastic pumpkins and skeletons, and more.
There are so many plastic-free decoration options to use as alternatives. First, look for ghosts, witches, and other decorations made from paper or cardboard since they will decompose much faster than plastic. You can also cut them out yourself; try hanging some black paper bats to frighten your guests. Next, go a bit more natural and choose edible and compostable decorations like colourful gourds, sunflowers, dried fall leaves, wheat, or even a bale of hay. And, of course, you can¹t go wrong with carving pumpkins into all types of jack-o-lanterns to set the mood.
Another way to go green this Halloween is to reuse materials you already have. Weave a spider web with some old natural twine. Make a ghost by stuffing a towel in a white sheet, tying with string, and hanging it in a tree or near a door. Add a scarecrow to your yard using some old shabby clothes and a jack-o-lantern head. Finally, challenge your family and friends to use Halloween wrappers from previous years to create custom Halloween decorations to be used in future years.
One of the most frustrating Halloween traditions is using plastic bags or plastic pumpkins to collect candy while trick-or-treating. There are so many other options to choose from rather than plastic. Try using cloth bags, pillowcases, and natural wooden or wicker baskets. You can even coordinate with your costume, such as a basket for a Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz costume or a pillowcase when dressed up as a baby.
Then there¹s those bite-sized, individually-wrapped treats that really cause a plastic waste problem. Unfortunately, most candy wrappers are not easily recyclable because they are made from a mix of materials, including polypropylene, aluminum foil, and paper. It is very tediousand not worth the effort or costto recover each separate component for recycling. Some companies are working on developing bio-based candy wrappers for their products that are biodegradable, compostable, and do not rely on oil-based materials. Mars has partnered with Rodenburg Biopolymers to develop this type of eco-friendly candy wrapper, but it is only available in Europe so far. While we wait for North American candy wrappers to go green, here are some ways that you can cut back on plastic candy wrapper waste during your Halloween festivities:
- Choose non-plastic wrapped candy.Look for candy wrapped in paper boxes or foil so they can be recycled. Some ideas for plastic-free candies include Smarties, Hershey kisses, and chocolates wrapped in pumpkin-looking foil.
- Find other types of goodies to give out.Skip the plastic-wrapped sugary candy altogether and opt for something more interesting and creative to hand out to the kids: friendship bracelets made from thread, Halloween-themed pencils and notepads, Mad Libs, or colouring books.
- Recycle candy wrappers. Recycle your candy wrappers by participating in Terracycle¹s Candy and Snack Wrappers Zero Waste Box (teracycle.com/en-CA). This is how it works: choose the size box you need, purchase it, throw your used wrappers in it, and ship it when filled. The collected waste is separated into fibres that are recycled or composted and plastics that are molded into new plastic products.
- Reuse candy wrappers. Artists are now getting really creative with waste products. You can find items like artwork, clothing, handbags, wallets, and jewelry made from candy wrappers. Donate your wrappers to an artist or try your hand at making a masterpiece.