zero waste halloween


This is the story of how we survived Halloween with 2 kids, no waste and still had a fantastic time in the process.

I always struggled with the idea of Halloween.  I love the costumes and energy of all the kids coming together in our small friendly neighborhood.  However, I always felt guilty about the waste; the hoards of candy that we accumulated to give, the massive amount we received, the amount my kids ate, the amount that went in the trash afterwards.  It just seemed like a ridiculous idea to me: go out and ask for candy that I didn’t even want from people who used their money to buy it, just to trash/donate it afterwards- a wasteful futile lifecycle.

Other parents commiserated with me.  Really, no one wants their kids eating that much candy- most people I talked to said they let their kids eat as much as they wanted that night and then trashed or donated the rest.  Personally, I don’t agree with teaching kids to gorge and binge on candy that night- I try to foster a healthy relationship with food in our house.  Plus, I don’t want my kids eating any of that cr*p.  Whether you are vegan or not, I think we can all agree that the candy ingredients are the scariest part of Halloween.  High fructose corn syrup, palm oil, hydrogenated oils, artificial colors and flavors!!!  Spooky stuff.  Donating the candy seems like a good idea, but honestly I don’t believe anyone should be eating this unhealthy “food”.  Taking the candy also supports the companies behind it- big companies like Nestle who aren’t sustainable, fair trade, or socially/environmentally responsible.  ALSO all that individually wrapped, plastic candy creates SO. MUCH. TRASH.

I wanted to share our  waste free Halloween alternatives this year to hopefully inspire you for next year. To show you that YES, not creating trash on Halloween is totally doable, even with kids.  And even if you make one small change or even just file this information in the back of your head for later, it will be so worth it.

  1. Pumpkins: instead of carving pumpkins, I buy the sugar pie pumpkins and let the kids paint them.  After Halloween, instead of trashing them, I peel the skin off and use them in pies, roasted, in smoothies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin butter, etc.  If you do carve pumpkins, COMPOST it after Halloween instead of trashing it!  Food waste in the landfill creates methane gas which pollutes our air.
  2. Costumes: I always use what we have to make costumes OR buy a thrift store costume.  It is environmentally friendly, cheap, and unique.  This year, my daughter was a night fairy with an all black outfit, glitter and stars on her face, and wings someone gave us.  Vin was Spongebob (a $3 costume we found at Thrift Town).  Other ideas: host a costume swap with friends, or check on Freecycle or Craigslist in your area.  In the U.S., we spend $3.4 BILLION DOLLARS on new costumes every year, with most of them being thrown away after Halloween.  If you do buy a costume, be responsible and give it away to a friend, someone in your community, sell it online, or donate to a thrift store after Halloween.
  3. Trick or Treating: This year, in lieu of trick or treating for candy, my kids collected donations for UNICEF which supports and defends kids in need worldwide.  We got the little orange donation boxes via school, but you can get one from UNICEF or download a DIY form from their site.  This year we collected almost $60!  Doing so teaches my kids to care about others and emphasizes giving rather than getting.  This is a normal thing in my neighborhood and mostly everyone is prepared with change to give.  Some people aren’t prepared or interested in giving and that’s ok!  I talked with the kids about this earlier so they were prepared for this.  Some people still snuck a candy to Vin (mostly old people).  I avoided this as much as possible by going up to the door with him to make sure.  We ended up with 5 pieces of candy that I gave back to the neighbor kids.
  4. Giving out candy:  If you’ll be at home giving out candy, consider using bulk candy or these amazing Alter Eco truffles which have a compostable wrapper.  Theres a lady in our neighborhood who gives out tangerines with little spooky faces drawn on them with Sharpie too and the kids love them!
  5. Alternative Treats:  Instead of candy, my kids picked out treats ahead of time to enjoy after trick or treating was over.  They chose these raw lemon bars and bulk candy they chose from the store that we bought in our own bag.  My friend brought over carrot cake whoopie pies too.  They were really excited for this, and I was happy to let them indulge in these healthier treats made with real whole food ingredients.
  6. Parties:  If you are going to a Halloween party, be sure to bring your own cup!  My neighbors host a party every year where Solo cups are the norm.  I bring my mason jar to enjoy the drinks waste free.  If you are hosting the party, consider using reusables and doing bulk candy instead of the individually wrapped stuff.
  7. Decorations:  Use things you already have, or buy them at the thrift store and save them to use year after year.  There are so many decorations you can find in November that are donated after Halloween.  Pumpkins, gourds, squashes, are all festive and either edible and/or compostable.

To be honest, I was a little worried the kids wouldn’t have as much fun this year .   I was imagining an ascetic, miserly affair.  We actually ended up having loads more fun.  The kids were so excited to raise money for UNICEF in their little orange boxes.  We met up with kids in our neighborhood plus a few of our friends.  We got a lot of positive comments from people at the door and other parents.  Afterwards, our friends came back to our house with us and we all shared and enjoyed treats and chili.  Carmela excitedly counted all the money we had raised (about $60 total!) and we played and talked for a few hours before bed.  We had a lovely time together, ending up with MEMORIES instead of THINGS.  It felt so good to live our values, to teach our kids to stick to what you believe in, even when it is totally different from what others are doing.  Here’s to new traditions with much more fun, love, compassion, and a lighter footprint on our gorgeous planet.

4 thoughts on “zero waste halloween”

  1. This is great, well done! We did some of these things such as reusing costumes and decorations from previous years. My kids made a few more decorations and we gave out chocolates in recyclable packaging or a few 1p or 2p coins. I have written down some of your ideas to think about for next year.

  2. Thank you! As a teacher, I worry about seeming less than spirited during wasteful holidays, but it helps to know many parents feel the same way. Also, kudos for teaching your children the importance of giving, even when it’s not Thanksgiving.

    1. I totally agree, it can be hard to find a balance celebrating without waste but also without being a humbug! I’m sure as a teacher its hard too as you have a variety of kids, parents, and views to juggle. Eventually I hope to have all the neighborhood kids gather together for a party in lieu of trick or treating, with bulk candy and games.

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