How to have a Zero Waste Halloween – Costumes, Decorations, & Candy

Plastic Free & Sustainable Halloween Tips/Ideas

Autumn brings the coziness of chilly days, longer nights and a changing landscape around us. That means Halloween is just around the corner. Whether you have children or are a child at heart, the spookiest holiday of the year can be great fun. Unfortunately it often means a lot of waste, but it doesn’t have to be! In this post, we’ll cover options and opportunities to have a zero waste Halloween without sacrificing the best parts of the holiday.

Eco-Friendly Costumes 

Dressing up for Halloween is a great joy for many and allows us to display our creativity and favourite characters. These days, seasonal shops and department stores tend to sell costumes that are flimsy, poor quality, polyester and plastic, and wear out quickly. While this trend is certainly disheartening, it does not mean that zero-waste costumes don’t exist. In fact, it is an opportunity for adults and children alike to use their creativity in crafting the perfect costume. 

Take Inspiration from Disneybounding

Disneybounding is a form of self expression, typically worn by visitors at Disney theme parks, to resemble characters without wearing overt costumes or cosplay outfits. Colour schemes and accessories turn a regular outfit into one that is identifiable as a favourite character, and can be subtle or overt. This concept is not restricted to Disney characters and it allows people to utilize items they already have in their closets to create an outfit or costume in a fashionable way.

For Halloween, it’s recommended to take an overt approach to this, and find colour schemes and patterns that are clearly resembling the character one is trying to portray. Adding a couple of signature accessories completes the look without excess waste or full costumes that need to be stored during the rest of the year. 

Utilize Thrift Stores

Some thrift stores have jumped on the trend of selling new fast fashion style Halloween costumes, but most still sell used costumes, along with regular inventory that could easily be used for a great costume. Try to buy used first before resorting to brand new pieces, and find creative ways to turn second hand clothing into an excellent costume. Look for pieces that can be worn year round, or if you plan to alter the item (i.e. tearing it up, covering it in fake blood, etc.), try to find items that are already stained, ripped or damaged. 

Upcycle your Recycling

Use your recycling bin as inspiration! This is an especially great way to get children involved in creating their own costumes. Look for items that can be painted, coloured and cut up such as egg cartons, cardboard, tin cans, aluminum foil, bottles and caps, and other clean or easily cleaned recyclables. A classic is the ‘cereal killer’ which utilizes cardboard cereal boxes and a plastic weapon (as appropriate depending on age). Egg cartons could be painted green to represent a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle or other animals with shells. Shredded brown paper bags or packing paper would make perfect scarecrow hair and ‘stuffing’. 

Make your Own

Making a costume yourself or for your children is another way to make your Halloween sustainable. Choose costumes and pieces that have longevity and diverse application. While a certain character or theme may be popular this year, it may no longer be relevant in a year or two. There are items that really never go out of style and can be applied to a variety of costumes, such as capes, black dresses, cloaks, vests, and hats. Some classic costumes that can be worn year after year include: 

  • Witch
  • Vampire
  • Frankenstein’s monster
  • Werewolf
  • Clown
  • Scarecrow
  • Ghost/ghoul
  • Bride
  • Pirate
  • Devil
  • Zombie
  • Skeleton
  • Mummy
  • Animals

 For children, make and choose items that have flexibility with sizing, can easily be taken in or out for height and weight changes, and can be used for multiple different iterations of a costume. 

Some easy DIY classic costume ideas with minimal materials needed

Rent, Borrow, or Swap

Many cities have high quality, locally owned costume rental shops. By renting your Halloween costume, you are supporting a local business, avoiding wasteful plastic outfits, and your look will be both high quality and comfortable. Check what’s available in your area and inquire about sizes and options for both children and adults. In the same vein, you can borrow or swap costumes from friends and family members. This is a great way to circulate children’s costumes if other people’s children have outgrown them or don’t want to wear the same thing two years in a row. 

Let makeup and accessories do the work

With an abundance of makeup tutorials available online, Halloween costumes can be as easy as a basic outfit and simple, reusable accessories plus a killer makeup look. You can never go wrong with black basics and eye-catching makeup or face paint. This applies to both adults and children (if your child is patient enough to wear it on their face all day or night).

Skip the seasonal store makeup, as it is often low quality, contains questionable materials, and is packaged in unnecessary plastic and cardboard. Use reliable, versatile products that are skin safe and easy to use, such as eyeshadow pallets and high quality bases. Ben Nye and Mehron are trusted brands used by makeup artists, but are not necessary for looks that could be completed with makeup you already own. A safe option for kids is Ecopiggy’s non-toxic face paint.

Accessories that can be used year after year or resold are another great way to try a Halloween look that may be more on trend or to zhuzh up a basic look.

Lots of costumes can be make with clothing you already own + makeup!

Sustainable Decorations

If you decide to decorate your home or work space for Halloween, look for long lasting items from quality materials. Consider your storage space, and how many decorations can be reasonably stored for eleven months of the year. Avoiding holiday waste also means only bringing things into your space that will not be thrown out or resold in a few weeks, and carefully curating the items that you want to bring out year after year. Ceramics, wood, glass, thick acrylic and high quality, thick plastic decorations will last a lifetime if cared for properly. They will be more expensive than dollar store decor, so be sure to wrap and store each item carefully in an organized container after Halloween. 

This is also an opportunity to utilize recycling bin items for hands-on crafts and homemade decorations. Paper chains from orange and black craft paper are easy for children to make and can also be stored or recycled once the holiday ends. Clever ‘grave stones’ can be made from wood, cardboard, and high quality foam. Children will love painting these and it also provides a fun opportunity to think of silly phrases to put on them. Of course a bounty of pumpkins, gourds and hay make classic outdoor decor, and can be composted at the end of the season. 

Decorations to avoid

It may be tempting to run into your local dollar store and pick up a basketful of Halloween decorations for very little money, but the plastic waste and toxic chemicals they contain are not worth it. 

Avoid novelty plastic leaf bags that are designed to look like pumpkins and ghosts. Leaves can be left as they are, raked into a compost pile, or shredded onto your lawn to provide nutrients and contribute to a healthy ecosystem. Sending these leaf bags to the landfill at the end of their life contributes to unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions. 

While they make a big scene, inflatable decorations use unnecessary electricity, can contribute to noise pollution, and if not stored properly, get holes in them which lead right to the landfill. 

However minimally or excessively you like to decorate, choose each decoration intentionally and make a plant to either compost, recycle, or care for it over your lifetime. 

Candy and Halloween Treats

Halloween and trick-or-treating go hand in hand for children. Sadly, a big byproduct of trick-or-treating is millions of tiny plastic candy wrappers. While it may not be possible to completely avoid this plastic waste depending on your situation and if you have children, there are some options to reduce the amount of plastic waste your family contributes to this Halloween. 

Trick or Treat Alternatives  

Soda cans and juice boxes provide some good variety for children and are recyclable. In my neighbourhood, houses that gave out soda cans were always a big hit, as trick-or-treating can be thirsty work. Foil wrapped candy like chocolate eyeballs or mini-pumpkins, and candy in small cardboard boxes provide a plastic free option. There is no guarantee that families will recycle them, but they may be a slightly less wasteful option. 

Unless you have a very trusting neighbourhood where everyone knows each other, avoid giving out fruit, baked goods or bulk items to children you don’t know. They seem like a nice idea, but it’s very likely they will be thrown in the garbage if the parents don’t want to risk anything. However, if you have trusting relationships with families in your neighbourhood, check to see if they are comfortable giving and receiving homemade treats in lieu of plastic wrapped candy. 

Set clear expectations with your children if you take them trick-or-treating. Having a conversation beforehand about how many houses you’ll visit or how full their bag will be when you are done for the night can make coming home with a reasonable amount of candy (and it’s corresponding waste) much easier. Talk to them about the plastic waste created from Halloween candy, and let them know that while you want them to enjoy trick-or-treating, you don’t want to bring more candy and wrappers into the house than necessary. Providing alternatives and compromises is a great way to avoid meltdowns when children want to get as much candy as possible from trick-or-treating. For example, “we’re only going to trick-or-treat on this block, but when we get home you can have a cupcake and watch your favourite Halloween movie”. 

Ideas for Adults and Plastic Free Parties

If it is safe for you to host a Halloween party where you live, plastic-free treats are quite easy. Bulk stores often stock package-free chocolates and candies year round, and stores like Bulk Barn often bring in specialty holiday candy, making zero-waste Halloween treats like candy corn, gummy witches, and foil wrapped chocolate pumpkins a breeze.

Hosting 

There are so many creative treats and savoury snacks you can make as a host, or ask guests to bring themed treats potluck style. Witches fingers, ghost cookies, caramel apples, and pumpkin pie are classics.

If a Halloween party is a yearly event for your household, invest in reusable cups and plates. If they are extravagantly decorated, that’s an extra special touch, but may be expensive – purchasing a set of orange and/or black cups, plates, napkins, and cutlery is a great option to keep on theme. 

If cost and space is an issue, choose plates and napkins that are made of paper or other natural materials and provide a labelled compost receptacle. Avoid items that are labelled compostable but have linings, as they are typically meant to be commercially composted, and most waste facilities do not have the infrastructure to actually compost them. Be sure to provide reusable cups, or request that guests bring their own cups to avoid throwing away hundreds of plastic cups. For foil wrapped candies, provide a labelled bowl or container where guests can deposit the wrapper for recycling. 

Attending events

If you are attending a party or sending your child to a Halloween gathering, bring your own cup (there are lots of reusable creepy goblets available at houseware stores this time of year) and if appropriate, a zero-waste host gift, like a jar of package free candy. For adult parties and Halloween events, stick to beverages served in bottles, cans and your own reusable cup – novelty drinks like test tube shots, syringe shots and jello shots are typically served in single use plastic that cannot be recycled. 

Have a very happy, and zero-waste, Halloween! 

Follow Christina Harbak:
Christina is a settler living on Treaty No. 6 Territory in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She is a Master Composter Recycler volunteer for the City of Edmonton and loves sharing knowledge and tips about composting, recycling and reducing waste. When she’s not saving bags of leaves from her neighbours garbage cans, she enjoys making jokes with Rapid Fire Theatre. Catch more of her thoughts on waste on her blog yegtrashtalk.wordpress.com

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