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11 Eco-Friendly Halloween Hacks

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My earliest memory as a child was that of Halloween. I remember waiting anxiously for my dad to come home from work so he would take me trick-or-treating. I hid from him so he would have to find me when he walked through the door. I must have been four or five years old.

Halloween is a fun time for the youngsters. But it is also another holiday that creates tons of waste. Candy wrappers, plastic decorations, costumes and Halloween parties . . . all of these things are so much fun, yet so wasteful. The good news is that we can celebrate our favorite spooky holiday to the fullest while serving our planet.

1. Plastic-free Halloween treats

It seems unrealistic to tell people to not hand out candy wrapped in plastic during a pandemic. But don’t worry because there are other safe options!

Buy candy in paper boxes, which are compostable. It may be difficult to find candy that is not wrapped in plastic, but it’s not impossible. For example, Amazon sells candy individually-wrapped in boxes.

I have a neighbor who thinks outside the box (pun intended) on Halloween. He brings out his popcorn maker and paper bags and the kids can scoop out a bag of popcorn as their treat. The kids absolutely love this, even though it isn’t candy.

It is inexpensive and fun to make your own bracelets out of natural fibers and pass them out to your favorite friends in leui of candy.

If you are a traditionalist and must pass out candy wrapped in plastic, I have an excellent solution for you so you can still be eco-friendly. There is a program called Terracycle that sends you Candy and Snack Wrappers Zero Waste Box. For $86, buy a Terracycle box, fill it with candy wrappers, and send candy wrappers away to be recycled and reused. The plastics collected by Terracycle undergo extrusion and pelletization to be molded into new recycled plastic products.

Hand out plastic-free treats.

There is a movement to replace candy treats with other Halloween treat alternatives, but this often means families are giving out plastic—and sometimes toxic—throwaway treats like glowsticks, plastic toys and juice boxes.

Instead, hand out eco-friendly treats that inspire creativity:

• Paper folding fortune tellers
• Seed packets
• Felted wool animals
• Pencils and erasers
• Small homemade books

2. Thrift Shop / Homemade Costumes

As Mackelmore would say in his song Thriftshop, “I’m just pumped, just bought some shit from the thrift shop. . . ” Is there any better way to play it cheap and sustainable than by purchasing a used Halloween costume? I sell all of my costumes on Facebook marketplace or give them away to friends at the end of the season.

For some great thrift store costume ideas, check out this great list of thrift store costume ideas from A Clean Bee. I like these ideas for Maker Mama, or I love Mary Poppins from Cleo Madison.

Lauren, from Trash is for Tossers, suggests, you can make your own costume by getting creative with the clothes and accessories you already own.

Swap costumes with a friend. Your child’s friend Billy may have worn a very cool superman costume last year that is now sitting in the closet.

If you want a very amazing costume for that Halloween party, it is always a great idea to  rent a costume. There are online stores for renting costumes or check with your local theatres to see if you can pay to rent a costume.

3. Donate extra candy

Kids never want to give up their candy, but by day two of candy gorging, most parents have had it with the sweets. There are so many ways to get rid of your child’s halloween candy besides sneaking into their rooms in the middle of the night and eating it all yourself.

Dentists and orthodontists will often pay your kids to turn in their candy. Just do a little sleuthing around your city or look on NextDoor for those who are participating in that program.

Nursing homes, veteran’s halls, and homeless shelters would love to take your extra wrapped candy. Check out this list of ideas for how your excess candy can support a good cause.

Operation Trick or Treating for the Troops is run by Operation Stars and Stripes and you can sponsor a drive in your community to collect excess candy for our troops. The Ronald McDonald House Charities often have programs where you can donate your Halloween candy to sick children and their families to enjoy.

The Halloween Candy Give-Back Program is run by Operation Gratitude and has been connecting communities with Military and First Responder Heroes each fall since 2007. Americans across the nation can donate their Halloween candy with Operation Gratitude, and they donate it to Deployed Troops, Veterans, and First Responders.

You can also call your local food pantry or homeless shelter to see if they accept Halloween candy. Just remember to save at least some for yourself — you deserve it!

4. Make your own Halloween decor

A lot of Halloween decorations are made of cheap plastic and don’t hold up long term, plus they are terrible for our oceans. They may also contain harmful chemicals.

Halloween is a fun time to decorate because nature provides us the best decorations. The kids will have a great time collecting fall leaves and branches from outside. Pick up gourdes, apples, and corn at the local farms or Farmers’ Market.

Use pumpkins as planters or to display carved jack-o-lanterns with natural candles.

DIY & Crafts website has 22 Wicket Homemade Decoration ideas that are very fun, including a pickled face in a jar that looks very real. Or how about some Halloween paper garlands to keep the kids busy?

5. Buy non-toxic face paint

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics sent 10 face paint products, including products marketed as theater face paint, to Analytical Sciences, an independent lab based in Petaluma, California, to test for a range of harmful metals. The results found that all the products were contaminated with low levels of lead, which can harm children’s developing brains. Six of the products were contaminated with nickel, cobalt and/or chromium which can cause lifelong skin problems.

No thank you! Natural Earth Paint is a great all-natural choice for face painting. . . and it’s better for our environment. 

Ocean Junkies sells all-natural glitter made from plant material instead of plastic that is good for the babes faces and won’t end up in the ocean. 

6. Avoid single use plastics at parties

It is so easy to host a plastic-free, eco-friendly party these days with sites like Ocean Junkies and other planet friendly stores.

When hosting an eco-friendly Halloween party, there is always the option to use real plates and glassware, which will certainly mean a big cleanup at the end of the night. But think how great you will feel about yourself when you are finished cleaning that last dish and you haven’t contributed to our landfills or ocean garbage swirls.

But if you can’t bare to wash all those dishes at the end of the party, Costco and other stores now carry disposable plates that are made from recycled materials. 

There is always the reuse option. Goodwill and other secondhand shops are bursting with orange, black, purple, and green colored plates, trays, cups, and more around this time of year. Simply purchase, set out, reuse, and then store with your décor for next Halloween. 

Remember to place a recycling bin nearby and a spooky decorative sign on the table encouraging your guests to recycle.

7. Pumpkins Aren’t just decoration

Pumpkins are meant to be eaten, but at the beginning of November we find them in trash cans, smashed on the side of the road, or rotting on people’s front porches. Poor pumpkins!

Did you know that of the nearly 2 billion pounds of pumpkin grown in the United States in 2014, an estimated 1.3 billion pounds were trashed instead of eaten or composted, according to the US Department of Energy. Well that is a bloody waste! Beyond the sheer wastefulness, once they’ve decomposed, pumpkins release methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

Growing up, my mom taught us to scoop out those pumpkin guts and retreive the seeds. Take those pumpkin seeds and wash them well to get all of the pumpkin strands off. Then dry them in an oven at a low heat, about 110C, for 10 minutes, and coat them in a tiny amount of egg white. Pan fry gently until golden and crispy and salt them. Eat them plain or throw them over your dinner dishes.

You can use the pumpkin meat to make pumpkin muffins, pies, soup, and more. 

8. Reuse Hay Bales

We love to buy some fresh hay bales to decorate our front porch. Hay bales are so cute as decoration and a great way to prop your pumpkins up. When you are done with your hay, break it up and use it for your garden. Do you or someone you know have livestock? Hay makes great horse food.

9. Reusable Halloween Totes

When I was a kid, my sister and I had plastic jack ‘o lanterns that we took trick-or-treating. I saved mine and one of my kids uses it each year. That candy bucket has had a good life trick-or-treating for 40+ years. 

There is no doubt that you will need to send your little cherubs out on the streets with something to hold their candy loot. There are so many cute eco-friendly reusable bags that will last your child through the years, like Ocean Junkies’ Halloween Totes.

If you don’t want to purchase a reusable halloween tote, find something around the house that will work, like a basket or even a pillowcase. If you choose to purchase a Halloween themed bag or container, save it in the same box you store your Halloween decorations to reuse each year.

10. Eco-Friendly Halloween Lighting

Safety is a huge priority for an enjoyable Halloween evening. To keep homes lit up and safe for trick-or-treaters, invest in eco-friendly LED stringed lights. LED light bulbs are more energy efficient, have a longer life span, help you save money on your electricity bills, are non-toxic and greener than other alternatives, and flexible in color and design.

LED tea lights can be used for lighting jack-o-lanterns or paper lanterns/luminaries on your property.

In addition to LED lights, solar powered pathway lights are another eco-friendly option. Light the pathway to your front door with LED or solar-powered lamps. Make sure those goblins and superheroes use LED flashlights while trick-or-treating.

If you’re decorating with candles, select fragrance-free soy candles instead of paraffin, which is a petroleum product and releases toxic compounds when burned.

11. Locally Grown Pumpkins 

Halloween is synonomous with pumpkins and witches. One way to lower your emissions is by purchasing locally grown organic pumpkins. Most organic farmers follow eco-friendly agricultural processes. 

Picking pumpkins directly from the orchard where they are grown is better for the environment. Locally grown food doesn’t carry the large carbon footprint that’s associated with overseas plane travel or long semi truck hauls to bring produce to the grocery store.

Picking pumpkins at a local farm is also a lot more fun that getting them at the supermarket. Make a day of picking out your perfect pumpkins and then enjoying some apple treats and apple cider afterward.

In San Diego, we visit Julian each October, which is an hour plus drive from San Diego County. There you can pick pumpkins and enjoy some very delicious apple pie at Julian Pie Co. or Mom’s Pie House.

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As the mother of four children, including a set of triplets, it is important to me that my family all honor the earth, giving back and preserving the health of our oceans by making small changes in everyday life. Since beginning Ocean Junkies, my entire family has a new conscious awareness of using plastic straws and utensils in restaurants and how it’s related to the trash we see on the beach. It is my hope that through Ocean Junkies and other wonderful activist websites, we can raise awareness about plastic pollution and increase sustainable living by re-using what we have already created and creating from biodegradable and compostable materials.

Megan

Founder, Ocean Junkies

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