Halloween is the time of year when days are shorter, leaves are falling and ghosts and ghouls are coming out to play. I, as a Harry Potter fan since the age of six, have always loved Halloween and the spooky decorations, movies, costumes and excuse to binge on way too much candy that comes along with it. As I’ve gotten older and started to look at things from a sustainability perspective, I realized that Halloween is scary in more ways than just horror movies and potential cavities.
Canadians spend close to $1 billion on Halloween each year1. That goes towards decorations, treats, costumes and of course pumpkins. Costumes cost each Canadian on average $52 which are most often made from petroleum-based polyester and used only once2. Make-up is also a significant part of many costumes but that cheap stuff you find at Halloween stores has been found to contain heavy metals such as lead, nickel, cobalt and chromium3. Not to mention chocolate which often relies on unethical labour for cocoa bean harvesting.
So, what is one to do when they want to celebrate Halloween without having a negative environmental impact?
First, remember that while individual actions are really important, it is major corporations that are creating the majority of the world’s GHG emissions (100 companies are responsible for 71% to be exact4). Take a deep breath and let all of that pressure to be perfect out. Halloween should be about having fun with our families and creating great memories for our kids.
Secondly, take a second to learn from how our ancestors celebrated Halloween. Originally it was a Celtic pagan festival to ward off evil spirits when the boundary between the world’s of the living and the dead were blurred5. Halloween was seen as a day where you act outside of society’s norms and can get away with mischievous pranks. Embody the spirit of rebelling against the status quo and don’t fall into the consumption associated with the holiday - which didn’t actually begin until the marketing industry saw an opportunity for big bucks in the 1920s and 30s.
A summary of the plastic consumed through Halloween in the UK, credit: Fairyland Trust
The task of keeping consumption light this year is made easier by the inability to gather in large groups for parties. That being said, there are still a lot of ways that we can responsibly celebrate the spirit of the season. And let’s be honest, it has been a hard year for all of us and we may as well take all the excuses to celebrate that we can get.
Inspiration for eco-friendly Halloween decor, credit: Country Living
For decor, try using natural items that you find at the farmers market or even in your backyard. Gourds, branches and dried leaves can add a seasonal feel and all be eaten or thrown back outside when you’re done with them. For treats, try making your own as a family or buy from local and ethical retailers. It’s more expensive than popular grocery store brands but can be a good way to prevent overconsumption and avoid the overflow of plastic from individually wrapped candies. For costumes, repurpose items you already have at home or grab a few pieces from your local thrift store. Check out our blog on low waste ideas for your littlest trick-or-treater. When carving pumpkins, save all of those mushy innards for pumpkin seed roasting and purees that can be used in a variety of recipes.
Halloween is just one example of how we can enjoy all of our favourite celebrations and activities while keeping our environmental impact light. It can be overwhelming to try changing all of our habits at once but by taking small steps (like enjoying a holiday a little bit differently) we can make an immense collective impact.