Moving Toward a Zero Waste Halloween

Living a Toward Zero Waste lifestyle – which includes reducing the amount of trash you produce – doesn’t mean you have to forfeit Halloween, a notoriously trash-producing and expensive day. According to, Halloween spending in 2015 reached about $6.9 billion, or $74.34 per person. For one night?! Yikes. Here’s a handy guide to incorporating some zero waste principles into your spooky holiday which may save you money as well!


Thrift shops are full of holiday decorations, the majority of them only used once or not at all. Many stores even have a dedicated section for all things Halloween, as they are overwhelmed with last year’s decor, candles, dishes, cards and costumes. Before spending money on plastic or paper disposable decorations, scout for spooky items at your local thrift shop, church sale or yard sales.

Try making your own! Pinterest and YouTube offer unending ideas for DIY glass bottle ghosts, Q-tip spider webs, stick and string spider webs or egg-carton bats…all great ideas! One of the “R”s of being Zero Waste is to Repurpose. Gather up items headed for the recycling bin and give them another purpose – creepy or cute, your choice.


When I was a kid, we didn’t have store bought costumes. We made our own…and we had fun doing it! We had a cardboard box full of oddball pieces of clothing, special makeup and accessories from years before. Many costumes can be thrown together from clothes closets and parents’ drawers, maybe even the basement or garage? As kids, witches and ghosts were the fastest options but here are the costumes I remember best:

Baby– footed pajamas, slippers, rosy cheeks, a pacifier or bottle.

Hobo– Torn or faded messy clothes, a bandana bag on a long stick, smudged cheeks, a cup for spare change.

Teacher/Librarian– long skirt,long sweater, hair in a bun, eyeglasses on a string or on the head, holding a book or ruler.

Cat– black tights, leotard or all black clothing, a tail and ears fastened from felt, fabric and a headband, eyeliner whiskers on the cheeks and a cute black nose.

Fast forward to 2017 and there are probably cartoon characters, celebrities and emojis that would be easy enough to duplicate. Look around the house and see what you have. Be creative! Or, better yet, let your kids be creative!  If and when do you come up with the best original costume idea but need something special to complete the ensemble, just ask!  Who? A neighbor, friend, co-worker, sibling. Social media makes this super easy. No need to buy one time outfits when there are plenty of resources around us.  Hey – maybe someone will be a recycling magician or collect bags to become a plastic bag monster… And also borrowing a costume is a great idea! Kids grow fast and adults try new costumes. Second-hand stores can be a treasure trove and consignment is another great option this time of year as well.

There are also many organizations and churches that forego costumes all together and celebrate the season with Fall Festivals and Costume Optional Trunk-or Treating so that’s a super easy way to avoid or refuse (another “R”) Halloween costumes!


Going to the pumpkin patch is a fun way to spend an Autumn day. Choosing the perfect pumpkin is just as fun a carving or painting it. If you plan to cook your pumpkin after Halloween (or before) choosing the best tasting ones may be worth the extra time in the patch. Pumpkins belong to the gourd families and are edible, of course. You can eat the seeds and the flesh of big pumpkins if they are still fresh. Large adult-size pumpkins may not be as sweet as the smaller “sugar” or “pie” varieties, but you can still use them for everything from roasted veggies to oatmeal, to soups, loaves and pies. An easy of roasting of seeds: Toss seeds in a bowl with the two tablespoons melted dairy-free butter and salt. Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes at 300* or until golden brown; stir occasionally.

If you are not going to eat the pumpkins, find a place to compost it! Letting food scraps “Rot” is another of the “R”s of Zero Waste. If you don’t have a compost pile, ask a neighbor who does, find a local school or community garden, or bring it to one of the Wake County Convenience Centers. A few have areas for residents to drop off food waste for composting (and to keep it out of our landfill). Here is a link to Wake County drop-off sites:


The best part of Halloween for little ones and kids-at-heart is Trick-or-Treat. There are a few ways to keep this fun activity sustainable and as waste free as possible. Plastic wrappers and lollipop sticks are found littering the streets for weeks post Halloween. How to avoid it? The obvious answer is to give out treats not wrapped in plastic – but is that easier said than done?   If you can’t avoid the wrappers altogether, you can fill your own reusable bag to buy candy in bulk. This is good for the environment and also lets you pick the right quantity, depending on your expected volume of ghosts and goblins. We usually get less than 10 visitors on Halloween so we don’t need “Family Size” bags of sugar and plastic.  You could also give out items besides candy, such as raisins in a cardboard box, stickers, coins (age dependent), pencils, decorative erasers, small play-doh containers, and so on.

So what about when your own kids come home with bags of candy?  You can at least minimize what is going into the landfill through Terra-cycling. TerraCycle recycles not typically recycled items and has drop-off locations all over the US; there may be one in your area.  Many will accept foil-lined wrappers which will at least minimize what is going into the garbage can at your own house. If you can’t find one, consider starting one as a fundraiser for your school, church or office!

I hope you have gotten some practical and fun ideas for this Halloween and Autumn. And remember, it’s baby steps… keeping it fun and low stress is important. As you plan, decorate and create your Halloween this year, try to become aware of the materials you are using, consider will happen to them in a few weeks, and natural, Earth-friendly alternatives to the more traditional tricks and treats!

If you are feeling motivated and inspired after reducing your Halloween waste, keep it going! Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah are just around the corner!

About the Author: Karin Johnson

Karin is originally from New Jersey but has lived in Apex North Carolina with her family since 2007. When she’s not volunteering and teaching others about zero-waste lifestyle, you may find her decluttering, working for UNC Rex Healthcare, teaching yoga, dog sitting, or visiting her daughter at Appalachian State University in beautiful Boone, NC. Go Mountaineers!


Leave a Reply