Institute of the Environment 2017

Tips for an Orange, Black, and “Green” Halloween

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Compiled by the Institute of the Environment

From an environmental standpoint, Halloween is pretty scary. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be frightfully fun for you and supernaturally mindful of the planet at the same time. Halloween spending will exceed $6.9 billion this year, with the average American reveler planning to spend $74 on decorations, treats, costumes, and cards, according to the National Retail Federation. That translates to a large environmental footprint. Sabrina Helm, associate professor of retailing and consumer sciences at the University of Arizona, and members of the community, courtesy of the UA Office of Sustainability, offer some suggestions for playing your own trick on the landfill and treating the Earth to a more sustainable holiday.

  1. Reimagine a costume. Store-bought costumes, often made in a far-off land with synthetic materials and then cast into the trash come November, “are a landfill nightmare,” Helm says. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 85 percent of all discarded textiles—12 million tons—were sent to U.S. landfills in 2012. To curb that wicked waste, go old school by making costumes out of sheets and outdated clothing or fabric you find around the house or a thrift store, buy a used costume, or link up with friends to swap get-ups from years past. If those options don’t give you the desired thrill or chill, consider renting a costume. Donate costumes you no longer want.

  2. Wear an environmental issue on your sleeve. With a glue gun and some imagination, you can create an educational costume that raises awareness of environmental concerns happening around the planet. The internet can help you scare up ideas, from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to rising sea levels to endangered species.

  3. Create a Mr. Pumpkin Head. Instead of carving your pumpkin and throwing out the guts and gore, decorate the outside and then cook up gourd treats when Halloween is over. American farmers produced nearly 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins in 2014, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture—enough for a lot of pumpkin soup, pies and roasted seeds. “Pumpkins are a food item, and there is no need to throw all that food away,” Helm says.

  4. Help fight the candy wrapper nightmare. Americans buy about 600 million pounds of candy annually for Halloween. Let’s set aside the amount of sugar that represents and focus on the fact that candy and chocolate wrappers, made from mixed materials, are not accepted for recycling. Many ideas exist online for repurposing wrappers into jewelry, art, and more—maybe even next year’s Halloween decorations. You can also forego the prepackaged candy by hosting a party in which family and friends bring homemade treats.

  5. Look for fair trade options when buying candy. “One of my main concerns is the quality of the sweets distributed; a lot of it is chocolate that has a poor health, social and environmental footprint,” Helm says. A fair trade certification on chocolate and certain other goods indicates they meet social and environmental standards designed to help improve trading conditions for producers in developing countries and promote sustainability.

  6. Bag the disposable plastic bag. A reusable grocery bag or pillowcase collects those sweets just as well as a one-use plastic bag and without the environmental mischief.

  7. Swap decorations with friends or make your own. “Buying new decorations is usually about us not wanting to see the same thing year after year,” Helm says. Get creative with craft items from around your house or, if Martha Stewart isn’t your strong suit, trade your ghoulish knick knacks with friends or neighbors for a new Boo you.

  8. Light the way wisely. Say no to the plastic light sticks and use flashlights with rechargeable batteries instead. Also consider illuminating decorations and the trick or treaters’ path with LED lights, which last longer and are more energy efficient than incandescent light bulbs or compact fluorescents.

  9. Leave your car keys at home. Take the streetcar to your favorite downtown Tucson or 4th Avenue Halloween haunts.  

  10. Skip the trick or treat. Rent horror movies, turn off your lights and have a screamfest in the comfort of your own home. You can also check out sustainable-themed events like Viva La Local Food Festival, which is on Oct. 31 this year and supports local food producers. The Sustainable Built Environments Club and Compost Cats also will be there representing UA sustainability efforts.