A green Halloween: How to make your spooky holiday more eco-friendly

Halloween is a time for tricks and treats, but it also means more litter and waste that end up in landfills.

A 2019 investigation by an environmental group in the United Kingdom found that about 83% of Halloween costume materials are oil-based plastics that likely won't be recycled. Experts say a single trick-or-treater will generate one pound of trash on Halloween

From Halloween costume exchanges to pumpkin smashes, there’s no shortage of ways to celebrate the spooky holiday while also reducing waste.

Merleanne Rampale, public information and education director at SWALCO, an environmental organization in Illinois, has a list of suggestions on how to have a green Halloween.

Make your costume at home — or buy one at the thrift store


Toni O'Hara of Falmouth, dressed in a home-made jellyfish costume, waits to walk with her children in the annual Halloween parade. (Photo by Derek Davis/Staff photographer)

One way to help reduce waste is to skip buying a new costume wrapped in plastic and make your own, or find a used one instead. Take sheets, old and unwanted clothing, and check out websites like freecycle.org or swap.com for free costumes. You can also check your local free/buy nothing groups on Facebook and other social media sites.

Host a Halloween costume exchange


(Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Halloween costume exchanges are a great way to reduce waste — and save a few pennies by not buying a new costume.  Hosting a costume exchange is about as easy as it sounds:

  • Pick a date and age range for the costumes
  • Invite your friends, family and neighbors
  • Decide what kind of event it will be — "take one, leave one" or "take what you need" — and make sure to communicate that ahead of time.

Rampale said you can contact your local environmental agency or other nonprofits to try and coordinate a larger, community-wide exchange.  And after the costumes have been swapped, you can organize a recycled costume parade.

Use LED lights and soy or beeswax candles


Jack-o'-Lantern (Photo by © Viviane Moos/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

If your Halloween displays include lights or candles for the jack-o-lantern, Rampele suggests using more environmentally friendly LED lights over other bulbs, and use soy or beeswax candles.

Create a Halloween-themed geocache using recycled items

You can weave Halloween into a fun family geocaching game. Geocaching.com has some ideas on how to use things like old books, tin cans, empty bottles and more to create a spooky geocache.

Skip the plastic trick-or-treating buckets


(Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Use items like reusable totes, pillowcases, or other reusable bags when out trick-or-treating to reduce plastic consumption.

Turn your pumpkin into a Thanksgiving centerpiece

If you only painted or carved on one side of your pumpkin, you can turn it around and use the other side to make a DIY Thanksgiving decoration.

Host a pumpkin-composting event


(Photo by © Erik Freeland/CORBIS SABA/Corbis via Getty Images)

According to Rampale, 40% of all food made for consumption ends up in a landfill — and 25% of it comes from household waste.

READ MORE: Teal pumpkins: They’re not just for decoration

You can help reduce that number by composting your own home’s pumpkins, or go a step further and host an event to collect pumpkins from around your neighborhood for composting. If you don’t have composting materials at home, local environmental agencies can help you find a composting bin for your home or a facility that does composting.

READ MORE: A history of Halloween candy: Trends and costs through the years

Another option: Smash it on the ground in your backyard or garden! You can even host a pumpkin-smashing event for your neighborhood.

Roast or plant your pumpkin seeds


The seeds of the pumpkin lie in a bowl. (Photo by Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Put your pumpkin seeds to good use: You can roast them for a tasty snack — or plant them and see what happens. Make sure you have enough room in your yard or garden for them to grow. 

For more ideas, you can check out SWALCO's Greener Halloween page.