is a zero waste halloween possible?

This post was originally published on The Zero Waste Collective.

Halloween is a scary time these days. Ghouls, ghosts, and witches have been replaced by sugar, palm oil, and plastic. But have no fear! A low waste Halloween is possible. Whether you have kids of your own, kids in your life, or love being a kid yourself on Halloween, we have some suggestions for how to lower your ecological footprint this year. 

Remember that you don’t have to change everything all at once! Shifting to a zero waste lifestyle, especially during the holidays, needs to be sustainable for your family too. Discussing how to approach the holidays each year with your family is a valuable exercise in determining what your values are, what you can afford, what is reasonable in your community, and what you are willing to personally change. You can create new traditions with alternative ways of doing things and have a ton of fun in the process!

Avoiding Halloween entirely is out of the question for my family. The kids want to go trick-or-treating and my husband wants us to hand out treats to the neighbourhood. We all sat down and mapped out the biggest sources of waste and figured out some alternatives for the biggest three areas: Costumes, Decorations, and Treats. 


There is no need to buy a new costume, which are typically costly and made of cheap, synthetic materials. Last year my kids happily agreed to be the same thing as the year before, but I can’t seem to convince them for a third year. Here are some options for transforming yourself on the big night:

  • Make one! If you sew or are someone who can gather items from around the house and turn them into something magical, this is your chance to shine. Cruise Pinterest boards for inspiration and create something unique.
  • Swap! Ask friends, neighbours, and other parents. Chances are there is a box of costumes somewhere just waiting to be worn again. You can even start a swap at your school by setting up a rack near the front door where folks can drop off or pick up costumes all month long.
  • Rent a costume! This can be pricey, but may be a good option if you are looking for something specific.
  • Thrift! Stores start putting out pre-loved costumes in September so keep your eyes open. If you plan to make a costume, this is a great place to shop for the elements of your vision. Check online in places like Facebook “Buy Nothing” groups, FreeCycle, Craigslist, Kijiji, VarageSale and so on. 

thrift shopping for kids

Thrift shopping is something I have been doing since high school when grunge was in and old cords and grandpa cardigans were The Look. I carried this habit through university and the (sometimes very) lean years between then and now to save money. These days, I still look for secondhand first for so many other…


  • Pumpkins are the go to Halloween decoration in North America, but consider all manner of other gourds, turnips, melons, and even pineapples.
  • Double up! Canadian Thanksgiving is a few weeks before Halloween and American Thanksgiving falls a few weeks later. Consider choosing natural decorations that can be used for both holidays, such as straw bales, corn husks, pumpkins and gourds. 
  • Choose gourds that you can also eat (such as pie pumpkins). Paint or draw faces on them rather than carving.
  • If you do choose to carve a pumpkin, save the seeds for roasting
  • Be sure to compost your natural decorations (where available) when the season is over
  • Use what you have! If you already have decorations, keep them in good repair and use them year after year. 
  • Thrift stores and selling apps are a great place to look for reusable decorations if that is more your style. Be mindful that folks are looking to “get rid of” things right after a holiday, so keep an eye out in November for next year! If you no longer wish to use decorations from past years, consider actively giving them away on selling platforms. 
  • If you are throwing or attending a Halloween party, we’ve got you covered too.

seasonal decor – making a trash pumpkin

Hello October! It feels like it was March both 10 seconds and 84 years ago, doesn’t it? Around this time last year, my friend Ellen took the world on a journey in her Instagram stories when she documented her creation of a trash pumpkin. Yes – a pumpkin made of garbage. While I prefer holiday…

Candy and “Treat” Alternatives

This is likely the biggest stumbling for folks looking to have a waste-free holiday. Innumerable sugary treats made with palm oil all individually wrapped in plastic, with everything destined for the trash. The lists of alternatives to candy out there are also mostly filled with plastic junk. Going zero waste here may not be entirely possible, but reducing waste certainly is.

  • If you are going out to “trick or treat”, plan ahead with your kids on a set time limit or neighbourhood area to limit the amount of conventional candy they collect. Use a reusable bag or pillowcase for collecting.
  • Some areas  may have a take back program for conventional wrappers that your kids end of collecting. Check with your local council or municipality for more information. Terracycle in Canada and the US both have programs as well. 
  • Be mindful of who manufactures any treats you choose to hand out to ensure their values are in line with your own.
  • Remember that it is okay to decline to hand out candy! You can hand out an alternative or simply go out for the evening – whatever feels best for you.
  • Alternatives to handing out candy (*note that other parents may not be comfortable with non-packaged food items and may toss these items in the trash, so use your best judgment based on your community. Consider having a few different bowls of this or that that kids can choose from):
    • Pencils
    • Crayons
    • Erasers 
    • Tangerines/clementines with drawn on “pumpkin faces”
    • Bulk candy with a scoop
    • UNICEF donations
    • Temporary tattoos 
    • Offer a “trick” instead! A magic trick or sensory table of scary/slimy things they can check out with spooky music playing in the background.
    • Candy or raisins in cardboard boxes. Several candy brands do package in cardboard, but be sure to encourage the kids to recycle it when they are done!
    • Crafting bits and bobs – if you are in the process of decluttering your craft supplies, consider offering a bowl of goodies for kids to choose from.
    • Canned drinks – aluminum is highly recyclable, but consider low sugar options.

zero waste halloween roundup

Halloween is a scary time these days. Ghouls, ghosts, and witches have been replaced by sugar, palm oil, and plastic. But have no fear! A low waste Halloween is possible. Whether you have kids of your own, kids in your life, or love being a kid yourself on Halloween, you can lower your ecological footprint…

However you decide to celebrate Halloween this year, sustainable options are out there. As with anything zero waste, it takes a little thought and planning but it is doable – you won’t be haunted by trash this year!

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