Kid's Activities / Lifestyle

Zero Waste Halloween: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle for a Plastic-Free Halloween!

Last Updated: September 8, 2021

When it comes to Zero Waste – or low waste – as I like to call it, it can be hard to remember and practice during holidays. There’s really no such thing as zero zero waste. But that’s the idea beyond the zero waste movement. The goal of zero waste in reducing, reusing, and recycling. So in celebrating Halloween this year, I’m challenging myself to go low waste. From costumes to decor – let’s get creative for a zero waste Halloween and plastic-free Halloween treats! These tips are not meant to make us feel guilty, but a reminder for myself of ways we can be kinder to our planet.

pink pumpkins Halloween decorations

Zero Waste Halloween Tips:

  • Skip plastic decorations or buy them used – Skip the plastic decorations. If you’re shopping a store like Target or browsing online and find something plastic that you do want? Bookmark it in your brain and go check the Goodwill or Facebook Marketplace for a used version of that item!
  • Get creative and DIY costumes – Is there a way you can DIY whatever it is that you’re wanting to buy? Especially for costumes, Halloween can generate a lot of waste. Buy or reuse a costume from a previous year, or find a way to incorporate everyday clothes into an outfit. Check out Studio DIY for some great costume ideas. (Note: not all of her costume ideas are low-waste, but tons of great ideas to get creative as a jumping off point). Last year, we followed Primary’s (kids clothing brand) idea for a banana costume. First, I found a yellow hoodie and pants that my toddler would definitely be wearing again. The only item I needed to buy was felt. I skipped the foam based shaping tip and felt alone worked great! The year before, he was the boy with the red balloon. The giant balloon came from a birthday party, and the rest of the outfit we had (brown shoes and grey sweatpants) and the only thing I bought was a grey turtleneck. Which we used all winter.
  • Trade costumes with friends or do a costume swap. Shop at thrift store or local consignment first to find new costume ideas. Take last year’s costumes there too.
  • Costumes as dress-up play the rest of the year. If you’re buying kids new costumes, make sure they will last and double as dress-up play outfits to use the rest of the year. Add them to your dress up bin.
  • Decorate for fall at the same time using real natural items. Use real pumpkins, carve pumpkins, decorate with a sharpie or paint that you already have. Pumpkins can then be composted after Halloween. You can find all kinds of gnarly pumpkins for decor.
  • Ignore Instagram “Influencers” and Bloggers. There’s been a trend the last few years, it seems of bloggers and “influences” announcing these crazy over the top decorations and being like oh this is my low key decor this year. Or like “I can’t believe this is all I did!” Ummm… that’s a million times more than normal people and it doesn’t seem low key AT ALL. Or putting like 75 pumpkins on their porch in a gradient color scheme. Or creating some kind of foam pumpkin or balloon arch or or something ridiculous. Chill out people! So if it’s fun to see stuff like that great. But don’t let it make you feel like you need to do the same or create a ton of waste for a simple holiday. Over the top.
  • Create banners and signs with paper, printing etc. Another great decor tip is to see how much you can decorate with paper or paper bags that you already have. I’ve found that finding cutesy banners, garlands, and things on Pinterest or blogs is often the inspiration for doing a craft. Print words on regular paper and cut them out, glue onto cardstock, and hang with string or twine. Voila a banner that was free, didn’t waste a bunch of plastic (also annoying that a lot of decor comes in extra packaging).
  • Decorate with food. You can also help “decorate” for a party with some spooky halloween food recipes. Make a snack board with a theme, like all orange and shaped like a pumpkin. Or white and black and shaped like a skeleton. Check Pinterest for millions of spooky food ideas.
  • “Decorate” with a spooky movie. Granted most of us are not having parties this year. But if you’re having a physically distanced outdoor party, or just celebrating with your own family. Add a spooky movie, especially on a projector or as a movie night can add a really fun element.
  • Grow a pumpkin next year instead of buying one. Depending on your climate, they’re actually a quite easy item that often will volunteer grow anyway. I have done a bad job of watering mine this year and we have 3 growing! They’ll be ready by Halloween! Make soup or pie with the inside of pumpkin. Scoop some out.
  • Decorate with books! Halloween books, fall or even pumpkin books can be a great on-theme addition. Check out your local library for seasonal books to save money and share more!
  • Skip buying extra party goods and accessories – think plates, cups, all that design-y stuff you want to buy when you go past Target endcaps! Chances are you’re not having such a big party that you don’t have enough hodgepodge dishes to use. (especially this year, hello COVID). Have your dishwasher at the ready or ask a friend to help do dishes. I’ve done dishes at friends parties before and it’s felt like such an easy way to help! Also the mason jar drinking glass trend from the 2010 weddings is still a great party glass option.
  • DIY Halloween crafts and activities – I’m all for crafts, but let’s do more DIY. Less buying the plastic craft kit for one time use because “oh look it’s for pumpkin carving” etc. Pumpkins are an easy low waste decor and activity as they can be composted after. Remember you don’t need a kit to carve a pumpkin! And young kids are better suited to painting a pumpkin anyway. Make your own spiderwebs with yarn or macrame cord. It will look cooler and you don’t need that fake stuff that is often part plastic particles. Or you could just not dust for a few months? (That’s my plan for the front porch). Or have your kids make spooky art with chalk outside (if you live in warmer climates, here in Portland it’ll just wash away in the rain in 3, 2, 1…) There are tons of fall kids activities that can double as decor or just be an experience instead of a tangible gift.
  • Use your pumpkin guts. Save the pumpkin seeds. Clean, and roast them in the oven for a tasty treat.
  • Use a Trick or treating bucket you already have. Use something you have and decorate it if needed. Or decorate a bag that you already own. This would also double as a Halloween activity for kids! Getting a new plastic trick or treating bucket every year for each child is a huge unnecessary waste. Stores stock super cute things and yes it makes you think like “oh but i want that! They would love this!!” Because we want to make our kids happy. But pass, take a picture of it. In 2 days revisit if you are still pulled to buy it. For example, last year I found some really cute little cloth pumpkins on a Target endcap. I thought oh how adorable and my 2 year old would love playing with them! He could play with them for years to come, right!? And they’re practically Montessori! But then I realized the insides were styrofoam and they would probably get squished or broken and even if they didn’t — Did I need them? No. I took a picture and waited. Then a couple days later I decided nope. And instead I spent a couple dollars on some tiny miniature REAL gourds from the grocery store. And my two year old enjoyed stacking and arranging them in one of his baskets all fall! Then we composted them.
giant pumpkin in field - zero waste halloween

Plastic-Free Halloween Candy & Treats

Plastic free when it comes to Halloween treats is almost impossible. I say this because even if you find some individually wrapped treats in cardboard or something else, they almost always still come in a larger plastic package. So my goal here is low waste items. I don’t know if we’ll even be doing trick or treating for our neighborhood this year, but if we do, I want to plan to hand out items other than single-use plastic wrapped candy. This one is hard. Nobody is going to want your bulk bin candy right outa your hand. But this year, I don’t anticipate their being a bunch of trick or treating or touching various food items given to you by strangers anyway because of the pandemic. lol. But try to give things that might be paper wrapped, nature wrapped (like an orange), art supplies etc. Here are some ideas:

  • mandarine orange – has it’s own wrapper
  • stickers
  • sidewalk chalk
  • small erasers
  • temporary tattoos (a lot of these art supply ideas I also used for Easter eggs last year!)
  • paper or foil packaged candy – Nerds!, Junior Mints, peanut butter bites
  • canned or recyclable boxed drinks – IZZE type drinks, coconut water, chocolate almond milks

I hope these lists for decorating, costumes, and trick or treating ideas for lower waste help you to celebrate a zero waste Halloween. And I want to end by adding that just like Christmas gifts from well-meaning family. You might receive something that doesn’t align with your “values” or preference and goals to be less wasteful. You’re not going to convince anyway to waste less by lecturing or making someone feel bad about using plastic. Accept the gift. And try to live by example and grace. ;) Any tips to add? Leave them in the comments! Thanks!

zero waste halloween ideas

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