In summer 2021, I completed an internship as a sustainability analyst with Voiz, a social impact venture pushing for better corporate sustainability. Through this program, I earned a sustainability analyst certification and learned about Life Cycle Analysis, zero net, transparency, corporate sustainability processes and decision making, sustainable product design, and sustainability innovation. With Halloweekend at college approaching and sustainability on my mind, I recently started thinking about how the two interact.
Halloween spending reaches almost $9 billion every year – with the majority of planned spending allocated towards costumes, decorations, and candy – so there’s no doubt that the holiday is fueled by consumerism. With these purchases as the driving force behind the billion-dollar holiday, it’s disheartening to learn of the unsustainable production processes and negative environmental impacts these products have on our world.
When it comes to sustainable retail, Forbes has said that “Gen Z is leading the pack” by constantly demanding better from corporations. Halloween is – or should be – no exception to this; we can have our fun and still make an impact by celebrating sustainably. Here are five ways you can ethically and sustainably celebrate this spooky season!
- DIY Your Costume(s)
Cheaply made costumes generate approximately 2,000 tons of plastic waste per a year, which is equivalent to 83 million plastic water bottles. Instead of purchasing a costume this year, try using what you already have in your closet, and thrifting what you don’t. You could go as a country club mom, pairing your workout clothes with a tennis racket and a cardigan over the shoulder. For a group costume, you and your friends could go as each other, trading your most iconic outfits with one another.
If you’re feeling crafty, you could even make your own costume! Follow one of the many no-sew costume YouTube tutorials or try “thrift-flipping,” aka turning thrifted clothing into something new using quick sewing tricks. bestdressed, a fashion and thrifting YouTuber and UCLA film alum, often documents her process of thrift-flipping from start to finish and provides great sewing inspiration!
You can also re-use your costume for multiple nights, as college students often celebrate Halloween for several days. Using a simple base and changing your accessories for each night makes this easy. For example, you could wear a white dress and go as an Angel one night and then the Snow Queen the next!
- Throw An Inherently Sustainable Costume Party
While you may not realize it immediately, plenty of popular party themes are pretty sustainable without any tweaks! The “anything but clothes” theme challenges guests to use items they already have to create an outfit, from leftover project materials to shopping bags to rinsed out solo cups and more.
The “white lies” theme requires just a white t-shirt and a marker, so attendees can repurpose an old white tee or undershirt for the occasion!
The “anything but cups” theme has party goers looking for alternatives to the typical red solo cup, drinking out of empty soup cans, reusable bowls, empty (and cleaned!) household cleaner containers, buckets and more.
All of these themes are built upon sustainable practices, or you could get creative and come up with your own sustainable theme!
- Make A Spooky Charcuterie
Plastic cutlery is one of the most environmentally detrimental forms of plastic waste. Due to its design and function it cannot be recycled, so it’s estimated that 40 billion individual plastic utensils are wasted per year in the U.S. The Ocean Conservancy even ranked plastic utensils as one of the greatest threats to marine life. Instead of laying out plastic cutlery, opt for a utensil-free food option. You could go for a classic option like a vegetable tray or chips and dip, but I’m really a fan of themed charcuterie boards. Ghost-shaped brie, a veggie skeleton, olive eyeballs, and a tombstone cutting board? The options are endless and always Instagrammable!
- Opt For Ethically Made & Eco-Friendly Treats
Yeah, yeah. I don’t remember being excited to trick-or-treat at the house passing out pencils, either, but I’m even less excited that popular Halloween candies like M&M’s and Almond Joy are made unethically. Did you know that three of the biggest candy producers – Mars, Nestle, and Hershey – still have subpar protections in place to prevent child labor abuse?
Halloween candy also poses a threat to the environment, as the wrappers are often too small to be processed in recycling facilities and end up in the landfill, taking anywhere from 10 to 20 years to degrade.
Whether you’re getting ready for kids to come to your door or for your friends to infiltrate your dorm, try stocking up on ethical and eco-friendly treats. Bananas and mandarin oranges are easy to find and naturally zero-waste, but still have a sweet aspect. If you definitely want to pass out candy, Endangered Species Chocolate and UNREAL bars are both Fair Trade chocolate options, and Amborella Organics created seed-bearing lollipops – simply plant the biodegradable lollipop stick once you’ve eaten the candy!
Plus, TerraCycle offers a Candy & Snack Wrappers Waste Box that you can fill and ship to them, ensuring that the waste is properly recycled.
- Bypass The Halloween Makeup
Halloween face paint and inexpensive makeup that’s marketed towards children often contain ingredients that are harmful to the user, the environment, and the workers that produced the product itself. The World Wildlife Fund cited the production of palm oil as a cause of climate change, and Amnesty International found that workers producing palm oil often face dangerous working conditions as well as a lack of forced labor and child labor protections.
Instead of purchasing Halloween makeup, try creating makeup looks using what you already have, like Wednesday Addams from The Addams Family, or Maddy from Euphoria. If you’re looking to make new purchases, check out these natural and organic brands. You could also try purchasing eco-friendly face paint, or make your own.
Halloween was built upon unsustainable celebrations and traditions, but it doesn’t have to be this way. With ethics and environmental impact at the forefront of your thoughts, you can make sustainable choices and leave a positive mark this upcoming Halloween.