When our family first moved to Springfield, we were greeted by amazing neighbors who, seconds after introducing themselves, informed us that we had bought a house on the most popular street in town for trick-or-treating. Each Halloween, our entire block of Glenwood Avenue is barricaded off to accommodate hundreds of trick-or-treaters, and we were advised to start stockpiling candy immediately.
Even though it was only the beginning of September, we heeded their advice and began buying enormous bags of candy whenever we went to the store. Over the next few weeks, I watched as the beautiful homes on our street made the slow transformation into haunted, decrepit-looking houses. Everywhere I looked, I saw bushes covered in sticky cobwebs, terrifying ghouls dangling from trees and gray zombie hands reaching menacingly up out of the ground.
On Halloween evening, I was astonished by the constant parade of trick-or-treaters. As promised, people from all over Springfield came to celebrate, and we had an enormous turnout.
Later that evening, after my kids had washed the cakey Halloween makeup off of their faces and changed into their pajamas, they dumped their enormous trick-or-treat bags onto the table and started trading their candy. I was shocked by the sheer volume of sweets each of them had collected, but as I raided their loot for Almond Joys, I couldn't help but notice something else. Nestled amongst the giant piles of candy were tons of plastic spiders, rubber witch fingers and burned-out glow sticks. When I asked my kids what they wanted to do with these things, they said it was fine to just throw them away.
My children aren't wasteful or unappreciative, but the truth is, there was nothing else we could have done with those things. Tossing the items into the garbage, I felt guilty knowing that it would all end up in a landfill somewhere and, most likely, be around long after I'm gone.
At that moment, I made a silent pact with myself to make more environmentally friendly choices about how my family celebrates Halloween. Below are changes that I've made that resulted in less waste produced, spending less money and enjoying Halloween more than ever.
My first tip is that when it comes to decorating, you should steer clear of dollar stores. Sure, they might have some cute decorations and the low prices are enticing, but when it comes to quality, you definitely get what you pay for. Two of my friends hilariously refer to dollar stores as "Ocean Plastic Stores," and they're right. Items purchased at these stores rarely make it through an entire season without having to be pitched in the trash, and most of them are made from unrecyclable materials. A good tip is to buy quality items that can be stored away and used year after year. In the days following Halloween, retailers rush to roll out Christmas decorations and drastically mark down the prices of Halloween items. I love using this wicked window to stock up on the terrifying goodies.
Another Halloween item I like to avoid is bagged, stretchy spider webs. Not only are they a pain to put up and take down, synthetic webs are a hazardous obstacle for birds and all other small animals. Several years ago, news of a great horned owl getting entangled in fake webbing made national news. Luckily, the owl made a full recovery and was able to be released back into the wild, but it definitely makes you wonder if those webs are worth it.
Hopefully you're feeling inspired to rethink your Halloween decor choices, but you shouldn't stop there. Each year, it's estimated that Halloween costumes alone generate 2,000 tons of plastic waste. That's equivalent to 83 million water bottles. When I first read that staggering statistic, it freaked me out more than the groaning zombies did in the "Thriller" video.
Knowing I didn't want to contribute to those overwhelming numbers, I decided to start buying all of our costumes at secondhand stores. Since most Halloween costumes are only worn once, everything I've purchased has been in excellent shape and costs a fraction of what it would if I bought it off the rack. If you're feeling creative, you can even skip shopping altogether and use clothes from your own closet to create stunning and memorable costumes.
Another spooky statistic I stumbled upon was that every year, Americans spend roughly $2.6 billion dollars on candy, and nearly all of the packaging will end up in the garbage. I already have a love/hate relationship with sweets because they turn my children into bug-eyed little monsters, but knowing that it causes such a negative impact on our environment really made me rethink what types of candy I handed out on Halloween night. Now, instead of buying plastic-wrapped candies, I look for confections that come in tiny cardboard boxes or chocolates that are wrapped in aluminum foil. I also hand out pencils, individual pieces of sidewalk chalk and tiny erasers shaped like ghosts, all of which have been met with more enthusiasm than any plastic witch finger could ever conjure up.
All of these changes require minimal effort and fit well into any budget. With a few small tweaks, you'll see that it's possible to have the Halloween of your dreams without having a werewolf-sized carbon footprint.
Lana Shovlin is a freelance writer who lives in Springfield. She enjoys the occasional Almond Joy and loves helping her kids create epic Halloween costumes at the very last minute.