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Spooky but sustainable: making Halloween less scary for the environment

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Nobody likes to be a party pooper, but the hair-raising truth is that Halloween is pretty scary for the environment. From plastic props to disposable décor, and even the pumpkins themselves, Halloween creates a petrifying amount of waste each year – according to environmental organisation Hubbub, 4 in 10 costumes are worn just once before being thrown away, and millions of uneaten pumpkins end up in landfill. That’s a horror story that no-one wants to be part of.

Whether you’re planning on taking the kids trick-or-treating, heading to a Halloween costume party or hosting your own, you can do your part this year to make Halloween more sustainable. Here are some ways to reduce our waste that we can all try.

Make, borrow, rent or thrift your costume

I know it’s always easier to buy a ready-made costume, but choosing not to this year will make a key difference in making your Halloween more environmentally friendly.

The most sustainable items are always those you already own, so raid your wardrobe or get crafty with a DIY costume – because honestly, there’s nothing wrong with being a classic black cat with cardboard ears, no matter what Instagram might tell you!

Charity shops are also full of second-hand Halloween costumes for adults and children at this time of year, and you’ll find plenty on the likes of Vinted or Facebook Marketplace.

For kids’ costumes, ask around your friends to find out whether anyone has an outgrown costume that you could have, or find out whether there is a toy library in your area that has a selection of costumes to borrow. If you’re feeling up to it, you could even organise a Halloween costume swap event so your friends can pass on costumes they no longer need, and take home one that will be worn again – and saved from landfill for another year.

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Ditch the not-so-fantastic plastic

All of us know that we need to use less plastic, and Halloween uses a blood-curdling amount of it. It’s hiding in everything from your costumes to your party decorations, and even the trick-or-treat sweets are wrapped in it! It’s harder to escape than Michael Myers.

Making a conscious effort to choose paper decorations and props that can be recycled will help, as will DIY-ing them, of course; a quick Google search will bring up lots of Halloween printables such as party invitations, decorations and masks, all of which are good for your budget too. As with costumes, you’ll find lots of second-hand Halloween items in charity shops and online, or party kits available to rent from a local event prop hire service.

And if you do need to buy anything, avoid single-use products and choose the best-quality items you can reasonably afford so that they can be reused year after year, or passed on. I’m loving the trend for ceramic and glass pumpkin ornaments, which look really cute in your home and are something you can enjoy for many Halloweens to come.

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Get your teeth into the food and drink

So once the décor has been considered, what about the Halloween party food? Food packaging waste is inevitable and I’m certain that you’re recycling all that you can, but remember that even paper plates and cups aren’t recyclable once they’ve been soiled with food, and paper straws are too small to recycle at all.

Reusable is always best, so if you’re a regular party host it could be time to invest in some washable bamboo partyware that’s less likely to be broken if dropped by younger guests, and won’t have to go in the bin when the party is over. You can find bamboo cups, cutlery and even straws, and the great thing about bamboo products are that when they come to the end of their useful life, they’re biodegradable.

Now, time for some sweet talk. Halloween simply wouldn’t be Halloween without lots of treats, whether on the buffet table or by the door waiting for house visitors. But individually-wrapped sweets create a frightening amount of plastic waste that can’t (or won’t) be recycled, and let’s face it, loose, sticky sweets aren’t to everyone’s taste!

Instead, go retro and make up a batch of pick and mix using small paper bags or cardboard boxes filled with loose sweets, or look for sweets with paper wrappers.

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Don’t just dump your pumpkin

Have you ever thought about what happens to all those Halloween pumpkins once the night is over? 80% of UK consumers intend to buy at least one pumpkin to carve at Halloween, so that’s millions and millions of pumpkins that could be left rotting away in landfill.

There’s a lot you can do to make your pumpkin go further though, including cooking with the insides – the scooped-out pumpkin can be used to make a nutritious pumpkin soup, curry or sweet pie, and the seeds can be roasted with spices like paprika or curry powder and eaten as a snack. Even if your pumpkin is labelled as a ‘carving pumpkin’, it’s still perfectly edible!

Then, when you’re done with your pumpkin, don’t put it in your main household waste bin. Leave it out for birds to eat, add it to a compost pile, or dispose of it with your food waste collection, if you have one in your area.

It’s really important to remember that taking steps to live more sustainably at any time of year can be hard, and the main thing is doing what you can, when you can. None of us are perfect, but by trying to be more mindful of our consumption and waste, we can all work together to make our Halloween celebrations the right kind of frightful.

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