How to go waste-free for “Hallowgreen”

I wrote this for the Clean Up Australia website.

Halloween is creeping up fast. COVID-19 considerations aside, the scariest thing about it is the spooky amount of waste we create. But with a few small tricks, we can cut down the waste and treat our kids – and the planet – to a frighteningly good 2020 “Hallowgreen”. 

With a bit of forward planning we can avoid single-use costumes, non-sustainable decorations and excessive plastic packaging on lollies. And then there’s the small matter of cost: last year Australians spent around $159 million on Halloween confectionery alone, according to manufacturer Mars Wrigley. Here are some ideas about how to Step Up (and stay safe) this Halloween.

Plan ahead

Buying at the last minute makes it much easier to fall into the trap of filling our trollies with stuff that is not reusable, full of plastics and excess to our needs. It helps to plan ahead to buy what you need well before Halloween is upon us. Think of things like food, packaging, decorations and costumes. Planning well ahead is especially important for anything that is best bought online.

For example, compostable paper bags to put treat lollies in are a waste-saving idea and can be bought in bulk online and shared between households. Green Pack sells a variety of sizes and styles, with 500 costing under $10.

Hold a pre-Halloween craft and costume session

Get together with friends and neighbours well before 31 October and host a costume swap. Your witches hat that feels so last year might be just the thing for somebody else to wear. Spread out your dress-ups on the lawn, add a few old sheets, a broomstick and your torn garden netting, and you’re on your way to having scary ghosts, dangling cobwebs and flying witches.

The internet is full of great crafty ideas for using old egg cartons, cardboard boxes and milk bottles. Start collecting what you need to make decorations that repurpose bits and pieces that were destined for the recycling bin and give them one more spectacular outing. Then have a creepy craft session and start creating your decorations.

Make decorations out of recyclable and reusable materials

Turning your house into a haunted mansion for the night is one of the best parts of Halloween. Reuse the nets from bags of fruit and vegetables to make webs in the corners of your windows. Add some handprints on the glass in ‘blood’ (use water-based red poster paint) to complete the effect.

Cardboard boxes can be turned into gravestones, an old sheet or tablecloth slung over a wooden post makes a spectacular ghost, and sticks and string can be woven together to make spiderwebs.

Most supermarkets will sell huge pumpkins at Halloween. But they’re not naturally in season in Australia, unlike in the US where the pumpkin carving tradition originates. Why not try a watermelon or pineapples this year? What you don’t eat can be turned into compost (if you don’t have your own bin, you can find out if somebody near you will take it at ShareWaste).

If you don’t have time to make your own decorations, at least avoid balloons and glitter. Balloons are made of plastic, and can fly off into pristine areas where they damage both animals and the environment. Glitter is actually just ready-made microplastics that damage sea and soil. Also steer clear of stick-on plastic ‘eyes’; it’s just as easy to draw or paint them on.

Make your own costumes

Most of the ready-made outfits on sale in discount stores and supermarkets are made from synthetic fibres that won’t ever break down entirely. Quality is often poor, meaning reuse is impossible, so they’re best avoided. Use your imagination – if you didn’t find something to suit you at your costume swap session, scour the op shops or online sales sites such as Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace. Mix it up – something from the pyjama rack may make an excellent zombie getup, or an adult t-shirt could be the basis of a kid’s creepy costume. If you’re really serious and don’t mind laying out upwards of $50 a pop, costume hire shops are an option too.

You can even make your own fake blood and avoid the plastic packaging and possible toxins in commercial ‘blood’. There are plenty of simple recipes online.

Why not go the whole waste-free way and dress the kids up as a Litter Monster? Gather up some waste around where you live and incorporate it into your Halloween getup.

Choose treats wisely

If you have the time and inclination and you aren’t expecting floods of trick or treaters, making your own treats to give away is the least wasteful way to stop those kids from tricking you. But realistically, most of us aren’t going to manage hours of baking and decorating and will head for the confectionery aisle. There are almost no choices to suit the average budget that aren’t wrapped in plastic, but some are better than others. Buying in bulk means less packaging per treat, so choosing the largest bag helps. So does avoiding lollipops with plastic sticks. Or splash out a little on a reusable jelly bean dispenser, which offers a no-touch way to get treats into the hands of little wizards and fairies.

You may choose to support brands that are using the Australian Recycling Label on their packaging. Pop a few lollies into paper bags (wash hands well first) and give them out that way to avoid the possibility of spreading germs.

Or how about giving out healthier alternatives such as mandarins with faces or chocolate-dipped strawberries? And a paper bag full or homemade popcorn is delicious, healthy and low-cost.

Carry treats in a reusable bag

The shops are full of plastic lolly bowls, buckets and bags for kids to put all their treats into, but it’s easy to avoid them. Decorate a reusable shopping bag or fabric tote, use an old pillowcase, or take along a wicker basket to collect all those yummy treats. Remember to take home all the packaging for proper disposal too!

Set up a Halloween recycling station

Have some boxes on the way out where your visiting trick or treaters can drop recyclables and bin items that must go to landfill. You could decorate them to point out the scary things that happen when you don’t recycle! Mark the boxes clearly to sort recyclables, conditional recyclables and non-recyclables. You may include a bucket for food scraps that can be composted too. This can keep waste from your streets and ensure it ends up in the correct waste stream.

Be COVID-19 safe

We don’t need to make Halloween any scarier by ignoring COVID-19 restrictions. Check the regulations that apply in your state or territory just before 31 October and be sure to follow the rules for social distancing, hand washing and the limits on numbers for social gatherings, both indoors and out.

On the bright side, it’s a great opportunity for everybody to make a statement with their COVID-19 masks. Reusable Halloween face masks come in a huge range of designs and there are plenty for sale online. Try Etsy for starters. 

What will you do this Hallowgreen?

There are so many ways to Step Up at Halloween. These are just a few. What will you pledge to do to reduce your waste?

Share your Step Up action by taking a selfie, sharing it and tagging @CleanUpAustralia #StepUptoCleanUp

Leave a Reply