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The True Climate Cost of Halloween — And How We Can Solve It While Still Enjoying the Holiday

In the United States, Halloween rivals Christmas concerning money spent, time decorating, and, most importantly, waste created. In 2022, $10.6 billion was spent on Halloween by Americans. The average person spends about $100 on Halloween yearly, on candy, costumes, and decorations — and that number is increasing after the Covid-19 shutdown. This year, Halloween spending is expected to reach $12.2 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. However, the items bought for this holiday often become waste by November 1.

Halloween waste (sourced via RTS)

The Halloween waste leads to overcrowded landfills and increased methane production, a key contributor to climate change. Much of this waste comes from costumes. About 80 percent of costumes are made from cheap synthetic materials, including polyester. These materials are typically non-recyclable, and most costumes are discarded after just one use. The result? Costumes fill up landfills.


Quick calculations reveal the scope of the problem. 69 percent of the American population plans on wearing costumes this year — that is around 231 million costumes, based on census data from January 2023, 184 million of which cannot be recycled.


Halloween candy also has a large impact on climate change. The plastic waste from the candy becomes litter throughout streets and joins costumes in landfills. In addition, the production of chocolate has a profound environmental impact, especially from larger companies which are more common around Halloween. The chocolate industry is a large contributor to deforestation, causing both climate change and biodiversity loss. West Africa, which grows 70 percent of the world’s chocolate, has lost 80 percent of its forests since 1970. The rate of deforestation has only increased in the past decade. Companies also clear forests to plant palm trees in an effort to harvest palm oil, another popular ingredient in chocolate and other candies.


Costumes and candy are not alone. One billion pounds of pumpkins are grown annually in the United States, mostly harvested for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Almost all end up in a landfill.


So what can you do to help?

Despite Halloween’s environmental cost, we can still enjoy the costumed holiday — with a few modifications.


Pumpkins

In order to reduce the environmental impact of your pumpkins, consider buying or picking pumpkins from local farms or growing your own pumpkins. The less distance a product has to travel, the lower its environmental impact. In addition, try carving pumpkins rather than painting them, since most paints make the pumpkin no longer compostable.


Using the entire pumpkin also helps minimize environmental waste. You can eat pumpkin seeds rather than throwing them away — roast them or make them into granola. You can also use the insides of pumpkins to make pumpkin pie or other sweet treats. When you’ve used all the parts of the pumpkin you can, compost the rest! They are 90 percent water, adding moisture to the soil and helping plants grow.


Costumes

Another way you can be more sustainable on Halloween is by thrifting a costume or using what you already have to turn into a costume. Making your own costume would also reduce your environmental impact as you could choose sustainable materials to use. If buying a costume, buy items of clothing that you’ll wear again instead of only once. If you need to, you could even rent a more specific costume.


Candy

In terms of candy, buy organic alternatives to reduce your environmental impact this Halloween. If you cannot buy organic, check the ingredients on your candy to ensure they are sourced sustainably. Try to avoid candy with palm oil if you want to be more sustainable. You could also look into corporations that source cocoa ethically from small farmers. Other than ingredients, you can choose candy with paper instead of plastic packaging so wrappers are easier to recycle. Or, buy in bulk to reduce plastic packaging. You may even want to try and make your own candy or treats to hand out this Halloween.


Other things you can do include reusing or making decorations yourself, using reusable cups, plates, and utensils to reduce waste if throwing a party, and using household items for trick or treating such as pillowcases, buckets, and bags. These solutions aren’t perfect and leave a lot to be desired to improve Halloween’s environmental impact, but they provide a nice middle ground between enjoying the tradition and protecting the planet from our consumerism.


Extra steps you can take:

  1. Joining Kids Fight Climate Change: If you want to make climate change news and information more accessible, you should consider joining us! Check out this link: Join the Team | Kids Fight Climate Change: Youth Climate Education. There are more opportunities than just writing, including designing, editing, speaking, and publishing.

  2. Volunteering at advocacy groups: VolunteerMatch is a great resource to find volunteer opportunities, virtual and in-person. Check out this link: VolunteerMatch

  3. If neither of those options applies to you, there are still ways to raise awareness! Simply by sharing articles such as this one, you are doing your part to spread important climate information. That is activism.


Sources

“10 Green Halloween Tips.” WWF, n.d. https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/10-green-halloween-tips.


Chiu, Allyson. “How You Can Make More Socially Conscious Halloween Candy Choices.” The Washington Post, November 2, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2022/10/14/halloween-candy-chocolate-deforestation-labor/.


Fleming, Chandra, and Camille Fine. “Halloween Waste Is a ‘major Issue’ for Climate. Here’s How to Be More Sustainable This Year.” USA Today, October 18, 2022. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2022/10/17/halloween-waste-sustainable-environmentally-friendly/10527614002/.


Ilgar, Oyku. “SAP Brandvoice: Is the Halloween Supply Chain a Sustainability Nightmare?” Forbes, August 11, 2023. https://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2021/10/28/is-the-halloween-supply-chain-a-sustainability-nightmare/?sh=57452dbc5ce9.


Lake, Rebecca. “How Much Americans Spend on Halloween.” Investopedia, September 29, 2022. https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/1012/how-much-americans-spend-on-halloween.aspx.


Moore, Derick. “U.S. Population Estimated at 334,233,854 on Jan. 1, 2023.” US Census Bureau, December 29, 2022. https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2022/12/happy-new-year-2023.html.


Robinson, Celeste. “How to Have a Sustainable Halloween.” Environmental Center, October 6, 2021. https://www.colorado.edu/ecenter/2021/10/06/how-have-sustainable-halloween.


“Sustainable Tips and Tricks for Halloween.” Virginia Tech, October 17, 2023. https://www.news.vt.edu/notices/adm-evergreens/halloween-sustainability-tips.html.


Watts, Lottie. “Halloween Spending to Reach Record $12.2 Billion as Participation Exceeds Pre-Pandemic Levels.” National Retail Federation, September 20, 2023. https://nrf.com/media-center/press-releases/halloween-spending-reach-record-122-billion-participation-exceeds-pre.


“What Is Palm Oil? Facts about the Palm Oil Industry.” WWF, n.d. https://www.worldwildlife.org/industries/palm-oil.


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