Your complete guide to zero waste Halloween festivities - PollyBarks.com

30+ ideas for an epic zero waste Halloween

Halloween: a holiday that’s supposed to scare us as we deal with a planet on the brink of disaster. But a skeleton. Scary. Sure.

Ignoring my climate pessimism, a zero waste Halloween celebration is 100% possible if you’re willing to step back from the plastic-wrapped candy and junky decorations and get a little creative.

Zero waste Halloween costumes

Your complete guide to zero waste Halloween festivities - PollyBarks.com

While I’m normally a grump that just prefers to wear my usual all-black outfits and call it a day, some years I can be convinced to don a Halloween costume.

Creating a zero waste Halloween costume is simple – just spend a few extra minutes planning, rather than pulling out the credit card.

Option #1: host a costume swap

Most of us have a Halloween costume or two floating around in the back of our closets – why not help them get new life by swapping them?

Ask around to friends and family to see who might have an extra costume for you or your kids. Chances are they’re just as excited as you are to get a fresh costume without spending $60 on something aggressively mediocre.

If you’d like to host a more formal event (keeping social distancing practices in mind, obviously), Sarah of Sustainable in the Suburbs has a full guide on how to host your own clothing swap. Invite a group of people together and get swapping – more Halloween costume options, more fun!

Option #2: shop your closet

Sure, shopping your closet may not spark anything truly innovative on the Halloween costume front (unless you’ve got an epic closet), but most likely you’ve got something cool happening in there!

I’m not a big Disney fan, but I love the concept of Disney-bounding; basically where adults take inspiration from a character rather than just wearing a costume. Think a white shirt and brown vest for Han Solo or a green tunic and tights for Peter Pan – not a Han Solo or Peter Pan costume specifically.

Get creative!

Option #3: so-simple-they’re-stupid zero waste costume ideas

  • Classic ghost. Go classic (or, if you’re Gen Z, steal from Tik Tok) with a “white sheet over the head” ghost costume. Classic, simple, and lets you off the hook for anything more creative!
  • Go vintage. I recommend the 1950s just because they’re incredibly easy to recreate in a costume that’s both obviously a costume, but totally wearable. For a feminine look, a dress or below-the-knee circle skirt, tight knit sweater or white blouse with loafers (and a good hairstyle, obviously). For a more masculine look, slacks, loafers, a button-up shirt and a cardigan is super simple!
  • Antifa protester. Perhaps the scariest costume of all for a certain subset of the population (lol). All you need is a lot of black clothes, a red bandana or a gas mask, and perhaps a black bike helmet or Anonymous mask. A tactfully-placed anarchy symbol also never goes amiss. Hell, if the cops decide to crack down on you because of your “suspicious activity”, you’ll be ready to go.

An easy zero waste fake blood recipe

Because what Halloween is complete without some fake blood? And who wants the stress and mess of plastic-packaged blood when you could DIY it from ingredients in your house.

(Yes, it’s edible!)

All you’ll need is:

  • 16 oz powdered sugar
  • 1 oz red food coloring
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 8 oz water

Add water and sugar to blender and blend well. Add food coloring and re-blend. Finally add the cocoa powder and blend once more. This is a drippy one, so beware of potential mess!

More recipes here – because I don’t know your fake blood needs!

Zero waste Halloween treats

Your complete guide to zero waste Halloween festivities - PollyBarks.com

Rotting holes in your teeth: the hallmark of a good Halloween. But the usual sugar-rush of the holiday comes with a lot of waste and a tons of slave- or child-labor made chocolate.

(Yes, reality is usually far more terrifying than whatever we can dream up.)

Whether you’re handing out candy to kiddos, trick or treating yourself, or prepping for a zero waste Halloween party, here are a few zero waste Halloween treat ideas.*

* Biiiiig caveat: while the things you buy may be compostable or recyclable, it doesn’t ensure that they’ll be disposed of correctly. If people still throw them in the trash, it doesn’t really matter.

Zero waste trick or treat ideas

Your complete guide to zero waste Halloween festivities - PollyBarks.com

Often on these list of zero waste Halloween candy options, I see people recommending handing out bulk candy. Listen, I’d love to say hand out bulk candy to kids trick or treating but also… don’t. 

In the best of times, it’s a recipe for complaints. In the worst of times… it’s a pandemic, y’all.

Of course, this recommendation is different if you’re hosting a party with people you know, but for random kiddos coming up to your door, go ahead and skip the bulk.

Alternative zero waste Halloween candy options include:

  • Candy in cardboard boxes. While you’ll need to check the ethics and sustainability of the candy brands on offer, cardboard is almost universally recyclable and it can definitely be composted.
  • Paper-wrapped fair trade chocolates. For the discerning trick or treater. The cost can be pretty high, but if you only get a couple of trick or treaters each year, it might be worth looking into packs like these fair trade chocolates from Thrive Market;
  • Tiny soda cans. Aluminum is a super-recyclable product that – happily – most people know and do recycle. It’s a simple, easy crowd pleaser that doesn’t cost too much. (Except for your soul if you support large, ethically-unsound brands like Coca Cola.)
  • Foil-wrapped candy. Again, another type of candy wrapper that can likely be recycled where you are if people who get them know how to recycle it properly. Finding low-waste packaging is only the start, people!
  • Pixie Stix (or other paper-wrapped candies). Same. Cheap, easy, compostable.
  • Seed bombs. No, they’re not edible, but cool! Definitely a really rock & roll alternative if you’re not into kids rotting their teeth out.

If you decide to go trick or treating yourself, make sure to bring a reusable tote bag or the classic pillowcase – no plastic pumpkin necessary!

Your complete guide to zero waste Halloween festivities - PollyBarks.com (pin)

Zero waste party snack ideas

Feeling undead enough to host a party this year? (Don’t blame me when you come back as a COVID zombie.) If you do decide to host a zero waste Halloween party, consider A) holding it outside and B) de-trashing your food offerings.

A cute zero waste party snack table might include:

  • Sweet pastries with homemade jam. A simple cookie or flaky pastry dough topped with jam is a perfect bite-sized snack! Blood red jam is an obvious must.
  • A bulk candy bar. Not like a Snickers… a full spread of different types of bulk candy! This would be a great option for a personalized, take-home party favor. (Guests should plan to BYO reusable cloth bags!)
  • Apples with caramel dip. What says fall more than caramel? While I find caramel to be tricky to make, done right it’s incredible! Include some locally-picked apples and you’re good to go!
  • Pumpkin pie. Zero waste-ify your pumpkin carving sessions by sacrificing the innards for your pumpkin pie filling. Here’s an easy recipe for making your own pumpkin puree.
  • Toasted pumpkin seeds. Duh! Another way to divert waste from the trash or compost!
  • Popcorn + different spice mixes. Bulk popcorn kernels is probably the easiest way to bulk up your snack table. Pop them on the stove and toss your popcorn into a big bowl. Just drizzle a little butter (or coconut oil) over the popcorn and sprinkle your blend of choice. Here are just a few popcorn spice blend ideas.

Of course, don’t forget to whip out all the real silverware, plates, and cups – although as long as the pandemic goes on it may be best to ask everyone to BYO things! Remember, parties don’t have to equal single-use carnage!

Zero waste Halloween activites

Your complete guide to zero waste Halloween festivities - PollyBarks.com

Whether it’s just you and your family or a friend or a large gathering, there’s always room for some fun, low-waste Halloween activities:

  • Pumpkin carving. The Halloween classic can be remarkably low-waste; particularly if you sacrifice your pumpkins right away to make a pumpkin pie. If you do leave them up as decorations, remember to compost them at end-of-life.
  • Bobbing for apples. OK totally not appropriate to be swapping spit during a global pandemic, but normally this activity is a great bit of fun for kids and intrepid adults alike. Do some apple picking beforehand and toss them in some water!
  • Trick-or-treat pillowcase decorating. Instead of buying one of those flimsy candy buckets, why not make it a DIY experience? Grab an old bag or pillowcase and use whatever markers or paint you have available to decorate it for the upcoming candy bonanza.
  • Vampire bookmark activity. Gather up some old paper and paint and show older kids how to make these origami bookmarks. A perfect cool-down activity after the sugar rush starts to subside.
  • Chalk decorating the sidewalk. Not into heavy decoration or just a little lazy? Use chalk to decorate your sidewalk for an easy, fun activity. For a truly scary Halloween, incorporate spooky messaging like “climate change is real!” to really give local kids a fright!
  • Halloween movie night. Keep it simple! Make some of that bulk popcorn, sprinkle your spice blend of choice, and enjoy a movie or two at your preferred scary level!

Zero waste Halloween decorations

Your complete guide to zero waste Halloween festivities - PollyBarks.com

Some of you might already have some decorations tucked away before you considered zero waste living – perfect! Just keep using it for as long as you can, or offer to share some with folks who may be looking!

If you’re looking for a less plastic-heavy zero waste Halloween decorating experience, consider these options:

  • Pumpkins. Sourcing local pumpkins is the classic and easy way to decorate for a zero waste Halloween! Other locally-bought autumnal squash are a great compliment too.
  • Use those amber glass bottles! Are you even zero waste if you don’t have a collection of dark glass bottles? Create a DIY potion label from paper you have around the house and give it a bit of edge.
  • Dried flowers and old books. If you don’t go for a cutesier kid theme, why not go old-school, haunted Victorian mansion and go for a cluttered, dusty old house vibe? Gather and dry flowers, stack old books, pull out all the dusty glassware that’s been hiding in your cabinets and get… ornate!
  • Forage locally. What gorgeous fall-themed items could you use to decorate? Think colored-leaves, pinecones, or other spooky-adjacent natural adornments for your party tablescapes.
  • Candles. Go classic spooky with tall, skinny tapered candles! If you don’t have any – no problem. A dimly lit rooms with lots of any kind of candles makes a room super atmospheric.
  • Source second-hand. If you really feel like you need to make 2020 more frightening than it already is, make sure that you source any additional decorations from a thrift store. Fewer resources needed, lower impact.

Final thoughts

A few final thoughts on having a great zero waste Halloween:

  1. Don’t stress too much. The more effort you put in, the more waste you’ll create. So take it easy, find your absolute favorite parts of Halloween, and forget the rest! The less you bring into your house, the less waste you’ll have to feel guilt for later.
  2. Be gracious and let things slide until after the holidays. Halloween is a minefield of other people buying and sharing things that may not align with your ethics. So be it. Grin and bear it during the festivities and save the gentle conversations for after the fact.
  3. Don’t feel bound to holiday traditions. Traditions are things that are “just done” – and not only for a reason. Don’t feel pressure to hold onto old ones. Instead, create new, more sustainable traditions you can enjoy year after year.

That’s it! Happy Halloween!