Want to hear something really scary? According to the National Retail Federation, the average American plans to spend about $77 this Halloween — that’s an increase from $75.03 last year. In fact, the total spending on Halloween items this year will reach $7.4 billion. This insane amount of money is really great for the costume and decorations industry, but the sheer amount of waste it generates is terrible for the environment.
We know many of you are probably really looking forward to the haunted houses, parties and indulging your sweet tooth during this holiday favorite. However, before you bob for your first apple, there are a few things you might want to know first.
Thanks to the Flammable Fabrics Act, most packaged Halloween costumes are made with (cheap, mass produced) flame-resistant fabrics that won’t catch fire or can be extinguished quickly. Of course, this is a good idea for children (or adults) who run around near candlelit Jack-o-lanterns in billowing capes or flowing garments. However, as Healthy Child Editorial Director Alexandra Zissu writes in a blog post, “growing evidence links flame retardants with adverse health effects, including hormone disruption, reproductive issues and neurological development concerns. Some of these chemicals have been banned or limited in the U.S. and other countries due to health concerns.” You might be thinking that because you’re only wearing it for one night, you won’t be negatively affected. However, since most costumes end up in the bottom of closets before they get sent to the landfill, these toxic chemicals end up leaching out into the environment.
The green alternative: Look for “PVC-free” or “phthalate free” costumes (the ones that don’t smell like a shower curtain). You might not win any costume contests, but consider swapping old ones with a pal, rummaging through vintage or thrift stores for items or scrounging your closet. You’d be surprised with how many clever costumes can be put together with simple items found in your home.
2. Makeup and face paint
A 2009 report from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that 10 out of 10 (!) children’s face paints contained low levels of lead — ranging from 0.05 to 0.65 parts per million (no level of lead is good for you). Some paints might also contain nickel, cobalt and chromium, which can cause skin issues such as sensitization and contact dermatitis. The scariest part is that these chemicals were not even listed on the ingredient labels, even though they claimed to be “hypoallergenic” and “FDA compliant,” the report found.
Millions of pounds of these Halloween icons turn up in the dump each year after they are carved up for a single evening. That’s just a huge waste — pumpkins are food and people are starving. A pumpkin also takes a huge amount of resources, energy and fertilizers to grow before it makes its way to your porch. According to ThinkProgress, pumpkin farmers in California (the second largest second-largest pumpkin producer in U.S. behind Illinois) are upping the price of pumpkins by 15 percent due to the devastating drought increasing costs of growing.
The green alternative: Compost it, slice up the flesh for soup or muffins, bake the seeds or blend them into a facial exfoliant instead of throwing it away. Pumpkins can also have a second life as fuel. There are facilities around the country, such as the East Bay Municipal Utility District in Oakland, Calif., that turn discarded pumpkins and other food waste into renewable electricity.
Just like costumes, Halloween decorations are usually made of cheap, non-recyclable plastics that clog up landfills after use. Also, many decorative candles and the tea lights that are placed inside pumpkins contain petroleum-based paraffin that release out harmful chemicals when lit.
The green alternative: DIY decorations, or go outdoors and find pine cones, leaves and twigs (a fun family activity). As for candles, find ones made of soy or beeswax. For parties, use actual cups, plates and silverware instead of the disposable stuff. Even if you can’t be bothered with washing dishes, there’s compostable stuff that’s available. And please recycle those bottles and cans. The simple idea is this: the less you buy, the better.
If you care about rhinos, tigers or orangutans, then you want to shop smart for candy. Many Halloween treats (as well as other foods and products) are made with unsustainable palm oil, which is cheap to ship and produce but is absolutely no good for the planet. Besides emitting tons of greenhouse gases, the burning of forests for palm oil plantations are a leading cause of deforestation, air pollution and destruction of wildlife and natural habitats in southeast Asia.
The green alternative: Before you shop, check out this list from the El Paso Zoo of palm oil-free candy (or you can download their app). Also, if you can, choose treats that don’t come in excessive packaging. Better yet, make your own sweets.