10 Tips for an Orange, Black and 'Green' Halloween

Oct. 28, 2015

From an environmental standpoint, Halloween has some serious issues.

Halloween spending will exceed $6.9 billion this year, with the average American reveler planning to spend $74 on decorations, treats, costumes and cards, according to the National Retail Federation. That translates to a large environmental footprint.

Sabrina Helm, associate professor of retailing and consumer sciences at the University of Arizona, and members of the community, courtesy of the UA Office of Sustainability, offer some suggestions for playing your own trick on the landfill and treating the planet to a more sustainable holiday:

1. Reimagine a costume. Store-bought costumes, often made in a far-off land with synthetic materials and then cast into the trash come November, "are a landfill nightmare," Helm says. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that 85 percent of all discarded textiles — 12 million tons — were sent to U.S. landfills in 2012. To curb that wicked waste, make costumes out of sheets and outdated clothing or fabric you find around the house or a thrift store; consider renting a costume; buy a used costume; or link up with friends to swap get-ups from years past. Come November, donate costumes you no longer want.

2. Wear an environmental issue on your sleeve. With a glue gun and some imagination, you can create an educational costume that raises awareness of environmental concerns happening around the planet. The Internet can help with ideas, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, rising sea levels or endangered species.

3. Create a Mr. Pumpkin Head. Instead of carving your pumpkin, decorate the outside and then cook up gourd treats when Halloween is over. American farmers produced nearly 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins in 2014, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture — enough for a lot of pumpkin soup, pies and roasted seeds. "Pumpkins are a food item, and there is no need to throw all that food away," Helm says.

4. Help fight the candy wrapper nightmare. Americans buy about 600 million pounds of candy annually for Halloween, and many wrappers are not accepted for recycling. Ideas exist online for repurposing wrappers into jewelry, art and more — maybe even next year's Halloween decorations. You can also forgo the prepackaged candy by hosting a party in which family and friends bring homemade treats.

5. If you're going to buy candy, look for fair trade options. "One of my main concerns is the quality of the sweets distributed — a lot of it is chocolate that has a poor health, social and environmental footprint," Helm says. A fair trade certification on chocolate and certain other goods indicates they meet social and environmental standards designed to help improve trading conditions for producers in developing countries and promote sustainability.

6. Bag the disposable plastic bag. A reusable grocery bag or pillowcase collects those sweets just as well as a one-use plastic bag — and without the environmental mischief.

7. Swap decorations with friends or make your own. "Buying new decorations is usually about us not wanting to see the same thing year after year," Helm says. Get creative with craft items from around your house or, if playing Martha Stewart isn’t your strong suit, trade your ghoulish knickknacks with friends or neighbors for a new Boo you.

8. Light the way wisely. Say no to the plastic light sticks, and use flashlights with rechargeable batteries instead. Also consider illuminating decorations and the trick-or-treaters' path with LED lights, which last longer and are more energy efficient than incandescent light bulbs or compact fluorescents.

9. Leave your car keys at home. When possible, take public transportation or other modes of sustainable transportation to reach your favorite Halloween haunts.

10. Skip the trick-or-treat. Rent horror movies, turn off your lights and have a screamfest in the comfort of your own home. You can also check out sustainable-themed events such as Viva La Local Food Festival, which will be held in Tucson on Saturday and supports local food producers. The Sustainable Built Environments Club and Compost Cats will be there, representing UA sustainability efforts.

The mission of the UA Institute of the Environment is to advance innovative solutions to environmental challenges in Arizona and around the planet. Members of the institute embrace the significance of the center's location in the desert Southwest and harness the collaborative expertise at the University of Arizona and its partners to help societies – especially those in dry regions – make the best-informed decisions for a sustainable future. The institute, engaged in creative scholarship and cutting-edge research, promotes the environmental enterprise of the UA, and train students and faculty alike to convey their insights to the world.