By Jessica Kirby –

Halloween has changed course over the years from an Earth worshipping event focused around the harvest, to a darker, banished-by-the-church abomination, to a well-known child-focused commercial event celebrated around the world.

Illustrations: Microsoft Publisher Clip Art

Part of moving away from a natural, harvest-focused holiday to a commercial holiday is that the Earth tends to take on more of a burden. Think about cheaply made, single-use items like decorations made of plastic or tin, one-size costumes of flimsy material, and accessories like pipes or eye glasses made dress-up ready and destined for the landfill. People want affordable, effortless options that help them live their dress-up fantasies to the fullest, but on a time-crunched schedule.

But here’s the thing: 170 million Americans celebrate Halloween; 51% of them decorate their yards, 49% dress in a costume, and 15% costume their pets. In fact, Halloween is an $8 billion industry in the US and Canadian statistics are similar. If 85% of this material is thrown away (and it is) that creates a frightening mountain of trash, encouraged by the disposable nature of Halloween items.

It is time to make change.

Decorations are the coolest—if you collect arts and crafts materials all year long, it isn’t a financial stretch to make some awesome props for the big day. Cardboard boxes or slabs of Styrofoam make excellent tombstones. Netting and fabric can transform a yard into a cobweb haven. Old bed sheets and newspaper can be formed into ghostly figures. The trick is to plan and collect materials. And, of course, recycle these items for the next year.

We all love a great Halloween party, so party on but think about asking people to bring their own reusable cups and bowls. It feels out of the ordinary since we are accustomed to providing every little thing when we entertain, but I have done this for five year’s worth of kid birthdays, Solstice beer tastings, and Christmas receptions and people love the chance to make a big different with just a little effort.

Treats are tricky (see what I did there?) because they produce a lot of waste and aren’t exactly nutritionally supreme. For a few years, I got away with buying my kids’ treats from them for $20 and all was well in the world, nutritionally speaking. They are older now and it is a matter of common sense and moderation. Common sense-wise, they keep the chocolate, chips, and pop and ignore the rest because they know enough about how sugar and dyes make them moody. They also use moderation in only having a piece or two a day. Sustainability speaking, it is possible to buy treats made locally and with minimal or recyclable packaging. Or, skip the trick or treating all together and have a super fun, food moderated party at home.

I can’t emphasize enough how rewarding and spectacular it is to make your own costumes. Yes, it takes time and again one must plan and collect old clothes or fabrics throughout the year to have the right materials, but it is so worthwhile. Besides saving a tonne of cash, creating something that will last year after year, and recycling old textiles, you are making a solid investment into your own health and relationships.

In her article in Psychology Today, Dr. Carrie Baron, MD discusses the psychological benefits of creating things by hand. She refers to Dr. Kelly Lambert’s study, which explored the relationship between hand use, current cultural habits, and mood, and discovered hands-on work “satisfies our primal need to make things and could also be an antidote for our cultural malaise.”

She concluded that increased reliance on electronic devices and buying most of what we need rather than creating it has deprived humankind of certain physical processes that provide pleasure, meaning, and pride.

“Making things promotes psychological well-being,” says Baron. “Process is important for happiness because when we make, repair, or create things we feel vital and effective. It isn’t as much about reaching one’s potential as doing something interesting–less about ambition and more about living. When we are dissolved in a deeply absorbing task we lose self-consciousness and pass the time in a contented state.”

The benefits of crafting are particularly meaningful for children, says author Richard Rende, PhD. “The research speaks to a deeper understanding of the critically important impact [of crafting] on social, cognitive, and emotional development,” he says.“Without this creative time, our new data suggests that children could be missing important benefits that are directly related to school prep and long-term success in subjects like math, reading and writing.”

But that doesn’t mean parent or other big person involvement isn’t important—studies report increased self-esteem, feelings of well-being, and memory function among children who craft with their parents or another caregiver. Families who engage in hands-on work together are more likely to remain connected into adulthood, communicate more effectively, and be more in-tuned with one another’s body language.

So, what are you waiting for? Halloween doesn’t have to be scary on the environment and can lend some year-long, sustainable, multiple-use awesomeness to your life and relationships.

Earth-friendly Halloween Treats

Illustrations: Microsoft Publisher Clip Art
Illustration: Microsoft Publisher Clip Art

When it comes to trick-or-treat goodies we have choices and now more than ever, we can choose what is best for the Earth. Check out these minimally packaged or recyclable container treats for a Halloween that is scary for everyone except the planet.

Canned beverages: Try healthier options like Blue Sky or San Pellegrino; packaging is 100% recyclable.

Cardboard boxes: Smarties, Gobstoppers, Nerds, and other popular candies come in cardboard, which is 100% recyclable.

Foil: The foil from a Hersey’s Kiss, for example, and the little wisp of paper in it are both recyclable.

Change: When in doubt, hand over the cash. A big bowl of pennies and other spare change is a great alternative to candy.

Recycle BC: This is the overseer of product stewardship programs and can tell you if your community is one in which a private company will accept mixed materials (candy wrappers).

Upcycle: If waste is unavoidable, check out this brilliant blog on ways to upcycle candy wrappers into cool fashion accessories:


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