Halloween is so much fun! And yet…
Halloween brings opportunities for massive consumption— candy, wrappers, plastic packaging, costumes worn only once — and so much waste. Wasted materials, wasted labor, and, most visibly, wasted candy.
We all want our kids to have fun on the holidays. They expect magic, and they deserve it! But we adults can facilitate that magic in a way that is also consistent with our values.
The Scary Toxicity of a Consumerist’s Halloween
The least sustainable elements of Halloween are:
- Toxic body and hair products
- Mass-produced plastic decorations
- Candies so artificial that they are made with unfit for human consumption
- Forever chemicals and waste products that never biodegrade
- Children’s costumes made overseas by children or other victims of forced labor practices
What’s an ecologically, socially conscious parent to do?
Sustainable Halloween Alternatives
You can adopt sustainable practices without harming your reputation as the “cool” parent on the block. (Just don’t replace treat-or-treating candy with art supplies, like I did one year!)
Here are some sustainable alternatives to traditional Halloween practices. Let’s look at candy, costumes, and makeup.
Reasons to care about candy:
- Deforestation and release of agricultural by-products
- Child and forced labor practices, and inadequate compensation of workers
- Highly processed products that may contain additives with dubious safety records
- Untraceable or deliberately obscured supply chains, with low or no accountability for impacts
How to do Halloween candy differently:
- Buy local, if that’s an option in your area.
- Read ingredients and labels closely.
- Choose candy that forgoes artificial colors and flavors.
- Support a candy company that uses its business for good, such as:
- Candy Kittens (carbon-neutral B Corp!)
- Divine Chocolate (farmer-owned Fairtrade!)
- Tony’s Chocolonely (exploitation-free B Corp!)
- Doctor Bronner’s (organic, Fairtrade, and weird!)
- Endangered Species Chocolate (Fairtrade, non-GMO!)
- Equal Exchange (organic, cooperative!)
- Justin’s (organic, non-GMO!)
- Unreal (Fairtrade, low sugar!)
- Yum Earth (organic, non-GMO, no artificial dyes!)
Bonus points: Explore ethical chocolate brands on the chocolatescorecard.com.
Reasons to care about costumes:
- Child and forced labor practices in the textile industry
- Petroleum-based textiles and other waste products
- Single-use items that exist forever
- Environmental impact of producing, shipping, and disposing of costumes
How to do Halloween costumes differently:
Let’s go back to basics here: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
Reduce: Look seriously at how much “stuff” we need to make our costumes. Check out what you already own. What can be repurposed? Can you get anything else you need secondhand? (Here in Portland, Oregon, Beanstalk is our favorite for secondhand children’s items!)
Reuse: Swap it out! Last year’s costumes are new to someone else. Create a costume-swapping party before the big day. This gives your kids another fun event to participate in, awakens their creativity, keeps old costumes out of the landfill, and reduces support of a segment of the textile industry that is pumping out petroleum-derived garments as cheaply as possible, often violating human rights to do it. No child should have to be exploited for another kid to have a cool costume.
Recycle: Made a cool robot costume using cardboard boxes? Nice! Now you can recycle those pieces when you’re done with them.
Face Paints, Fake Blood, & Hair Coloring
Reasons to care about makeup choices:
- Minimally regulated industry
- Products may rely on animal cruelty in their safety testing
- Little accountability for sourcing and use of toxic ingredients
How to do Halloween makeup differently:
First, ask: What’s in your face paint? Read all the labels. In the US, face paints, fake blood, and hair colorings are regulated as cosmetic products by the FDA. This is good, because you can make sure the ingredients are on the FDA’s official list of permitted (i.e., “safe”) additives.
However, in regulatory terms, “cosmetics” are not supposed to go into one’s mouth, and they aren’t tested for safety when ingested. Let’s be honest: There’s no way that black lipstick isn’t getting into your tween’s digestive system!
As a parent, whenever you see the word “additive,” rewrite that as “ingredient”.
Your safest bet is to stick to known, safe ingredients. Look for products with beeswax instead of petroleum. Instead of purchasing a factory-made tube of fake blood, DIY your own non-toxic and washable concoction. Look for face paints labeled as cruelty-free and non-toxic — and then double-check their claims by reviewing the ingredient lists yourself.
The FDA has more tips in the article “Halloween Safety Tips: Costumes, Candy, and Colored Contact Lenses.”
Acknowledge Your Efforts
Finally, let’s acknowledge that by seeking out ethical and sustainable alternatives, you are doing difficult parenting work. This is big effort you’re expending to make your kids’ lives better, and to help everyone else touched by the supply-and-waste chain for these products!
So, thank you for your great work. Do what you can, don't worry about the rest, and go have fun with those kiddos.