How to have a Zero Waste Halloween in Australia
by Katherine Hynes
I fell in love with Halloween while living in Los Angeles. As an Australian who had only experienced Halloween in the movies, I was blown away by this fun and fantastical holiday. Kids and adults dressing up, elaborately decorated homes, and of course the American candy (especially those delicious little Almond Joys I pilfered from the kids’ pumpkin-shaped buckets).
Apart from the spooky ‘haunted houses’ and makeshift ‘graveyards’ erected in my neighbours’ front yards, what I loved most about Halloween was the community spirit it generated. Neighbours would came together simply to have fun, and that connection helped build neighbourhood bonds and friendships that grew stronger over time.
Unfortunately, the downside of Halloween was always the amount of waste it generated, particularly plastic waste in the form of cheap mass-produced costumes, fragile decorations, and all those lolly wrappers!
So much of Halloween appeared to be designed for ‘single use’.
Now in Australia, I still love celebrating Halloween, but these days I tweak the festivities to keep the fun high, but the waste low. Here are some tips for a zero waste (or close to) Halloween.
Reuse. Reuse. Reuse. Say ‘forget it’ to the big discount stores and their racks of tacky, poorly made costumes in plastic pouches. There are loads of great secondhand outfits out there just waiting for you to bring them to life.
- Use what you already have. Dig out and reuse last year’s costume, or go through your wardrobe and see what you can create. For the past six years I’ve been a witch, with an impressive witch’s hat and a rubber pointy witch’s nose sporting an ugly wart. I carry a vintage porcelain baby doll with missing eyeballs, and stuff my iPhone up its night dress playing ‘spooky doll music’ on Youtube. My schtick is “I’m on the hunt for delicious children to put in my potion”. Little kids freak out. Teenagers roll their eyes. And I think I’m the bees knees. I bet I do it all again next year.
- Borrow a costume from a family member or friend. You could host a ‘Halloween Costume Swap’ for adult and child costumes. Maybe your mum or an older relative has a great vintage gem or interesting piece that would make a great outfit. Ask to borrow from your local Facebook Community, Pay It Forward or Buy Nothing groups. If you have small children, check with your playgroup, kindy, or toy library for outfits.
- Buy secondhand. Check out Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree. Local op shops are a great source of costumes (Zombie Bride anyone?).
- If you’re using makeup, try using what you already have at home or choose a sustainable brand like Dirty Hippie. If using glitter, go plastic-free with eco bio glitter made from eucalyptus mulch and 100% biodegradable. Also check online for DIY non-toxic make up recipes using ingredients from your pantry. For example, you can make white Halloween face paint using cornflower, or contouring powder using cocoa powder. At the end of the evening, use a reusable makeup wipe and natural soap bar to clean face.
DIY White Halloween Make-Up
* 2 tablespoons Copha vegetable shortening
* 5 teaspoons cornflour
* 1 teaspoon white flour
* 3-5 drops glycerin
Mix the cornflour and white flour together, then use a fork to blend in the Copha. Slowly add the glycerin until the mixture is creamy. If too wet, add more cornflour or white flour. Use a paintbrush or sponge to apply to the face. You can add food colouring to the make-up but keep in mind it may stain your skin!
As with costumes, think ‘secondhand’ and ‘reuse’.
- Reuse your decorations from previous years.
- Borrow decorations from neighbours or local Facebook groups (maybe someone is going away this year and not decorating their house).
- Buy decorations secondhand, either online (Marketplace, Gumtree, and Facebook Buy, Swap, and Sell Groups), or at your local op shop.
- Make your own decorations (e.g. create a giant spider web out of rope, drape white sheets over garden shrubs to make ghosts, and use cardboard and paint to make spooky signs. If you have a front garden bed, form mounds of earth to resemble ‘graves’ and mark with a homemade wooden cross. Check out Pinterest for lots of great inspiration.
If any Halloween decorations require batteries, use rechargeable ones. If they come with single use batteries, recycle them at Aldi or Ikea, or check for recycling options through your local council.
The classic Halloween decoration is of course the jack-o’-lantern – a carved-out pumpkin sporting a scary face and lit from within by a candle or torch. At this time of year, many Australian supermarkets and produce stores sell the large traditional orange jack-o’-lantern pumpkins. But if you were hoping to eat yours after Halloween (so it doesn’t go to waste) you may want to opt for a local variety instead. While the big orange pumpkins look impressive, their flesh is often tougher, stringier and more watery than many local ‘good eating’ varieties. Whatever pumpkin you choose, be sure to turn it into something delicious (baked pumpkin, pumpkin soup, and my favourite Paleo Pumpkin Bread from The Healthy Chef). Pumpkin skin can also be salted and baked. Pumpkin seeds can be roasted (just wash the seeds, salt, and bake on a tray at 180°C until done). The soft pumpkin flesh can go into soups and dips as a puree. Any leftover scraps can be composted.
When it comes to Halloween lollies, keeping waste to a minimum can be a bit tricky. On the one hand you want to avoid all single-use wrappers, especially the plastic ones, but on the other hand many parents tell their kids to only accept wrapped lollies due to ‘stranger danger’. The thing is, you really can’t control what happens to the lollies and their wrappers once they leave your house. Unwrapped lollies may or may not be thrown out (i.e. wasted). And plastic lolly wrappers may or may not be properly recycled via the supermarket Redcycle soft plastics recycling bin. My guess is many wrappers get thrown in the bin, if not littered on footpaths. My advice is, do what you’re comfortable with.
The next two suggestions are what I’ve done in recent years.
- Buy unwrapped lollies or chocolates from your local bulk food store and package in little paper lolly bags, just like the old corner store used to do. My local bulk food store let me buy a stack of their little white paper bags for just a couple of dollars.
- Buy unwrapped lollies at the supermarket or discount store. Choose the largest bags possible and recycle the plastic bag in a supermarket Redcycle bin.
And this is what I hope to do this year.
- With a black sharpie, draw jack-o’-lantern faces on little mandarins and hand them out instead of lollies. From what I’ve heard, kids think they’re really cute, and the best part is they come in their own biodegradable wrapping! The other day I was shopping for imperfect fruit and vegies at Harris Farm (Sydney) and noticed their imperfect mandarins were super cheap and would make great little jack-o’-lantern treats. If you decide to do the same, make sure you use a reusable produce bag to buy.
Other low-waste lolly tips.
- In my research, I’ve learned that some eco-conscious Australians bake treats for Halloween (and avoid wrapping altogether), especially if they’re in a small tightknit community where everyone knows one another.
- Instead of lollies, other gifts handed out include packets of seeds, sultanas in cardboard boxes, pencils, and bags of popcorn.
Avoid buying a brand new plastic Halloween lolly bucket to collect the booty.
- Reuse something you already have at home like last year’s bucket, a reusable produce bag, a little basket, a bowl or container from the kitchen, pillow case, hat, or check at your op shop for a secondhand Halloween bucket.
HAVING A HALLOWEEN PARTY?
- Send invitations via email, messenger or text to save on paper waste. Explain that you would love to create a ‘zero waste’ Halloween party to help the environment.
- Encourage guests to wear last year’s costume, borrow a costume or create their own from secondhand pieces.
- Source decorations secondhand or borrow items from friends and family.
- Use ‘real’ and reusable ceramic plates, cutlery, glasses and cloth napkins. If you don’t have enough, borrow extras from a friend, or pick up a few extra pieces from the op shop. At the party you can set up a compost bucket for food scraps, and then a soap bucket for used plates and cutlery.
- Make it a potluck and invite guests to bring a vegetarian dish or snack, plus a container to take home leftover food so nothing is wasted.
- Compost food scraps, and recycle wine and beer bottles etc.
Thanks for your interest in creating a zero waste (or near enough) Halloween in Australia. Remember Halloween is ultimately about community spirit and fun. Secondhand does not mean second best, so enjoy being as creative and resourceful as possible. And if you have any leftover lollies, be sure to take them into work or donate to your favourite local food charity.
If you would like to discover other ways you can reduce waste, head over to The Ekologi Store where you’ll find Shampoo & Conditioner Bars, Zero Waste Kits, Stainless Steel Clothes Pegs, plastic free cleaning, gorgeous African market baskets, HuskeeCups, and eco-friendly Xmas gift ideas.
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We also have other articles you may be interested in, such as ‘Where to recycle worn, stained and damaged clothes in Australia’, ‘How to stop junk mail in Australia’, and ‘Where to recycle X-rays, contact lenses and single shoes in Australia’.
Katherine Hynes is an actor, voiceover artist and Zero Waste advocate. She is also the co-founder of The Ekologi Store – zero waste essentials for sustainable living.
Photography: Julia Raasch, Conner Baker, Janko Ferlic, Jen Theodore, Bekin Donmeez, Bee Felten-Leidel, and Cayla1 from Unsplash, plus Natanya Shearer-Stanton and Felicity Dunne.