Thinking Outside the Candy Bag: A DIY Safe, Fun and Green Halloween

Last year I tackled the ecological lowdown of the very spooky and not-so-eco-friendly Halloween Party with green alternatives. This year, let’s dig deep into the plastic pumpkin loot baskets, printed plastic Halloween bags and store-bought packaged costumes to see how we can keep our kids, and our planet, safe and green.

Here’s the scenario: In preparation for an evening of trick-or-treating with their 7-year-old daughter, parents (or a parent), in all their loving goodness, drive to Wal-Mart to buy everything they need for a fun, safe Halloween. They fill up the free reusable orange plastic bags that the store provides with cute printed pumpkins on the side, with “fun size” 5 lb. bags of candy in pre-wrapped plastic wrappers (no chance of razor blades in those goodies), flashlight batteries (don’t want any tripping mishaps) and the most popular girl costume for 2009, Hannah Montana (personally, I would have chosen to have my child be the other hot and unisex costume this year, a Wild Thing). While they are at it, they buy some make-up to glamorize the look. The weight of all their Halloween stuff causes one of the bags to break. So they run back inside and grab a plastic pumpkin from the pyramid of pumpkins stacked up at the checkout counter.

Halloweens finally arrives! As the sun descends, and the family watches their adorable daughter prance from house to house, the parents reminisce about Halloweens past. They quip about how much their daughter’s Halloween is much like the Halloweens of their childhoods (except they were garbed in Power Ranger and Little Mermaid costumes). Fun? Yes. Safe? Yes. Sustainable for our planet?

BOOO…NO. One only has to do a little dissection of this typical scenario to count the many ways it is not sustainable:

Plastic bags and plastic pumpkins – The bags can be recycled, right?
According to this article titled, Plastic Bags Are Killing Us, recycling plastic bags is not considered true recycling. The sustainability coordinator for the city of Oakland, CA., Carol Misseldine says, “We’re not recycling plastic bags into plastic bags. They’re being downcycled, meaning that they’re being put into another product that itself can never be recycled.” When these bags are finally trashed, they add to further environmental pollution.

Encourage trick-or-treaters to carry a reusable tote bag. They are generally much sturdier. Here are 35 DIY reusable bag ideas with patterns and tutorials.

What about those plastic pumpkins? Don’t buy new ones for your little sprouts, but don’t ditch the ones you have. The kids may outgrow Halloween, but those plastic pumpkins will continue to sprout more landfill waste throughout their lifetime.

Shopping – Don’t get me started about how stores like Wal-mart come to town on their big white horses and smiling face logos and squash smaller neighborhood shops, forcing many out of business. I’ll just say, walk, bike, run, rollerblade or skateboard away from Wal-mart, and head to your local mom and pop stores whenever and wherever you can. They may cost pennies more, but isn’t the integrity of your vibrant community worth keeping?

By the way, Wal-mart is trying to clean up its environmental act. Personally, I am leery and won’t shop at Wal-mart. PBS has a very interesting program that you can view here about whether or not Wal-mart is good for America.

Lighting – Instead of flashlights with batteries that contain heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium, try some of these not-so-spooky lighting alternatives from Green Halloween. Light the way and tread lightly on the environment.

Candy – Have a healthy Halloween. That almost sounds like an oxymoron, with the brew of trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, sodium, and dyed confectioneries making their way into the bellies of trick-or-treaters. Try some sustainable treats from Care2 here: Halloween Fair Trade Treats, Sugar-Free Treats, Halloween Cookies- Wheat Free.
Costumes – Remember your child may wear this costume only once. Dig around in your closet or take a spin through vintage clothing stores, resale shops and flea markets for Halloween inspiration. Here are some DIY kid costume ideas. Next year, plan a costume exchange and swap party to recycle those outgrown costumes.

Makeup – Kids love to channel their character. Makeup often completes the costume. Makeup is known to be toxic to adults. And who needs all that excessive non-biodegradable packaging? Here is a makeup recipe that uses a few simple ingredients.

What are some of your solutions for creating a safe, fun and green Halloween?

Ronnie Citron-Fink lives in New York with her husband, two children (when they come home to the nest), two dogs and a cat. Ronnie is a teacher and a writer. She has been a contributing writer for Family Fun magazine. She currently writes articles about education and home design. Her writings are in four books including Family Fun Home and Some Delights of the Hudson Valley.


Robert O.
Robert O7 years ago

Good tips, October will be here again before we know it.

Lauren Weinstock
Lauren Weinstock7 years ago

My children are adults, my grandson is 4 and far away. All that being said-- there are lots of alternative Halloween activities in communities, rather than trick-or-treating. Yes we did it when kids, avoided razor blades, and lived to tell. BUT, I buy a bag of little candies wrapped in lots of plasticized wrappers [that offend me] so that a child can come to my door and expect to be given the candy? If this is about getting free sweets, let's change the construct. My sisters and I helped our mom make candied apples for us to eat. Yum. We had parties and survived bobbing for apples, dancing, talking, listening to the Beatles. There are many ways to have fun without succumbing to the meaningless Halloween practice of begging for candy from strangers.

Paige G.
Paige G7 years ago

My daughter uses a pillow case for a treat bag, just like my sister and I did when we were small.

Peter Billington
Peter B7 years ago


Marishka k.
Marishka k8 years ago

i have never used a plastic bag,
pillowcase all the way

Mary Imsdahl
Mary Imsdahl8 years ago

Who uses plastic bags for candy? It's all about the pillowcase! And homemade costumes are the best. But, no candy? Yikes, not for me! :)