By Theodora Filis
As one of the world's oldest holidays, Halloween is still celebrated today in several countries around the globe. North America and Canada maintains the highest level of popularity. However Halloween, like so many North American holidays, has a steep carbon footprint and a serious environmental impact.
Americans use more than 380 million plastic bags and more than 10 million paper bags every year. Plastic bags end up as litter, kill thousands of marine mammals annually, and break down slowly into small particles that continue to pollute soil and water. During production, plastic bags require millions of gallons of fossil fuels that could be used for fuel and heating; paper bag production consumes more than 14 million trees annually in the U.S.
Cloth or canvas shopping bags, or even pillowcases, make terrific eco-friendly alternatives to paper or plastic bags, or to the molded plastic jack-o-lanterns so many kids use to collect candy at Halloween.
Aside from all that plastic packaging, most, if not all, of the main North American Halloween candy products have genetically modified ingredients included in the candy but not shown on the label. Genetically modified products can increase the risk of allergic reaction from unlabeled, genetically engineered ingredients.
Avoid candy altogether and give trick-or-treaters useful treats, such as colorful pencils, small boxes of crayons, erasers in fun shapes, or other inexpensive items you can find at your local dime store or dollar store. Whenever possible, buy locally produced treats from local merchants. Buying locally supports your local economy, and also reduces fuel consumption and pollution associated with transporting products.
Pumpkins are a Halloween centerpiece for many North American families. Children carve the pumpkins with scary faces and place them at the entrance to a home. Although this might seem like a quaint, harmless tradition, the reality is that Halloween pumpkins are grown in a chemically intensive manner. Numerous fields are devoted to pumpkin growing prior to the Halloween season and the majority of North American pumpkins are grown with pesticide applications. To make a better choice for the planet consider purchasing a pesticide free or organic pumpkin.
Purchase just one pumpkin per household. Although pumpkins might seem like decoration only, pumpkins are a food crop for both humans and animals and to throw out millions of pumpkins each year is excessive and unnecessary. If you do opt to use a pumpkin, remember to compost your pumpkins as they take up valuable space in the landfill as well as release greenhouse gases as they decompose. Grow your own organic pumpkins: http://www.pumpkingrowingtips.
Halloween decorations are made of either plastic or Styrofoam. Both products are made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. Soft plastics and Styrofoam’s are often very difficult to recycle, the majority of Halloween waste often ends up in the landfill. As an alternative, decorate with things from your garden like fallen tree boughs, pinecones, cornhusks, apples. The fruit can be eaten at the end of the night and the other items can go into the compost.
A scary ghost can be made from a simple white sheet with a face drawn using a non-permanent pen. The sheet can be washed at the end of the evening. Scary music and soy (not petroleum based) candles help create spooky, but environmentally friendly Halloween magic.
Fireworks are made from chemicals and most of their ingredients have a negative impact on the environment. Environment Protection UK reports fireworks emit light, heat and sound energy along with carbon dioxide and other gases and residues. Studies have documented an increase in air and water pollution levels after firework displays in China, UK and the USA. Aside from the high cost of toxicity in the air when fireworks are used, many of the toxic remnants end up in landfills where the chemicals leach into the earth and waterways.
North Americans spend more than $6.5 billion dollars on Halloween. Americans spend an estimated $5 billion dollars on costumes, candy and decorations. Canadians spend about $1.5 billion dollars each year; the largest expenditure is for Halloween candies. If North Americans opted to take their $6.5 billion dollars and spend their money on more eco-friendly Halloween options, it would have an enormous impact on reconfiguring the environmental impact of this holiday.