| By Elizabeth Bettis
If you’re like me, you practically live for Halloween, from autumn-orange yard decor and carved pumpkins everywhere to especially the heaps of candy. It’s finally the season when placing random decorations around the house is not only acceptable, but expected, and we’re all about celebrating. But Halloween is also the beginning of troubled times for the environment around us as we deposit countless empty candy wrappers in landfills or begin November by throwing out those plastic skeletons from the lawn. Halloween can often be a time when we forget about the junk we’re consuming from the contents of those candy wrappers – and what about all the costumes discarded after a single day of fun? At IDEAS For Us, we’re all about sustainability and protecting the environment, and Halloween doesn’t have to change that attitude. Instead of ending October with bags of polluting garbage and a stomachache, why not have an eco-Halloween?
Genetically modified (GM) food is taking over the American market, and a lot of Americans don’t realize how much of an issue this can be or how much GM food they are consuming in their daily diets. Genetic modifications are often used to make plants immune to herbicides or pesticides, allowing easy insect/weed elimination and increasing growth efficiency. Sounds great, right? Maybe not. The GM process makes food much cheaper, but it also places potentially toxic food on the market and prompts the evolution of ever-more-immune insects and weeds (1). Genetically modified seeds can’t be removed from the environment once they end up in the farming cycle, so there’s no way to go back. What’s even worse – a lot of your favorite Halloween candy is made with GMOs. The candy company Mars uses GMOs in its candy products, including favorites like Snickers, M&Ms, Twix, Milky Way, and Skittles. GM candy turns Halloween snacking from an innocent sugar rush to an environmentally toxic disaster, so what can you do? It’s simple: just try out the non-GMO alternatives. Multiple projects are devoted to making sure you have access to non-GMO candy, so there’s no excuse for buying GMO. For example, a quick internet search turns up the Natural Candy Store, where organic and non-GMO are guaranteed. Instead of Starbursts or Milky Ways, why not try these fruit chews or this caramel pecan candy bar? In one quick stop at your local Publix, you can purchase non-GMO peanut butter cups or a tasty organic caramel and peanut bar. Maybe it’s not so hard after all to have a healthy Halloween.
I’ve already mentioned the problem with Halloween garbage, but this issue is actually a little bigger than you would expect: did you know that Americans end up purchasing almost 600 million pounds of candy every single year around Halloween? (2). All those plastic wrappers have to go somewhere. And what about Halloween decorations and costumes? Take something as small as glitter: sprinkled on a table or used for costume makeup, it might add to the Halloween spirit, but it also adds to microplastic pollution. Microplastics are pieces of plastic smaller than 5mm, and they’re a major source of marine pollution. These unassuming specks of synthetic material are too small for filters to catch, so they end up in oceans and lakes instead. Microplastics release all kinds of toxic chemicals into oceans and lakes, killing marine life and even harming humans who eat contaminated seafood (3). But glitter isn’t off the charts. Instead of foregoing sparkly decorations, try an eco-alternative.
Another great way to save landfills from Halloween overload is to rethink your costumes. The U.S. generates 25 billion pounds of textiles yearly, and 85% of that will end its life in the garbage (4). Imagine how much Halloween contributes to this massive textile waste when Americans are spending money every year on outfits they’ll only wear once. So here are some ideas for an eco-friendly costume solution:
Drive down the street any day in October and you’ll see yards full of giant plastic inflatables. Often laid flat on the lawns to save the electric power necessary to keep them inflated, these decorations only look good half the time – who wants a lawn covered in wrinkled plastic sheets? They might make a flashy statement as long as they’re up, but inflatables waste energy and contribute massive tons of plastic to the overall Halloween waste toll. If cute yard decor is what you want, there are tons of other options:
5. Celebrate Local
In a world of social distancing, traditional Halloween parties may be off the options list, but who says COVID-enforced restrictions can’t offer an opportunity to be creative? Instead of canceling Halloween activities, use this chance to bring Halloween back to the community and spread the environmental message:
The holidays are a great chance to give special consideration to the environment when it’s most threatened by pollution and waste through basic ignorance about how our actions affect local and global ecology. It’s not so hard to go GMO-free, DIY your decorations and costumes, and avoid polluting or plastic-based products – and eco-friendly alternatives are also a great way to spread the environmental protection message.