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Halloween can have spooky environmental consequences

By Muryum Muhmoodullah, October 31 2021—

The wind carries with it a chilly, spooky breeze reminding us that Halloween is right around the corner. A thrilling holiday for many of us, as each year we look forward to stuffing our bags with goodies, while spooking our family and friends away with our terrifying Halloween costumes and mind-blowing Halloween decorations. Everything from paper bag dress-ups, to almost-realistic zombies and homes with spooky stickers, to monsters that jump out at you  — on Halloween you see it all! But besides all the spooky decorations, the new horror movies released and the scary costumes, have you ever considered how spooky Halloween can be for the environment?

Every year, as the days inch closer to Halloween, people invest money, time and effort into creating their best Halloween yet, looking forward to each year’s new decorations and spooky costumes. But perhaps without considering that there is more to be afraid of than your neighbour’s terrifying zombie makeup. Perhaps the spookiest thing about Halloween is not so much Halloween itself, but what we do with all the purchased items and decorations during and after Halloween. Some of the greatest and most concerning issues regarding Halloween are the plastic waste and environmental pollution the holiday can contribute to. 

The amount of garbage and waste that’s produced after those spooky decorations, can have some pretty serious and scary consequences for our natural environment. For instance, one of the biggest pollution issues arising from Halloween each year is plastic waste. Plastics are found in wigs, cosmetics, toys, candy wrappers, bins and many other products and items used to decorate and celebrate the holiday. 

Plastics are very cheap, easy to produce and extremely durable due to their chemical compositions. Plastics are composed of what’s known as polymers which are long chains of molecules. To put it simply, these molecules are very difficult to break down and when they enter the environment, they’re very stubborn and difficult to remove. It may take up to hundreds of years before it breaks down. 

You might ask, what about recycling? Buying recyclable products as an alternative to single-use plastics is extremely important to maintaining environmental well-being. However, it may frighten you to hear that most plastics don’t even make it to the landfill, let alone recycling. They usually end up polluting the environment, as they get carried away by the wind or even animals and eventually make their way to the sea. In an article by Dr. Chris Sherrington, an environmental economist, it was found that roughly about 12.2 million tonnes of plastic enter the aquatic environment per year.

Hence, plastic is a serious pollution issue that has a detrimental impact on our planet and wildlife, releasing toxins into the environment. Worse yet, plastic often ends up in the digestive tracts of animals and can be quite deadly for them. 

With all this alarm of plastic and pollution, you might feel overwhelmed and unsure where to start. But fear not, because there are plenty of ways to make this Halloween environmentally friendly, and as fun and as spooky as always. Below are some tips to help you through the maze of confusion regarding an environmental Halloween, and ways you can create safe, yet fun environmental choices. 

Cosmetics, decorations and cosmetics

The first thing to keep in mind are costumes, cosmetics and decorations. Makeup and decorations can run us into a web of trouble. Often, many decorations and costumes are made from plastics that are harmful or non-recyclable. Halloween costumes and makeup are known to have PVC plastics in them. PVC plastics are the hardest to recycle and pose threats to human health and the environment. They can have very high flammability and produce toxins that can pollute not only the water, but also the air.

Cosmetics and theatrical makeup products can have some dangerous chemicals as well which may harm our health. These chemicals may be found in products such as fake blood and face paints. Keep this in mind while purchasing cosmetics, being wary of the ingredients such as coal, tar dyes and parabens among other toxins.

A few tips to combating environmental issues that arise from purchasing cosmetics can include looking for cosmetics that have eco-friendly labels. You can find cosmetic brands that are eco-friendly, such as Dab Herb Makeup, or Clean Faced Cosmetics which is a no-waste brand.

Regarding plastic waste created from costume purchases, you can consider reusing old costumes in new and creative ways, or purchasing used costumes instead of new ones. This doesn’t only reduce the waste, but it also takes a small load off your wallet. Another great way to avoid plastic and decoration waste on Halloween is by finding non-plastic alternatives. For instance, using fabrics and paper replacements for decorations and costume ideas is a great way to go. Fabric costumes can always be cut up and altered, so you might even be able to save a few pieces for a couple of new and spooky ideas for a few Halloweens to come.

Another Halloween decoration basic are pumpkins. Keeping environmental consciousness in mind when purchasing pumpkins can really help with reducing plastic waste. This year, you can reuse your plastic pumpkin decorations, or opt-out of plastic for fabrics or ceramic pumpkins instead. These may last you much longer and are useful even outside of the fall season. By reusing plastic pumpkins or purchasing non plastics, you help reduce plastic waste, and contribute to reducing plastic production. Lastly, when using real pumpkins, you can try and opt for organic and locally grown pumpkins. For some of us, this may be a bit pricey. But hopefully, by recycling old decorations, costumes and cosmetics, you might find it more considerable and easier on your wallet. But regardless, when throwing away your pumpkins, be sure not to throw away the pumpkin guts. The seeds and pumpkin leftovers can be eaten, composted or replaced in the environment. It turns out, pumpkins can be an excellent source of nutrition for animals such as deer or squirrels. 

Candy and treats: 

Without treats, it isn’t Halloween. However this year, let’s ensure the sweetest part of the holiday is also sweet for the environment too. Plastic waste is still an issue when it comes to purchasing and consuming candy and other sweet treats. Although small, they add up —  just think of all the times you might have found candy or garbage wrappers around bus stops, roads, streats and playgrounds among countless other places. Buying candies with non-plastic wrappers can be replaced by candy that’s packaged in cardboard or paper boxes. 

It is also important to ensure that when going out to trick-or-treat, to make sure the bags you collect candy in are not plastic. Using pillowcases instead of plastic bags is a great way to reduce plastic and pollution this Halloween. Be sure to provide a trash bin or a recycling bin outside of your home or near the entrance of your property. This is important to encourage proper and responsible waste disposal, preventing people from throwing garbage wherever they find convenient. You can decorate your waste bin to give it that spooky Halloween vibe, as well as invite people to utilize it as needed.

Mask pollution: 

Lastly but not least on our tips to keep this Halloween environmentally safe, are masks. I can’t stress this one enough — as important as wearing masks are to ensure everyone’s safety, we can’t ignore how improper mask disposal is leading to so much pollution. Disposable masks are harmful to the environment, as the chemicals used to create their colours contain toxins. 

Additionally, masks have been found to have traces of lead, antimony and cadmium. These are known as “heavy metals” contributing to their toxicity and are extremely difficult to remove from the environment. Hence, we need to make it our mission to be responsible for not only preventing the spread of COVID-19 by using face masks but also being responsible for proper mask disposal — something we should be particularly wary of during this Halloween, as we gather to celebrate the holiday. 

Communal Clean-up:

And finally, Halloween is a communal event. If it weren’t for everyone coming together to celebrate this spooky holiday, we wouldn’t have the same joy in dressing up, decorating our homes and sharing deliciously spooky treats and candy with our neighbours and communities. Likewise, we need to remember that cleaning up after ourselves is also a community event. Getting your neighbourhood, schools or communities involved in a “post-Halloween clean up” is a great way to conclude this holiday. Let’s make it our 2021 mission to normalize a clean and environmentally friendly Halloween. After all, it is our beautiful and spooky fall season that produces the perfect weather, delicious pumpkins and gives the perfect environment for us to enjoy and celebrate this spooky day. Let’s give back to our planet for graciously hosting this holiday for us and make sure to clean during Halloween and most definitely after Halloween, too.

Halloween must stay spooky and safe not only for those participating in the holiday but also for our environment and our planet. And the only way to ensure that is to be responsible consumers — making sure we’re not purchasing products that will contribute to greater pollution and waste and also looking after the mess we leave behind. This will make for a Halloween that Mother Nature can be proud of and welcome for generations to come!

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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