Ending the Ocean’s Nightmares - How to Have a Sustainable Halloween

Somehow that time of year has rolled around again. The sunny days have been replaced with a blustery breeze, the daisies disappeared in favour of crisp, flaming leaves and golden evenings on the beach are traded for cosy nights at home. Just before we start seriously pondering Christmas, Halloween appears once again, filling parents with dread at the thought of having to create more costumes, fill the house with sweets and deal with the inevitable sugar-fuelled hyperactivity afterwards. Yet have you ever considered that the ocean dreads Halloween too? Our wigs weaved of synthetic fibres, our masks made of straight up plastic and our candies individually wrapped in crinkly packaging which far outlasts the burning candle in our pumpkins and the sugar rush coursing through neighbourhoods. So how can we make Halloween less of an alarming nightmare for the ocean this year?

Costumes are one of the central players in our ghostly celebrations, yet 90% of the costumes bought in the UK are made of plastic polyester. Even worse, 7 million of these are thrown away each year, meaning our fancy dress is essentially the ocean’s worst enemy: single use plastic. To avoid landfill, or even purchasing plastic in the first place, you could consider making the costumes yourself. While for many this may sound like multiple evenings worth of stress, many ideas don’t even require sewing, with old sheets easily being arranged into witches’ capes, pale ghosts or togas fit for ancient Romans and Greek gods. Ketchup, beetroot juice and even just plain old mud can create some freakish stains while the whole activity gives you good practice for upcoming Christmas plays or New Year’s Eve fancy dress parties. If your creation involves glitter, try and source it from one of the many new biodegradable brands to stop this widespread microplastic travelling down our drains and out to sea where they deliver all tricks and no treats to our marine life as their chemical contents are released.

For those short on time, charity shops can provide a handy alternative to supermarket costumes as musty dark suits can easily be transformed into mini Frankensteins whilst old ruffled dresses can form the eerie dolls which so often feature in horror movies. Even neglected felt hats can be transformed with a few feathers, leaves and pinecones for a more traditional autumnal feel. By shopping in charity shops, this night of consumption can still do good by giving money to worthy causes whilst their jumbled collection of items means you’re more likely to find a costume made of less polluting natural fibres such as cotton or wool. Once the annual activities are over, old costumes can be saved for next year, swapped with friends or donated to local drama groups and schools to avoid your creepy creations sneaking away into landfill where their plastic contents will do more damage than terrifying trick or treaters by haunting our environment for years to come.

So, as the costumes are hung up ready for parading around the streets, it’s time to move onto decorations. Almost all of us happily carve pumpkins each year but our single annual pumpkin shop leaves us unsure what to do with the remains. In fact, 95% of all the pumpkins grown in the UK are used for Halloween with only one third of pumpkin buyers then using the delicious edible contents for cooking. Here the internet can yet again be your saviour with a hoard of recipes from soup to pie, risotto to curry and salad to latte. While pumpkins can seem a messy and tricky business, I’m sure out of the hundreds of recipes we can all find something to attempt to tackle just once a year. To be even more sustainable, you can shop for your pumpkins at a pick your own farm to ensure it’s local and as a way to both educate and excite kids.

If you want to forgo the pumpkin altogether, reusable jack-o-lanterns can be made and brought out year on year. The outside of old glass jam jars can be covered in orange and yellow tissue paper before black card shapes of cats, bats and all manner of spooky silhouettes are stuck on top. Once crafted, a tealight can be lit inside to shine through the tissue paper and be placed proudly on your doorstep or be carried round by eager trick or treaters. All kinds of decorations can be created from sustainable materials like paper, old newspapers or even objects found in the woods with pinecones forming the perfect base for hooting owls.

By the time you’ve decorated both the house and your family, the night itself will no doubt be upon you. For those of us not hiding behind the curtains wishing for the doorbell to stop ringing, let’s pause before we start handing out tiny sweets encased in plastic and think about the abundant alternatives we could be sharing instead. There are many sweets or chocolates available which don’t come wrapped in our synthetic enemy, for example, some still come in small cardboard boxes or tubes while others are wrapped in recyclable foil, something especially common with festive themed chocolates taking the shape of ghosts and ghouls. For the old-schoolers, there is always the traditional sweet shop where handfuls of sweets are taken from giant glass jars and wrapped in paper bags. Handing out a mixed assortment in paper bags not only helps out the environment but adds an element of surprise for children. To go one step further and use no packaging at all, you could make your own decorated biscuits or cupcakes which will not only be a unique surprise for hungry trick or treaters and make you a favourite household but it will also keep your own children occupied during the day until they can start ghost hunting along the pavements after dark. For many people, the excitement of seeing ghosts and wicked witches rounding street corners will mean we barely notice the wrapping of the sweets. To solve this, you can put up a little sign advertising the fact you are a plastic free Halloween household to help get people thinking about their consumption and maybe inspire a few more eco-warriors next year.

So while we look forward to the hallowed eve and the spooky stories which fill the bitingly cold air, take a moment to remember the ocean which will still be grappling with the plastic terrors of Halloween long after the night has passed or, indeed, be dealing with their ghostly fragments for decades to come.

By Neve McCracken-Heywood

Rory Sinclair