Save a Pumpkin, Save the Planet? Halloween Waste & Where to Start
Forewarning: this may start out dismal, but stick with me!
We’ve found ourselves somehow in mid-October, and whatever your feelings are on that (be it terror that Christmas is approximately only 60 some days away or pure exuberance that Halloween is now just around the corner), when it comes to our planet and food, we’re, unfortunately, about to see a double amount of waste during the upcoming months.
Let’s start with pumpkins. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), we Americans have created a demand for approximately 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins per year. Pumpkins with which we will, for the most part, use for carving and traditional fall décor, after which point, we will toss them in the trash to be tossed into the local landfill.
So what do we do? For starters, you will probably assume the typical/standard green product buying plan and purchase an organic pumpkin. But, before you do, look first at how you plan on getting that organic pumpkin and what you eventually plan on doing with it. Do you have to drive to some distant farm in the country to pick it up? Or, are you picking up an organic pumpkin at Vons that got shipped across country from California to Florida? If so, that may cancel out the benefit of buying organic. If you do not plan on eating the pumpkin, the risk of pesticides will not be such a worry.
However! If it makes sense, and you do want/need a pumpkin, then yes, by all means, go organic and at least support local and/or organic farmers. And, if you are planning a trip to a farm for a fun family getaway, then go! There’s nothing better for kids than getting to pick their food from the ground and see where it really comes from.
Second, make a conscious effort to do more with the pumpkin than to just decorate with it. Use the pumpkin! Take the insides and bake something delicious like pumpkin bread or pumpkin muffins. Make pumpkin soup (serve it in the pumpkin!) and roast the seeds for a delicious snack to power you through the afternoon.
Third, when you’re done, resist trashing it. Pumpkins do not break down well in landfills due to a lack of oxygen. If you or any of your friends have compost bins, break it into pieces and add it to the compost pile. If not, check with your city for a community-wide pumpkin recycling initiative. You may even be able to donate pumpkins to your local zoo for animal treats. (Rumor has it lions love them.)
While it’s probably less likely to think of the candy itself actually getting “wasted,” the wrappers and candy bags do pile up as massive waste. Consider the fact that, according to Nielsen.com, we Americans buy approximately 598 million pounds of candy (that’s about $1.9 billion dollars). That’s a heck of a lot of plastic wrap and wrappers, not to mention that all of that candy ends up in trucks hauling it cross-country to be sold in supermarkets. There’s a huge carbon footprint connected with the delivery alone.
So, what can you do here? For starters, you can opt for locally produced or your own homemade treats. Though, be wary, there can be issues with handing out foodie items that are not food safety inspected and improved. The safest, smartest option to satisfy trick-or-treaters is to offer fun, sustainably made non-food treats like stickers, pencils made from recycled denim, handmade bracelets, hand-carved small tops, etc. And, if you are stuck with a whole bunch of candy wrappers or want to be the one to collect them, you can send them off to the Candy Wrapper Brigade, an awesome movement of Terracycle to recycle them and make fun stuff like backpacks and purses. Not only do you help cut down on waste, for every wrapper you send in, you can donate 2 cents to a non-profit of your choice.
Halloween is a blast, and none of this is meant to put a damper on your festivities! In fact, with some smart decisions regarding what you buy and what you do with it when all is said and done, you can do your part to cut down on the holiday waste this year, making even more reason for celebration.
Freelancer Tara Alley is dedicated to all things green & sustainable and is currently working alongside an online heating company, helping them promote their energy efficient panel heaters for the fall season.