We LOVE Halloween here at Ocean Conservancy. In fact, we never miss an opportunity to suit up in costumes. But one thing that gives us pause every October is the sheer amount of waste—most of it plastic—generated by Halloween tricks and treats.
Think about it. The candy wrappers. The decorations (like foam tombstones or fake spider webs). Those bright orange pumpkin buckets. The flimsy costume accessories.
If and when these items end up in the ocean—blown by the wind or washed by the rain down a gutter and out to sea—they can have scary consequences. More than eight million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean every year, impacting 800+ species of ocean wildlife, from the smallest plankton to the biggest whales. And once in the ocean, plastic lives forever—much like zombies and ghosts.
The good news is that more ocean-friendly holiday alternatives are available. Here we revisit some of the top ten items collected during Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup and how you can skip or upcycle them this Halloween season.
- Food Wrappers – Food wrappers came in second in last year’s list of most-collected items. They may look shiny and metallic, but they are indeed plastic, and unrecyclable at that given the complex layers of materials used to make them. Unfortunately, most Halloween candy comes individually wrapped in plastic. But not all! For a more ocean-friendly treat, opt for boxed candies. Foil-wrapped chocolates are also an option.
- Plastic Beverage Bottles – There are loads of fun ways to use plastic bottles as part of your Halloween costume instead of buying new costumes and props (many of which are not only made of plastic but come in plastic packaging). Turn a milk jug into a Stormtrooper mask or entire skeleton; fashion liter bottles into a scuba air tank or this amazing jet pack; or smaller ones into Wonder Woman cuffs or a pair of binoculars for your budding adventurer.
- Plastic Bottle Caps – These were the fourth most-collected item during last year’s ICC and an Ocean Conservancy report found that plastic bottle caps are among the top five deadliest marine debris items. Slap on some paint and they can easily be turned into creepy eyeballs or, with a few pipe cleaners and glue, spiders crawling across your Halloween party snack table.
- Plastic Bags – Like bottle caps, plastic bags are also among the top five deadliest marine debris items. Turtles, for example, often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish—one of their favorite snacks. Show you care by packing your own reusable bag wherever you go (including for trick-or-treating). And if you happen to see a plastic bag blowing down the sidewalk, grab it and turn it into a sweet table-top Halloween decoration like a ghost or mummy (bonus: you can use plastic bottles or cups that you find as a base).
- Straws and Stirrers – In most places single-use plastic straws and stirrers are not recyclable. Luckily there are many alternatives if you’re hosting a Halloween haunt. And if you happen to have a few on hand from fast-food or coffee runs, they can double as alien antenna, ogre teeth and other spooky accessories.
- Plastic Take-Out/Away Containers and Lids – There are endless Halloween craft uses for plastic take-out containers and lids. Clamshells make great monster mouths, while larger round or square lids can be painted into jack-o-lanterns, Frankensteins, or other fearsome faces—perfect for hanging on banisters or wearing as a mask.
How do YOU plan on having an ocean-friendly Halloween? Share with us using the hashtag #TrashFreeHalloween!