What's scarier than a haunted house on Halloween? The amount of plastic, textiles and pumpkins that ends up in the landfills the day after. This year, help us make these statistics a little less frightening. 

By Kendall Colenbaugh, 3rd-year student

Each year, Americans spend about $10 billion on Halloween. That’s a lot of candy, costumes and decorations. While it all brings so much joy and laughter, it is important to consider the large amount of waste that is produced. With that being said, there are numerous ways to make Halloween more eco-friendly. With the holiday right around the corner, here’s how you can make more sustainable choices.


One of the best parts about Halloween is in fact one of the worst for the planet.  The individual plastic wrappers around candybars contribute to the heaping amount of waste produced from celebrating Halloween. These candy wrappers are too small and thin for most recycling facilities, so they must be thrown out. If you’re looking to stray away from plastic, here are some ways to do so:


  • ​​​​​​Hand out other goodies. Try handing out Halloween-themed pencils, coloring books or Mad Libs. If you’re feeling inclined to add in some sort of treat, try making your own goodie bags filled with trail mix or popcorn. Make sure to use beeswax or brown paper bags that are plastic free and biodegradable!
  • Buy candy wrapped in cardboard or foil. There are a few classic candies that come in cardboard boxes: Nerds, Dots, Junior Mints, etc. These boxes can easily be recycled, making them your best option in terms of recyclable goodies. There are only a few types of candies that still come in foil packaging (Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey Kisses, etc.), and some of these are hard to recycle because of their size. Check with your recycling provider to see if they accept all types of aluminum foil!
Mom hugs daughter dressed as princess

Halloween Costumes

Halloween costumes are made from cheap, plastic fibers and often are worn once before being thrown out. Synthetic fibers like polyester emit more greenhouse gasses per kilogram throughout the production process than do cotton fibers. Here are some ways to make your costume more sustainable:

  • DIY/Thrift. Instead of purchasing a new costume, try making your own. Check out Pinterest boards or blogs like Good Housekeeping for inspiration on the most popular DIY costumes. If you’re not looking to be creative, try going to a second-hand store to find something you can repurpose into a new costume. Especially around Halloween, both Goodwill and Plato’s Closet have an abundance of options. 
  • Costume swap. If you have a group of friends looking to participate in a sustainable Halloween, try a costume swap and put those old costumes back to use! If an in-person costume swap doesn’t work for you, Facebook Marketplace and Poshmark are two online platforms that make it easy to find cheap outfits people are looking to get rid of.


It is estimated that 2 billion tons of pumpkins are thrown out each year in the U.S. That’s a lot of food waste. In fact, it is enough to make a pie for the entire United Kingdom. Here’s how we can rescue pumpkins this Halloween: 

  • Compost. If you want to still enjoy the Halloween tradition, simply compost your pumpkin rather than throwing it out. Instead of decomposing  and emitting methane, composting converts the pumpkin into useful nutrients that can be put back into the soil. The McIntire Recycling Center accepts compostable food waste, and, if you’re looking to go ahead and start your own at-home compost, Black Bear Composting is a local residential composting service that makes it quick and easy. 
  • Ensure they’re locally grown. Though this doesn’t help with food waste, pumpkins produced locally have a lower carbon footprint. Rather than shopping at a chain grocery store or general retailer, support your local community by purchasing one that is locally grown. 
cavalier logo on pumpkin


Don’t buy plastic treat buckets! Anytime you have the opportunity to avoid single-use plastics, you should try to find a better alternative. Here’s just how to do that:

  • Reusable ways to collect candy: Use a pillowcase, tote, drawstring bag, or backpack to collect candy. In addition to being reusable, you can get creative and decorate them with Halloween-themed paints or stickers.   

Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn 

Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn is a longtime UVA tradition and is happening this year for the first time since the pandemic! This highly anticipated event helps connect UVA staff and students with the local community.


Children and families from across the area are welcome to participate, and all the candy is donated and distributed by approximately 70 student organizations. This helps foster a diverse and inclusive environment for both students and children. 

Because this event takes place on Grounds, it’s important to acknowledge the waste reduction goals laid out by the 2020-2030 UVA Sustainability Plan. UVA has committed to reducing waste to 30% of 2010 levels by 2030. This blog provides a variety of tips and tricks for reducing Halloween waste. If you’re looking for more ways to divert waste or are curious as to how UVA is working to meet their waste reduction goals, head to UVA Sustainability’s website to learn more. 

Happy Halloween!


halloween on grounds
Kendall Colenbaugh

Kendall Colenbaugh is a 3rd-year at UVA studying Environmental Science and Environmental Thought and Practice with a minor in Public Policy and Leadership. She is a member of the Waste Minimization team at UVA’s Office for Sustainability, working to meet UVA’s ambitious waste reduction goal. She is most passionate about reducing food waste on Grounds through various advocacy and educational initiatives.