Celebrating Halloween Sustainably and Respectfully

Woman sitting in a white chair with a skeleton

Aside from the sudden surge of candy and pumpkin patch Instagram posts, one of the scariest parts about Halloween is its environmental and ethical ramifications.

In our excitement (or panic) to find the perfect costume, sustainability often falls by the wayside. According to a recent study by environmental charity Hubbub, costumes sold by the UK’s biggest retailers contain the same amount of plastic as over 80 million plastic bottles. In addition to often being culturally appropriative, many of these costumes contain poisonous PVC that will be worn only wear once before ending up in the landfill. Even seemingly harmless Halloween decor is often made up of single-use plastic, tossed as soon as the festivities are over.

With Americans spending a staggering $9 billion on Halloween, one can only imagine the amount of waste that will result from this one day alone—but rather than focusing on the haunting effects that Halloween has on the climate crisis, we can use this opportunity to enliven our spaces and express ourselves while maintaining respect for the earth and those around us.

Home ideas

Edible decor

As a simple alternative to pumpkin carving, use a non-toxic marker to create mini jack-o'-lanterns using clementines; if you’re feeling particularly crafty, you can even carve out eyes and a mouth. Once Halloween is over, you can compost the peels and eat them guilt-free (but if you do end up carving some pumpkins, be sure to compost them as well!).

Aim for fall, not just Halloween, decor

Fall decor allows for a much smoother transition to Thanksgiving than fake cobwebs and spiders. Think oblong gourds and squash on your doorstep rather than pumpkins intricately carved with E.T.’s face—this will give off a warm, earthy feel without screaming Halloween, and you can keep them around for at least another month. 

For indoor decor, consider dimming the overhead lights and filling up your space with candles. Need some inspo? In our own San Francisco shop, we’ve decorated our window displays with hanging leaves to give off a cozy, festive vibe that will carry us into the holiday season.


Individually wrapped candy creates a single-use plastic dilemma. Instead of handing out candy that is not great for our childrens' health, pass out crayons, erasers, or other art supplies. If you're purchasing candy - we encourage seeking out fair trade options like these from Equal Exchange.

If you’re bringing your own kids around the neighborhood, have them use a pillowcase instead of a plastic jack-o’-lantern bucket—a pillowcase holds more goodies, anyway!


Costume ideas

Reuse an old costume

Considering bringing back a trusty old Halloween costume that you’ve stashed away, especially if you have multiple Halloween events to dress up for. No one will remember—much less care—that you wore it to that one party five years ago. 

Thrift, borrow, or swap

Scavenging your local thrift stores and consignment shops is as affordable as it is sustainable. Plus, piecing together an outfit always looks much more authentic and thoughtful than a brand-new, store-bought costume.

If thrifting sounds too time-consuming, try borrowing a costume or hosting a costume swap. Write a Facebook post inviting friends to participate, or post on your Instagram stories asking friends if they have a costume they’re willing to lend you. 

Dress up with makeup 

Dressing up in a costume that involves elaborate makeup gives you the liberty of getting creative without needing to splurge on an entirely new outfit. 

If you go this route, try to avoid purchasing toxic makeup (many face paints contain lead or hormone-altering ingredients), and be mindful about whether you’re only going to use the makeup once; many makeup-only costume ideas don’t require purchasing any new makeup at all.

Be sensitive of cultural appropriation

While society is thankfully becoming far less tolerant of cultural appropriation, it continues to be important to ask ourselves whether our costume could be potentially harmful, especially if any aspect “borrows” elements of a culture other than our own.

We think this flyer by Emi Ito is a great resource to help you avoid making others feel anything less than safe or respected. Emi also invites you to explore the resources below as a way to help nurture a safer, more inclusive anti-racist community for all of our children; please consider checking them out and financially supporting them if they have helped you. 

• This Book is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do
The Work by Tiffany Jewell
• So You Want To Talk About Race By Ijeoma Oluo
www.theconsciouskid.org and their Instagram Acccount @theconsciouskid

Our challenge

If you’ve taken steps to have a safer and more sustainable halloween and fall holiday season - Post about it on social media tagging @tonledesign and #tonleactivist now through October 31st– and we’ll credit you with 100 points for participating in this challenge. Points can be redeemed for credit on our site. Don’t forget to sign up for our activist program to receive credit for your action. We will also track these actions and let you know how much waste was avoided by the collective actions of our community. Thank you for participating and have a safe and Happy Halloween! 

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