Halloween Candy Wrappers: A Plastic Nightmare

Last updated on March 28, 2021.

Trick-or-treating on Halloween is a tradition. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Trick-or-treating on Halloween is a tradition. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Did you know that American spending on Halloween should top $9 billion this year? Or that $2.6 billion will be spent on candy that is individually wrapped and thrown away? And most of it’s not recyclable and just ends up in landfills or bodies of water?

Don’t have guilt. Get inspired!

I don’t want to be one of those people that makes you feel bad about it. That’s not why I’m here. But I do want to inspire you to be forward-thinking. I want to get you thinking about next year, and what we can do to eliminate some of the wastefulness.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and I absolutely participate! Especially because I have a young son and I want to share all of the Halloween traditions with him. Surely, I can reduce waste from this holiday and still have a silly great time!

So what can we do going forward?

Start thinking about the big picture and asking questions: How many candy wrappers do we throw away, just in the United States? How many costumes are tossed in a landfill instead of reused or donated? What is the total amount of decorations made of cheap plastic that get used for only one Halloween before they end up in a landfill? Do many pumpkins go into a landfill instead of being used as food or composted? How many resources are wasted on this one holiday?

I’m actually not sure. I couldn’t find exact data for any of those things. The closest I came to actual data was related to pumpkin waste, which I hadn’t even considered before today. I’ll cover that in another post. I’m just focusing on candy today.

Bowl of Halloween candy from a trunk-or-treat event. Photo by me.
Bowl of Halloween candy from a trunk-or-treat event. Photo by me.

Candy & Their Wrappers

Recycle Nation calls Halloween candy “Halloween’s Environmental Nightmare.” Putting plastic wrappers into regular recycling is not possible. They aren’t made of materials that are collected by recycling facilities. Hershey’s kisses, gold chocolate coins, and other types of candies are wrapped in aluminum foil, which is great if you live in a town or city that accepts aluminum foil through the recycling system. Unfortunately, where I live in the Southeast, it is not accepted. Even so, foil-wrapped candies would be better than plastic!

Sometimes candy wrappers can be upcycled. TerraCycle and lots of artists on Etsy.com make upcycled candy wrapper bags and purses, and many other items.

Terracycle candy and snack wrapper zero waste boxes

TerraCycle sells zero waste boxes for candy and snack wrappers, and they take the collected materials and make them into new products. They are expensive, and therefore not everyone can or will do that. Realistically, upcycling the candy wrappers is not the solution.

So what is the solution? There are a few ways to drastically reduce plastic waste.

Plastic Halloween candy wrappers from a Halloween event. Photo by me.
Plastic Halloween candy wrappers from a Halloween event. Photo by me.

Trick-or-treaters at your house

Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home wrote that if you are purchasing candy to give out to trick-or-treaters, ensure it comes in fully recyclable packaging such as cardboard or paper. Think Nerds, Junior Mints, Pixie Sticks, Dots, or Milk Duds. Find lollipops that are paper-wrapped and not plastic-wrapped. Maybe small boxes of raisins? There’s also a company called Alter-Eco that sells truffles individually wrapped. They’re pricey, but sometimes that’s what it takes to protect the environment and ourselves. I’ve bought my candy for this year, but next year I will be buying candy that is not wrapped in plastic.

Another idea I’ve found online is giving out coins for trick-or-treating. I remember finding quarters in my Halloween bag when I was a kid. Have kids close their eyes, reach into a bowl and grab a handful. Child obesity is very high these days, so this may even be a better option!

Coin jar, Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash
Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

Think outside the box! Maybe seeds packets or small wooden toys? Pencils or crayons? Drinks in aluminum cans, which might be quite refreshing after running from house to house. Anything to stop this huge plastic waste stream. Others suggest different types of fruit, such as oranges and tangerines, but the supposedly urban myth of poisoned foods will likely result in the fruit being thrown away.

If you are having a Halloween party, Bea Johnson also suggested purchasing candy in bulk using your own jars (or cloth bags) to avoid the candy wrapper dilemma altogether. I know Whole Foods and a few other stores sell bulk candy. Where individually wrapped candy is required, such as at a school or church, wrap them in small paper bags, you can even decorate them!

Taking your children trick-or-treating

How about reducing the amount of trick-or-treating you participate in? Sure it’s fun to go house to house, and kids love the reward of candy. But you, as a parent, know how much candy is enough for your household – so stop there. Encourage the fun by just walking the neighborhood, and shifting the focus from obtaining an excessive amount of candy. Maybe just stop at every other house on your route. Your whole family will still have a great time!

Individually wrapped candies create a litter and plastic problem. Photo by Tucker Good on Unsplash
Individually wrapped candies create a litter and plastic problem. Photo by Tucker Good on Unsplash

Trash Art?

Last, if you aren’t using Terracycle’s zero waste boxes for candy wrappers, how about using the wrappers for art? There are hundreds of art project ideas out there – just type in “upcycle candy wrappers” on Pinterest and you’ll find them. Anything from vases to handbags, hair bows to dresses. This is one of my favorites that I’d like to try someday:

Upcycled candy wrapper vase, found on Pinterest
Upcycled candy wrapper vase, found on Pinterest

Trash & Litter

The last thing I want to say about candy wrappers is the amount of litter they create on Halloween. Kids don’t necessarily mean to drop things, they just do – even the environmentally-conscious ones. I’m part of the Litterati, and my plan is to photograph and pick up every piece of litter that I see tonight while taking my son trick-or-treating. It will be mostly candy wrappers, but we live in a city that has the Tennessee River flowing right through the center of it. So I feel compelled to pick up those wrappers!

Can you do the same thing, pick up the candy wrappers and trash? Can you join the Litterati? Will you be the change?

As always, thanks for reading. I’d love to know if you have any out-of-the-box ideas about reducing waste from Halloween. Please leave me a comment below!

This post does not contain any affiliate links.

Footnotes:

  1. Article, “Halloween spending to reach $9 Billion
  2. Article, “Candy Wrappers: Halloween’s Environmental Nightmare
  3. Webpage, “Candy and Snack Wrappers – Zero Waste Box™,
  4. Book, Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste, by Bea Johnson, Scribner, New York, 2013

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