This Halloween Think Green, Not Orange
Halloween is just around the corner, and with it comes lots of excitement and planning. People are buying candy for trick-or-treaters, costumes litter the shelves of every super centre, and homes are decked out in all their spooky glory. You know Halloween is close when massive boxes of candy bars can be found just about everywhere and more people are obsessing over Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes.
A day that should really be an excused holiday (just sayin’), Halloween has always been my favourite night of the year. As a believer in the paranormal — yes, even the ghosties — and a dabbler in Wicca as a spiritual religion, Halloween for me symbolizes more than just costumes and candy. A festival once celebrated by the Celtics as “Samhain,” Halloween (or All Hallows Eve, as it is sometimes called) was the Celtic New Year, a day of the dead, during which it was believed that the souls of the deceased had the chance to re-enter our world from the afterlife. Representing more of an equinox or solstice for a season’s end, Halloween later became associated with evil, witches and scary tales of haunting. The day’s true meaning, however, is a celebration of seasons, nature and the natural process of things — one of which just happens to be death. Far be it from a pagan holiday dedicated to satanic rituals — some ancient religions really went to town destroying this day’s true significance — the modern-day Samhain is celebrated by tossing cheap, conflict palm-oil filled candy at eager children and strewing synthetic decorations around with child-like abandon.
In other words, Halloween today is far more destructive than the ancient, spiritual celebration of Samhain which many religions vilified.
You may not be aware that many Halloween costumes, decorations and accessories are made out of non-recyclable materials which will basically sit around in landfills or make their way into natural habitats thanks to irresponsible recycling. A 2014 report by Nation Swell estimated that over $7 billion was spent on Halloween just in 2014 alone — that includes decor, costumes and minor accessors, like face paint. The report also mentioned the waste of food-stuffs like pumpkins, which are purchased for carving purposes and quickly thrown into landfills just days after Halloween concludes. As Nation Swell said so eloquently, “Millions of pounds of these Halloween icons turn up in the dump each year after they are carved up for a single evening. That’s just a huge waste — pumpkins are food and people are starving. A pumpkin also takes a huge amount of resources, energy and fertilizers to grow before it makes its way to your porch.”
They do make a good point. It’s highly unlikely that any of us will save our decorative pumpkins for other uses. So, off to the landfill they go. We will also be unlikely to properly recycle all of our other materials - like old decorations — once Halloween is over.
Many of those Halloween decorations are made of materials such as plastic, which we know is often downcycled, so few decor items are truly recyclable. Think of those plastic spiders you top themed cupcakes with, or the plastic zombie hands you stick in the ground in your front yard. As neat as they may be, they’re harmful for the environment. The plastic wrap around every one of those tiny candy bars we’ll hand out to kids this year will likely be littered or improperly disposed of, which means more plastic making its way into the streets, properties and possibly eaten by wildlife who mistake it for food.
Perhaps the real evil lies not in Halloween hauntings, but rather lays waiting in every box of candy or every packaged costume.
Sure, we all want to deck our kids out in cute costumes and hand out the most sought-after candy, but do we really know what we’re handing out? Most Halloween costumes are made in factories — often overseas — where labor conditions are likely to be horrid; a kid’s monster costume might be spooky, but the only frightening thing here is the lack of essential human rights for the person who made the costume. You may be sending your children out to trick-or-treat in get-ups made possible by slave labor.
And what about the candy? What’s really in it and where the heck does it all come from?
Surprisingly for some, the boxes of candy bars you’ll buy this year to hand out to trick-or-treaters will likely contain palm oil, in addition to poor labor regulation. For example, most of the cocoa produced for companies is sourced in West Africa, where both adults and children work everyday to harvest cocoa for candy production overseas. These families live on as little as $2 per day and rely heavily on this harvest for their livelihood. That’s not exactly what we’d call “fair trade,” a practice which ensures that fair wages are paid to producers in developing countries. Most candy we hand out this year will be neither fair trade nor direct trade — wherein money is paid directly to the producer for a product rather than going through a cooperative or a company, as is done with fair trade. For all of their yummy glory, and as popular and well-loved as they are, handing out palm-oil filled candy only further perpetuates the notion that it ought to be in everything, as long as it has been deemed sustainable.
The likelihood that your candy is made even with truly traceable and sustainable palm oil is not altogether high either. The largest producers of candy, like Reese’s, Hershey and others use certified palm oil in their products as a vegetable fat; but as we’ve learned in the past, just because a product says it is certified does not mean the palm is fully traceable. A practice called “mass balance” involves mixing traceable palm oil with conflict palm oil; this helps the producer cut costs or compensate for low reserves. A brand can say it uses sustainable palm despite utilizing the mass balance, or even worse, the green palm certificate system, and suddenly we’re all fooled into believing our Halloween candy is 100% ethical and sound. And still, there are so many off-brand candies out there this Halloween with absolutely no certification for their palm-oil usage - confections that will no doubt lead to the devastation of orangutan (among others) habitat and global warming
It all sounds pretty horrible, doesn't it? And here you thought the scariest part about your Halloween this year would be the Scream reruns on tv.
If it’s all as tragic and horrid as it sounds, is there a chance for us to turn this orange and black themed day to green? The answer, is yes.
There are several ways in which you can make Halloween eco-friendly and palm-free for your family, and your neighbourhood. Reuse Halloween decor from previous years and don’t be afraid to put out the same decorations as before; it’s far better than buying more non-recyclable items! Throwing a Halloween party? Use reusable dishwear and cutlery to cut back on the amount of plastic going out into landfills this year. Try making your own costumes this Halloween from old clothes, or swap costumes with friends; you could also look for one at a thrift store. If you’re familiar with the families in your neighbourhood, why not bake your own allergen-free treats? Simply notify your neighbours before Halloween that you’ll be handing out yummy, homemade goods. You could include an ingredient/recipe card so people know what’s in the treats and can make them at a later date if they like them. Hot tip: this is a great way to foster community in your neighbourhood, too!
Halloween used to be about celebrating nature, remembering loved ones and giving thanks for everything the Autumn season brought us. Whilst we’re now more thankful for pumpkin spice lattes and warm scarves, we can keep the ancient, non-destructive traditions alive by simply being more cognizant of how we celebrate this 'spooky' day. Think of the environmental damage we could eliminate if we only chose to recycle our decor, reuse our costumes and hand out low-impact, palm-free candy.
This Halloween, don’t let your environmental footprint be monstrous!