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Eco-tip: Halloween’s scary waste can be managed


The scale of Halloween in America is staggering.

According to an article in Redbook written by Kelly Marages and distributed through MSN, Americans spend about $3.8 billion on Halloween candy every year. Annual candy purchases include 35 million pounds, or about 9 billion pieces, of the candy type most associated with the holiday, candy corn, which Marages writes was invented in 1898.

A few differences between this year and 1898 help explain the incredible volume of candy distributed on Halloween.

Daylight saving time and street lighting give treat-or-treaters more hours to collect candy, and urbanization and infill development enable most kids to visit many more houses per hour.

Perhaps the biggest change boosting the velocity of candy distribution is an end to an old tradition; kids in the past had to entertain homeowners with a song, dance, joke, or poem in exchange for treats. Now, the only qualifications for receiving candy before running to the next house are the ability to knock on a door, hold a bag, say “trick or treat,” and perhaps show at least the hint of a costume.

Costumes are another feature of Halloween leading to mass consumption. According to Marages, Americans spend about $3.4 billion a year on Halloween costumes for themselves and $370 million dressing up their pets.

In addition to candy and costumes, Halloween is the impetus for massive production of ornamental pumpkins. In fact, according to Marages, 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced on more than 90,000 acres in the U.S. each year.

What are the solutions?

Of the waste resulting from these activities, candy wrappers are the least amenable to a solution. Etsy projects cleverly upcycle or reuse folded wrappers in items such as bracelets, and recycling can be accomplished through Terracycle, but these are not viable options for many people.

Reuse projects for candy wrappers generally require painstaking folding work, and recycling through Terracycle requires mail-in and payment of a $43 fee for the smallest mailer pouch.

If you distribute something other than candy for Halloween, you risk disappointing trick-or-treaters, but you can avoid buying a product packaged in non-recyclable wrapping and possibly transported thousands of miles to serve no nutritional purpose.

I found I can satisfy trick-or-treaters by giving out handfuls of nickels instead of candy, probably because, in the dark, kids cannot be sure if they got any quarters. In previous years, when I cared less about neighbors’ opinions, I gave out pencils and small toys from thrift stores.

Halloween waste from costumes can also be reduced. Cheap, plastic, disposable costumes will quickly become waste, but durable, reusable costumes look better and last longer. Shop at thrift stores for high-quality, low-cost costumes, and donate your used costume to a thrift store when you are done with it.

YMCA costume exchange

The Camarillo Family YMCA, at 3111 Village at the Park Drive, will host a costume exchange program from Oct. 22-31, and it is open to nonmembers. In the lobby, the YMCA charges just $10 per costume and $1 for accessories such as masks, hats and magic wands. If you drop-off a costume, you get a $10 voucher for a new costume. According to Paige Harris, youth programs department head, the YMCA will have costumes available, left over from last year, even on the first day of the program.

The exchange will relocate to the Halloween at the Y event on Oct. 26 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. This free community event, also open to nonmembers, will feature an outdoor movie, “Hotel Transylvania,” on the lawn field starting around 6:30 p.m., so bring a lawn chair. The event will also feature a costume contest and food trucks.

Pumpkin planning

Pumpkins, the last of the three main Halloween wastes, can be easily managed. Pumpkins, including seeds, may be recycled in your curbside yard waste cart. Compost site operators bring the temperature of compost piles up over 130 degrees for several days, preventing seeds from sprouting in finished compost. Composters do this regularly anyway to kill seeds that cause weeds. Pumpkins, like fruit from landscape trees, are an exception to the general rule against food in yard waste carts in Ventura County.

Even better than putting your pumpkin in your yard waste cart is to compost it yourself in your own compost pile or worm box, saving the seeds for replanting next year. However, put pumpkins in your garbage cart if you have attached self-adhesive plastic rhinestones, glue-gunned beads, studs, rivets or other unnatural decorations. No one wants Halloween pumpkin bling contaminating the compost of their spring flower beds.

Here’s a consolation

Fortunately for the cause of local waste reduction, one Halloween tradition is limited to other parts of the country. In New England, the night before Halloween is known as Mischief Night; kids “T.P.” houses, throwing streamers of toilet paper over tree branches and landscaping. Even this waste and annoyance is tame compared to an older tradition. According to Marages, teens used to “throw stinky cabbages at their neighbors’ houses or leave other rotting produce on their doorsteps.”

Eco-Tip is written by David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst for the Ventura County Public Works Agency. He can be reached at 658-4312 or [email protected].


This article was originally published on vcstar

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