Cleaning Up Halloween

Is there a Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge character associated with Halloween? If there is, I am about to channel that character.

Halloween is a low-risk holiday that can be fun for so many people and for so many reasons. Creativity in costume design is the rule of the day. Kids get to dress up, pretend to be someone or something else, and ask perfect strangers for treats. Adults sometimes get in on the act, too. There are parties, games, parades, contests, and less of the sense associated with other holidays that everything has to be perfect.

Cleaning up after Halloween can be stress free, unless you spend lots of money and hours decorating your house. Yes, there may be some leftover candy if your neighborhood doesn’t see many trick-or-treaters—ours doesn’t—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We bought three bags of candy and we gave out about twelve pieces, so we have lots of leftovers. But we may need to give more thought to cleaning up Halloween.

pumpkin_november_2018

The morning after Halloween I had an errand to run on foot and what I saw in my travels got me thinking about the holiday in a different way. It started when I saw some neighbors putting their pumpkins into a plastic garbage bag. The pumpkins probably weighed several pounds each. Multiply that by the number of households in our neighborhood that had pumpkins or jack-o-lanterns on their front steps, and that’s a lot of organic matter that will end up in a landfill and that will have little chance of nourishing the soil. That’s not to mention the fuel that will be spent collecting them and hauling them to the landfill. In another neighborhood there might be enough squirrels and other pumpkin-eating creatures to provide a more environmentally friendly solution. If I had been less preoccupied I might also have taken the pumpkins to my compost pile. Shame on me for not thinking of that.

candy_wrapper_November_2018

Along my brief walk I also spotted plastic candy wrappers. Our neighborhood is pretty clean and litter free, so an occasional piece of trash doesn’t send me into a rage. But plastic is the demon substance of 2018, with good reason. Single-use plastic items, such as candy wrappers, the bags in which the candy is sold, and the bigger bags in which the bags of candy are hauled home from the store, account for so much waste that the state of New Jersey is looking to ban some of them. I picked up a few candy wrappers, but they will end up in the landfill with the pumpkins. Others will end up in municipal compost piles with the leaves and lawn clippings. Some may get washed into the storm drains and end up in the Passaic River and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean, where they may become hazards for sea creatures. The wrappers and bags can probably be recycled but the value of the resources required to clean them and gather them for recycling is probably several times greater than the value of the recycled plastic itself. That’s when there are markets for recyclable plastic, and some of those markets don’t exist or have shrunk dramatically.

lawn_decorations_November_2018

Finally there are decorations. Unless your house and several of your neighbors’ houses are decorated and lit up for Halloween, trick-or-treaters tend to skip your block. Durable decorations like these inflatable characters can be used year after year. (They do require electricity to stay inflated.) Much of what is sold for Halloween decoration consists of cheaply made plastic items that are designed to be used once or a few times then discarded. Think of the spider webs, skeletons, and gravestones that you see in the yards in your neighborhood. How many of them will end up in a landfill in a few days?

Where is this discussion headed? Not toward a proposal for a ban on Halloween. If Halloween celebrations were to cease, there would be a significant economic impact involving candy manufacturers and retailers, manufacturers and retailers of costumes and decorations, and the transport and logistics companies that get all of it from the manufacturers to the retailers and on to the consumers. The benefit for the environment might be negligible; little would arise from such a ban to improve the chances of avoiding a major climate catastrophe. The same might be said for a ban on plastic drinking straws, plastic grocery bags, and polystyrene foam take-out food containers when examined as a single isolated measure.

Still, if individuals are to have any positive impact on the environment and the climate, we need to pay closer attention to the complete life cycle of each product that we purchase and consume. What resources are used to make the product? What resources are used to get the product to us? What happens to the product when we’re done with it? What waste is generated along the way, and where does that waste go?

You may do some of your most creative thinking around Halloween. What ways can you think of to clean up the holiday, make less use of stuff that we send to the landfill a few days afterward, and still keep the fun in?

Thanks for stopping by!

Pat

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