Trick or Treat the Environment Better

October, 2023
Chloe ZhaoClaire Tang

As the air crisps and leaves awash in warm hues, Halloween decorations begin to adorn porches and lawns. While twinkling string lights and flashy blow-up characters are visually appealing, the harm they bring to the environment is often overshadowed by their tantalizing glow.

Modern-day capitalism has created a culture of rampant consumerism, especially within America. The detrimental effects of overconsumption on the environment are exacerbated during holiday seasons, and Halloween is no exception. A 2020 study by Planet Home found that strings of lights produce enough carbon dioxide to fill 15,500 hot air balloons. Gas emissions aside, these luminous displays also contribute a whopping 50 percent increase in light pollution to areas nearby, which disturbs the habitat and mating patterns of native animals and insects, leading to irregular populations and possible future extinction. On top of this, many households repurchase new decorations each year, creating significant amounts of plastic and electronic waste. Jack-o’-lanterns, a seemingly innocent decoration, also prove to be environmentally sinister. Waste Manage reported in a 2019 study that a colossal 18,000 tons of pumpkins are thrown away to landfills each year after fulfilling Halloween demands. When pumpkins are sent to landfill, they decompose and produce methane, a greenhouse gas over 25 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, ultimately all contributing to global warming, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Trick-or-treating, dubbed the most exciting aspect of the spooky season by many, is also no treat for the environment. Lisa Morton, an environmental specialist, found in 2021 that the average trick-or-treater produces one pound of trash on Halloween night, alarming given that the holiday boasts more than 40 million trick-or-treaters. This statistic becomes even more disturbing given the fact that most trick-or-treaters also wear a polyester-constructed costume. An environmental organization, Hubbub, conducted a study in 2019 revealing that 83 percent of Halloween costumes are created with non-recyclable, oil-based plastics, being destined to eventually dress a landfill. To put this into context, this staggering quantity of trash is equivalent to two thousand tons of plastic waste, or 83 million plastic bottles. A 2022 report by the UN Environment Programme stated that plastics accounts for 85 percent of total marine waste, being the most dangerous type of litter harming our oceans given its inability to decompose. The excess plastic created by Halloween exacerbates marine pollution, masking marine life in a suffocating film of debris, damaging the natural ecosystem.

As residents in the Princeton area, a bulk of the responsibility to preserve our local ecosystem lies on the shoulders of Princeton High School students and their families. While keeping up with spooky traditions is an important part of American culture, Halloween doesn’t have to be scary for the environment. For example, jack-o’-lanterns and other decorations should be made with compost in mind, a process that eliminates the formation of methane gas through aeration, decreasing the greenhouse gas emissions drastically. Furthermore, decorations can be reused every year to reduce the amount of waste that comes with switching out decorations each year. Costumes could also be put together with garments made from organic fabrics like cotton, from pieces from someone's everyday wardrobe, or be donated. Celebrating Halloween and remaining environmentally friendly are not mutually exclusive; both can and should coexist in the Princeton community, and in modern society as a whole.