By K. Sophie Will
LONDON – (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When the sugar rush has faded, the candle in the pumpkin has burned out and the costume-clad trick-or-treaters are again back home, what do you do with the Halloween leftovers?
As efforts to curb climate change and cut food waste ramp up, experts say they hope the answer is not to chuck them in the bin.
Halloween pumpkin sales this year hit a record high, British grocer Tesco said in a statement.
But 18,000 tonnes of pumpkins carved in Britain are expected to end up in landfills after lighting the way for trick-or-treaters, British environmental groups predicted.
Keen to cut food waste, more of those celebrating Halloween are trying to cook pumpkins after carving them, Tesco said – but hordes of gourds are still ending up in landfills.
And then there are the costumes. A study released this month by British nature and environment charities FairyLand Trust and Hubbub showed that the estimated 7 million Halloween costumes thrown away after the holiday in Britain each year put over 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste into landfills.
“There’s no good way to recycle costumes, as the cost of separating these materials is just obscene,” said waste management company BusinessWaste.co.uk’s communications director Mark Hall.
He had harsh words for the holiday in general.
“The carbon footprint of just moving the pumpkins around is astronomical. The whole process is a shambles,” he said.
So, if you intend to celebrate Halloween, are there ways to do it more sustainably and squash climate change in the process?
Ross Findon, a spokesman for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity that focuses in part on making economies circular – with waste becoming new raw material – said the best thing to do is copy nature.
“In nature there is no waste. Once you have your pumpkin, there is no reason any of it should become waste. Whatever you don’t want to eat can be composted and become food for natural systems,” he said.
Hubbub over the last five years has run nearly 240 “Pumpkin Rescue” events, where people gather to figure out new ways to cook Halloween pumpkins – and to change preconceptions about food waste.
The charity estimates the events have diverted 17,500 pumpkins from landfills.
But of British households that buy a Halloween pumpkin “only half of them eat it,” said Tessa Tricks, head of food at Hubbub.
The charity recommends cooking and eating used Halloween pumpkins unless they’ve had a candle in them or they’ve started rotting, in which case they should be composted if possible.
Dealing with costumes can be trickier. The Fairyland Trust study found that 83% of the material used in 324 costumes researchers analyzed came from oil-based plastics.
The charity estimates that less than 13% of the material was made out of recycled fabric and only 1% of the costumes are eventually recycled into new clothes.
Findon recommends making costumes out of old clothes and being more conscious of how clothing can be upcycled. Good places to look for a costume are charity and rental shops, he said.
Giving old clothes a new life is a great way to cut climate-changing emissions, he added.
“Think about what contribution you can make to extend the use of your clothing. If you can double the average amount of time you’re wearing your clothing, you can effectively halve the production of greenhouse gases used to make it,” he said.
But the best way to reduce waste is simply not to buy an item in the first place, Hall said.
“If you buy something, think about how it’s going to get disposed of and how can you repurpose it. Where can you take it to be recycled? Can it be given to charity? Otherwise, it’ll just be buried in a dump and stick around for years.” he said.
(Reporting by K. Sophie Will; editing by Laurie Goering : (Credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation)