This story was originally published in October 2019.
When trick-or-treaters show up at your door this Halloween, what are you going to give them?
Odds are good that you planned to pass out candy, but it wasn’t always that way. When trick-or-treating only gained popularity in the United States in the 1930s and ’40s, common trick-or-treat offerings included nuts, coins and homemade baked goods. Around the 1950s, candy companies decided to capitalize on the event. They spent decades making inroads on the holiday by downsizing candies into bite-sized packages and marketing them as treats for Halloween.
Now, Halloween is an annual billion-dollar windfall for candy industry giants. According to the National Confectioners Association, Americans purchase nearly 600 million pounds of candy a year for Halloween.
Even if everyone in the country is handing out king-sized candy bars (and any kid will tell you they are not), that’s a lot of candy wrappers. Most candy wrappers are made of mixed materials: coated paper, polypropylene film or a combination of aluminum and plastic, depending on the candy. It is not cost-effective for recycling companies to break down these tiny scraps of material that, ultimately, are too difficult to sell.
Every Halloween, millions of candy wrappers wind up in landfills. Talk about spooky.
If you simply must have candy but are concerned about the waste, the company TerraCycle will accept candy-wrapper-waste through their Zero Waste Box program. Order a box (pricing ranges from $43 to $218, depending on the size), collect the waste and ship it back to TerraCycle, where they will separate the wrappers into its component parts for reuse.
There are other reasons to hand out something besides candy on Halloween aside from the waste, though. Besides the health and dental impact (the average trick-or-treater consumes about three cups of sugar on Halloween, which is 27 times the daily recommended amount), children with severe allergies are often excluded from the ghostly fun. The Food Allergy Research and Education organization started the Teal Pumpkin Project in 2014, encouraging households to hand out non-food treats (and indicate that they are doing so with a teal-painted pumpkin, flyer or sign on their porch or door) so that children with severe allergies can have a safe, fun Halloween.
Choosing alternatives to candy on Halloween can be tricky, though. Parents often tell children to toss homemade baked goods. Plus, one of the benefits of bite-sized candy is that it is cheap, and you can buy it in bulk.
If you are willing to be creative, though, there are plenty of non-candy options that your neighborhood trick-or-treaters will enjoy. Here are five alternatives to candy for a healthier, lower-waste and allergy-friendly Halloween.
Halloween-themed finger puppets are easy to make out of recyclable and biodegradable materials. This DIY from the blog Easy, Peasy and Fun will help you make simple, spooky ghosts out of paper with your family before the festivities begin. Or you can also buy finger puppets in bulk.
Kids love coloring. Use soy wax, beeswax or bits of old crayons, melt them down in Halloween-themed molds and let them cool before handing them out to creative trick-or-treaters. You can even hand the crayons out with these printable Halloween finger puppet templates from the blog What We Do All Day for an extra-fun two-in-one gift.
Choose a colorful cord and quickly fashion these sliding knot bracelets using this DIY from the blog ManMade. Kids will be scrambling over each other to choose their favorite colors. Hopefully, they will sport their new bracelets for the rest of their trick-or-treating adventures and beyond.
What is more autumnal than a miniature gourd? Stop by your local farmers market or grocery store to pick up a bulk bag of miniature pumpkins and gourds to hand out to trick or treaters. Kids will love the funny shapes and can keep them on display all season long (as an added bonus, they are both biodegradable and compostable).
Pique neighborhood kids’ interest in gardening by handing out packets of seeds instead of candy. Even if they cannot plant them until spring, a packet of pumpkins will stay in the Halloween spirit while encouraging kids to ask questions about gardening. Biodegradable, plantable seed paper cut out in Halloween shapes is also a fun option. Mixes with pollinator-friendly flowers are easy to grow and will benefit the whole neighborhood.
When trick-or-treaters ring your doorbell this Halloween, surprise them with any of these more sustainable alternatives to bite-sized candy. Their molars, their parents and the planet will thank you.