The environmental impacts of trick or treating

Halloween! At first glimpse, spooky season is a time for carving pumpkins and going trick or treating, but in fact, our impact on the environment through littering and single-use plastics proves much scarier than any horror film you may watch in the run up to Halloween.

Many children relish at the chance to go trick or treating on Halloween, knocking on their neighbours’ doors and receiving candy. I was amongst the trick or treaters in my local area this year, collecting and eating all of the sweets I could possibly get. However, the next day I couldn’t help but reflect on the environmental realities of trick or treating. As young changemakers, we are taught about the environmental impacts of our daily actions and how we can be more sustainable, so naturally I began to question the environmental impact of Halloween. After much pondering on the matter, I decided the best way to find out was to go outside into my local area and see what damage was done, if any.

With no expectation of what the environment would look like, I walked around and began to quickly spot candy wrappers lying around the streets from the night before. Shock, dismay, and frustration. These are a few of the emotions I felt as I walked around picking up candy wrappers from the streets around my house. It is sad to think that all of the excitement of giving and receiving candy the night before had now turned to an environmental littering issue beyond my imagination.

When I got home from picking up all the visible litter within a 50m radius of my house, I counted through the countless candy wrappers collected. I am sad to say that in this small perimeter, I picked up 184 pieces of litter during my clean up; the majority of which consisted of lollipop sticks, sweet wrappers, and even fizzy drink cans.

This volume of plastic litter was completely unacceptable and if left untouched in the environment, it would have caused detrimental impacts to the plants and animal habitats. Birds could have (and do) easily mistaken this plastic for food which would have fatal impacts on their digestive system and general survival. Sadly, birds are not the only creature to suffer at the hands of our seasonal celebrations. Empty candy wrappers left on the streets from trick or treating may in fact make their way from outside of your house into our oceans.

After being littered on the floor, candy wrappers may end up in our water systems by either wind, animals, or even rainwater…but their journey doesn’t end there. Microplastics travel through flowing water, namely rivers, streams, and sadly even through sewage systems, making their way to their destination, the ocean.

On average, 158 million American’s participate in Halloween, the majority of which participate in trick or treating. But what does this mean in terms of candy litter? Well, American’s alone purchase ‘approximately 16 billion fun-size Snickers bars each year for Halloween’, and unfortunately a large volume of these ends up being littered during trick of treating. Just imagine, if I collected 184 sweet wrappers just in the small area outside of my house, think of how many wrappers are lying on the streets around the whole world!

Although we don’t yet know the full environmental impacts of Halloween on our environment, it was clear to me that day that unfortunately our lack of respect and regard for our world is more prominent than ever. The littering of candy wrappers whilst trick or treating only scratches the surface of single-use plastic disposal during Halloween, and most major seasonal holidays for that matter. During my time trick or treating, I admired the beautifully adorned spooky decorations in people’s windows, blissfully unaware of their environmental impacts. On reflection, the price we pay to immerse ourselves in these seasonal festivities is firmly placed on the shoulders of the environment we live in.

In the days following Halloween it is easier than not to simply enjoy the candy we collected on the 31st of October and turn a blind eye to the harsh environmental impacts of our actions. As we commence COP26 and demand world leaders, governments, and corporations to take responsibility for the harm they are doing to our planet, I ask you to do the same.

As young environmental changemakers, I urge you to continue to hold the same sustainable mindset that you take in your everyday lives into these festive seasons. Although Halloween this year has now passed, there are a multitude of festive celebrations still to come before the year is out. We should all take a moment and consider if there is anything we can do to limit the negative impacts we are having on our environment through the excessive use of single-use plastics and littering.

Rather than viewing festive celebrations as an excuse to buy single-use plastic decorations, creating excessive household waste, we should strive to view these occasions as opportunities to create sustainable habits, from decorations to the presents we give our loved ones.

So, before you buy a plastic product during the next seasonal celebration, I urge you to make an environmentally conscious decision. After all, as we continue to live each day, naïvely unaware of the impacts of our actions, our environment suffers the consequences of yet another plastic wrapper.