halloween dogs

Tips for a More Compassionate, Earth-friendly, Healthy Halloween

by Marsha Rakestraw

According to the National Retail Federation, people in the US are planning to spend about $9 billion dollars on Halloween in 2018, an average of almost $87 per person.

That’s a lot of candy corn and plastic fangs. And the biggest growth trend is in pet costumes.

There are numerous reasons to enjoy celebrating Halloween: dressing up as your alter-ego; partying with friends; shoving your face in ice-cold water bobbing for apples; giving yourself nightmares watching creepy movies; celebrating the coming of winter (and winter holidays); getting kids to take candy from strangers….

Whether at home or in school, there also plenty of ways to make this howlingly popular holiday a more compassionate, sustainable, healthy one. Consider these ideas:


Candy, candy, and candy are three of the most popular draws of Halloween – at least for kids.

However, not only do all those wrappers generate a lot of waste, but candy has some skeletons hidden away in the closet.

Candy made with animal products (such as dairy, eggs, and/or gelatin), supports the suffering of and cruelty to farmed and wild animals.

And there is a sad but real connection between chocolate and slavery, including child slavery.

And, it’s not easy to forget just how big an impact all that candy can have on our kids’ health.

Treats – What You Can Do

  • Buy fair trade dark chocolate. Equal Exchange is one source for yummy fair trade mini-treats. Some retail stores are even starting to stock fair trade Halloween chocolate. If yours doesn’t, order some online this year, and ask your local grocery to stock it next year.
  • Look for healthier, more sustainable alternatives, such as those listed at the Natural Candy Store or Green Halloween, as well as additional suggestions here. More people are giving out non-candy treats, from organic fruit leather, to organic seed packets, to non-toxic crayons.
  • Get together with friends and family (or like-minded organizations) to collaborate on creating a special trick-or-treat depot. Adults can make or buy the healthy, humane treats you want for your kids; kids have a safe, fun place to get their goodies.

You can also get your kids in the trick-or-treating mood by participating in campaigns to do good, such as Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF.


Dressing up isn’t just for kids.

Nearly half of adults who celebrate Halloween plan to wear a costume, and about 20% of pet guardians plan to adorn their furry friends.

But those costumes often come with a larger price than is listed on the tag.

In addition to many costumes becoming trash on November 1, most costume fabrics contain hazardous chemicals, such as polyvinyl chloride or vinyl. And make up –- often thought to be a safer choice than masks –- frequently includes toxic ingredients, such as formaldehyde, parabens, or phthalates.

Additionally, many costumes are made in sweatshops.

And, have you noticed the kinds of costumes available for kids today?

Marketers gleefully promote popular media characters and products through costumes; costumes for girls and young women are becoming more sexualized; costumes for boys often celebrate violence; and, some costumes promote biases and stereotypes.

(For more on biases/stereotypes in costumes, read “What Makes a Halloween Costume Culturally Appropriative?” and check out this activity designed to help kids identify biases/stereotypes in costumes.)

Costumes – What You Can Do:

  • Pay attention to the messages costumes convey. Help your child choose costumes that support and nurture positive messages.
  • Get together with friends, neighbors, co-workers and other parents and have a costume swap, so that costumes can be reused year after year.
  • Check out thrift stores; they often offer great bargains. If you can’t find the perfect costume, look for separate pieces to combine.
  • Invest in making costumes yourself. Have costume-making parties with other parents or friends.
  • Work with your kids to make their costumes out of “junk” around the house. It’s inexpensive, reuses objects, is a great bonding experience, and empowers kids to be part of the creative process.
  • Look for fair-trade and sweatshop-free costumes and costumes made from eco-friendly materials. More online stores are offering them.
  • Combine costumes with education. Kids can dress up as endangered species and share a quick factoid when people ask “What are you?” Or, kids can travel door-to-door covered in plastic bags (or bottles) to bring attention to consumer waste.
  • Use healthier, cruelty-free, eco-friendly cosmetics for make-up.
  • Look to craft and similar magazines (online, too) for recipes for homemade horrorific Halloween make-up.

Other Tips:

  • Pumpkins – Grow your own or buy organic to avoid pesticides. Use as much of the pumpkin as you can (make pumpkin pie, roast pumpkin seeds, etc.)
  • Bag It – Buy, find, or make a reusable bag to catch all those goodies each year.
  • Animal companions – Remember that Halloween can be a traumatic (and sometimes dangerous) time for your animal companions. Keep these tips in mind to help keep your furry friend safe.
  • Decorations – Stick with eco-friendly or homemade choices that can be reused year after year. Resist the lure of flashing orange lights, glittered plastic, and motorized, air-filled ghosts and goblins, all silently screaming Energy vampires! Sweatshops! Landfills! More stuff to store! Toxic materials!
  • Parties – Send evites instead of paper invitations, or create them out of recycled materials; use reusable goods; serve healthy, organic food (some farmers’ markets are still running!); get in touch with nature. Choose Veg has some great recipes for tasty, veg Halloween treats.

And if celebrating Halloween isn’t your thing, there are plenty of opportunities for alternative ways to celebrate. One of our graduates described what her family does:

“For a variety of reasons, we have chosen not to participate in Halloween or trick-or-treating. Instead, we invited grandparents and cousins over to our house to have an alternative celebration. It was a BYOP event… “bring your own pumpkin.”

Everyone brought their own pumpkin, and we spent the afternoon carving our pumpkins. I also made some vegan pumpkin muffins and shared some local apple cider, apples, and vegan apple dip. We topped it all off by bobbing for apples, which was great fun for the young ones and old ones alike.

“One of our son’s most favorite things to do is to read, so on the actual night of Halloween trick-or-treating, we took him to the bookstore, where we spent the next couple of hours reading book after book to him. To him, this was the best treat of all!”

~ Stephanie M., IHE M.Ed. graduate

With a little foresight, ingenuity, and connection with others who share your concerns and interests, Halloween can become a fun, memorable holiday that also supports a compassionate, sustainable, just way of living.

For more ideas and resources for celebrating holidays in a more just, compassionate, sustainable way, see our curated Humane Holidays Pinterest board.