For many children, Halloween is a social occurrence. Although many aspects of this high-spirited occasion occur outside the classroom, its environmental impact deserves a discussion. There are several aspects of this seasonal event that could use some sound environmental advice.
As Circular Economy Month (formerly Waste Reduction Week) in Canada falls annually in October, organizers of this celebrated event offer online tips to investigate methods to recover resources through composting, reducing, reusing, and recycling. Whatever a classroom’s ethnic culture, opportunities arise to view various traditions through an environmental lens.
On the topic of trick-or-treating, Elora DeWolfsmith, a grade 7 student at Orillia’s Regent Park Public School, feels that Halloween is not as much fun when you are worried about the non-recyclable candy wrappers that are generated. Last October, DeWolfsmith proposed that her classmates collect all their wrappers and mail them back to the manufacturers. Teacher, Mme Erin Ducharme, stated, “As I know Elora is driven by sustainable solutions, I was very thrilled that she came up with something that was so detailed. She had a plan in place to inspire some change.” Students voted and agreed that they wanted to engage in a project that could make a difference in reducing waste.
By mid-November, four regular school-size file boxes were filled to the brim with compressed Halloween candy wrappers. The next task was sorting the wrappers by brand and discussing the option of recycling, composting, or landfill. The effort revealed that only Smarties, Pringles, and Nerds were enclosed in recyclable boxboard while the remainder had wax coating or plastic wrap or were chip bags—all destined to be trashed.
Mme Ducharme offered her students two assignments. The first was a persuasive letter-writing campaign that outlined plastic pollution, and the second was a PowerPoint presentation to share their efforts with the other classes. Letters were written to manufacturers in an effort to change the non-recyclable wrappings, such as those around individual mini chocolate bars. Classmate Lila Bolden Bruce noted, “It made me feel really sad to see all the plastic and wax there. It was also kind of interesting though to see how real it was.”
Teachers entering Mme Ducharme’s room were shocked to view the amount of waste collected by just one class. An educational guess was that if every Regent Park classroom followed suit, 60 file boxes would have been filled. If all Orillia’s schools had been involved, wrappers would have totalled an estimated 1,260 file boxes. “That’s kind of an eye-opener for everybody,” said Ducharme. “We live in a society where we throw things in the garbage and it is magically taken away.”
DeWolfsmith concluded, “Class lessons on plastic pollution in the ocean have helped me recognize the issue and to take steps in my own life to reduce waste. I hope our class project will help convince candy manufacturers a little bit and that they’ll try in the following years so that kids in the future don’t have to worry about going trick-or-treating.” Elora DeWolfsmith is just one of the thousands of dedicated students across Canada with a passion that can rally teachers and classmates to make our world a better place.
COSTUMES AND MAKEUP
Other scary factors for Halloween include costumes and makeup. According to environmental fact sheets, 2,600 litres of water are required to make one new t-shirt. Although dress-up decisions are made at home, it’s worth suggesting that families can visit thrift stores, rent or borrow costumes, or simply scrummage in closets to create something unique. This is a topic that students can discuss, and they can brainstorm ideas for less damaging costumes.
Cosmetic manufacturers are not required to disclose fun makeup ingredients, many of which contain dangerous chemicals. What’s more, those chemicals are washed down the drain and have to be ultimately treated before tap water is drinkable.
To make goblins and witches eco-scary, teachers can suggest that they turn to homemade, nontoxic Halloween makeup. An art class dedicated to creating makeup would be a fun pre-Halloween activity. A bit of avocado can be used for green and ketchup or strawberry jam for red. For brown, cream up a little cocoa powder. A teaspoon of unflavoured gelatin in a cup of warm water makes a suitable hair gel. Gelatin can also be mixed with boiling water to create warts. Simply stir and let it sit for three minutes before pouring onto wax paper. Work quickly to shape the desired look. Add a drop of red food colouring for a wound or green for a witch’s wart. Oatmeal, coffee grounds or some paint brush bristles can also be included. These are best made on the same day that the costume is to be worn. This art class just might inspire a student to check out a career in film makeup!
For parties, decorations can be made from paper, which can be recycled later. Durable ornaments can be saved. Nature can provide dry leaves and twisted branches. Avoid disposable plates/cutlery, balloons, and straws.
Enjoy cooking a pumpkin. Statistics show that 1/3 of all food produced worldwide is wasted. Beneath a Jack o’Lantern’s scary stare lies a wealth of goodness. Roast the seeds. Offer students a life skill session on creating pumpkin soup, cookies, or muffins. Compost the shell, stem, and any other parts that are not included in your recipe. The mushy pulp is a favourite food of red wigglers in a classroom worm bin.
For this upcoming Halloween, students can persuade parents and their school community to exercise their purchasing power and support treats only packaged in recyclable paper. Another follow-up suggestion might be to visit local retailers who sold Halloween supplies and inquire if they noticed any dip in sales of non-recyclable packaged treats. This could influence shop owners when stocking up for the following year. Perhaps the old, familiar candied apples and little boxed raisins could become popular once again.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Larraine writes children’s illustrated adventure books on composting and pollinating. To view, visit: castlecompost.com
This article is featured in Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Fall 2022 issue.