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The Margin: Don’t toss your Halloween candy wrappers without reading this first


Halloween fun is actually serious business, and that means the potential for lots of waste at a time when more of our shopping aims to be environmentally sound.

There are smarter ways to enjoy a fun-filled Halloween with less guilt about our impact on Earth, and it starts with informed, not reckless, recycling.

The National Confectioners Association says 75% of people plan to celebrate Halloween this year, and within that number, 93% plan to indulge with lots of chocolate and candy.

And one of the largest candy-makers, Mars Wrigley, is projecting this year’s Halloween participation will jump 11% from just a year ago, when more families were limiting close contact due to lingering COVID-19 risks. (Keep in mind, health officials do still have guidelines for the pandemic.) That jump will come even with candy prices up 13%, according to Mars Wrigley, amid a widespread inflationary trend that is driving up grocery receipts and more.

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What does this all mean as our families sort their Halloween haul, make key trades and eventually, dive in? A whole lot of empty candy wrappers.

Mars Wrigley, for one, joined with Rubicon Technologies, Inc., a company that specializes in digital waste and other recycling, to distribute recyclable trick-or-treat bags. For sure, they can be used in the coming days as your little goblins (and a few sneaky adults) gobble up the bounty.

The program was so popular, Mars ran out of its recyclable trick-or-treat bag but groups, especially schools or community centers, can order a free box of bags via the Rubicon website.

And if you like the idea for next year, let Mars know; it will take the cooperation of consumers and manufacturers to improve recycling. Only about 5% of 51 million tons of U.S. plastic waste was recycled in 2021, according to a study from environmental advocacy group Greenpeace.

Read: A grown-up Halloween treat? Here’s a beer made with Hershey’s chocolate

Importantly, with all the extra Halloween trash, we must remember what can and can’t be recycled to limit the burden on municipal sorting facilities. Realty is, most candy wrappers simply can’t be recycled by individual households. One, they’re so small they gum up most recycling machinery, and two, they’re made of a mix of materials, which tends to nullify their recyclability. Tossing them into the recycling bins doesn’t help anyone.

One way to rethink our sweets consumption and its impact on landfills is to buy candy in bulk when we can, meaning a whole lot less packaging in the long run.

Or, you might consider a subscription to services that pick up traditionally non-recyclable waste and, for a fee, haul it away and put in the time to separate paper, plastic and other materials for advanced recycling. One such niche recycling service is TerraCycle and its zero-waste curbside boxes.

The Moneyist: ‘I can’t afford to buy candy for the neighborhood kids’: Does it make me a bad neighbor to turn off the lights on Halloween?

Now, candy isn’t the only category that can seem wasteful this holiday.

According to a study by environmental group Hubbub, 83% of Halloween costumes are made using non-recyclable, oil-based plastics, meaning they are destined for a landfill. For just one day of use, close to 2,000 metric tons of plastic waste is generated, the same as 83 million plastic bottles being thrown away.

If you or family members have opted for a plastic or lightweight “fast fashion” fabric costume, by all means still enjoy its use. But a little care after wear might allow you to reuse it for another family member next year. Or, consider donating to drama departments or community centers before you relegate Halloween clothes and accessories to the trash pile. In planning ahead, eco-clothing sites have helpful tips on buying or reusing clothing basics that can transform into different costumes over several years.

And if you’d rather not buy at all and instead tap household items, your craft closet or thrift stores for costume ideas, there are scores of online sources to feed your creativity, including this list of “lazy, last-minute” costumes from Life Hacker.

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