Zero waste tips for Halloween and Dia de los Muertos

City of Arcata

ARCATA – Halloween and Día de los Muertos are quickly approaching, and those who choose to celebrate these holidays are already busy preparing pandemic-safe ways to celebrate. Spooky costumes on Halloween may be scary to some, but the waste generated from both Halloween and Día de los Muertos celebrations can be really terrifying for the environment. Have no fear, the Environmental Services Department has collected some of the best tricks for going zero waste this holiday season:

• Decorate for the season using compostable materials. Skip the plastic! Decorate your home with real pumpkins, gourds and autumn leaves. Carve pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns to celebrate Halloween, you can even roast and eat the pumpkin seeds! After the season is over, you can compost your décor.

• Create green offrenda to remember loved ones. When celebrating Día del los Muertos, consider placing and creating your traditional offereda in a front window or outside so others can view it from a safe social distance. When preparing your offrenda, use real marigolds which will be easy to compost with food from the altar after the holiday. Decorate your altar with picture frames you already have at home, and use recyclable or reusable papel picado and reusable ceramic sugar skulls.

• Host a green celebration with your household. The safest way to celebrate Halloween or Día de los Muertos to spend time with people in your same household or to celebrate virtually. If you decide to prepare a special meal for members of your household, skip the disposable plates and utensils. Use cups and plates, and utensils you already have on hand or just serve finger foods. If you must buy disposables, make sure they are compostable, and be sure to compost your food scraps too.

• Choose a zero waste Halloween costume. Make your Halloween costume using natural or vintage fabrics, or repurpose clothing and items you already own. Many local thrift or vintage stores are open for you to find the perfect Halloween costume. After the holiday, donate your old costumes to a local thrift store or school, so they can be enjoyed for years to come.

• Rethink the plastic treat bucket. Trick-or-treating promotes congregating and mixing of many households, particularly on crowded doorsteps, which can increase the spread of COVID-19. This type of activity is not currently permitted in California, so be creative by having a candy scavenger hunt at home. If you choose to trick-or-treat at home or to participate in a drive-through trick-or-treat parade, be sure to use a reusable cloth bag, basket or pillowcase to collect those treats. If you already have the plastic treat bucket, save it for years to come.

• Avoid candy wrapper waste. Buy candy packaged in recyclable materials like cardboard boxes or foil instead of plastic. Instead of candy, try soda or sparkling water treats that come in recyclable aluminum cans. Coins, wooden pencils and erasers also make great treats if you want to avoid sweets. While candy wrappers cannot be recycled locally, you can purchase a Zero Waste Box that will allow you to recycle almost every type of waste, including candy wrappers. Visit to learn more.

• Keep your face paint pure.

For more helpful zero waste tips, visit or call the Environmental Services Department at (707) 822-8184.

Heavy metals can be found in the majority of most face paints. 

When  dressing up for Halloween or painting your face like La Calavera Catrina to celebrate Día de los Muertos,  use paints or makeup made with natural ingredients. You can also make your own by finding DIY face  paint recipes online.


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