How to celebrate a green Halloween

By Carolina Maria

Halloween might be scary, but it doesn’t have to be a scary time for the environment. Everyone can celebrate Halloween sustainably by following these quick tips from the FIU Institute of Environment about how to be more eco-conscious this spooky season.

Agroecology students

Purchase Seminole pumpkins or use other locally-grown fruits and vegetables to make your jack-o-lantern
Seminole pumpkins are one of the only pumpkins that grow locally during Florida’s hot summer. Make a spooky spin on the jack-o-lantern by using other tropical fruits. Leftovers can also be composted to help fertilize your garden.

FIU’s Agroecology Program offers a range of opportunities for students to further their knowledge of agricultural science. Students can learn how to grow their own food at the FIU Nature Preserve’s organic garden – a hands-on teaching laboratory that gives agroecology students the opportunity to put what they are learning about food production and its relationship to the natural environment into practice.

Turn your pumpkin into a Halloween House
Nina Jungman, program coordinator for the institute’s Land and Biodiversity Division, gathered items found in her garden or at The Kampong to make a Halloween version of a gingerbread house.

Pumpkins
Photo courtesy Nina Jungman

“This year, we wanted to try something different,” Jungman said. “Instead of carving a jack-o-lantern and using a candle to light it up, we carved a few pumpkins to make a forest village. We used smaller pumpkins and decorated them with materials from our garden and placed lighting outside of them. Everything is compostable and my chickens will be able to enjoy the leftovers since they won’t have wax or burn marks!”

Avoid single-use plastics. 
Use reusable buckets and bags for trick-or-treating. Buy candy that is made with organic ingredients and packaged sustainably or give trick-or-treaters fruits or baked goods instead of treats packaged in plastic.

“While you’re out having fun on Halloween remember to be mindful of your choices, not only how you choose to celebrate, but also how you dispose of your Halloween-related waste,” said Melinda Paduani, a Ph.D. student in the FIU Institute of Environment’s CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment. “One of the main sources of debris I find in the mangroves is food wrappers. This can easily be avoided by making it a goal to celebrate sustainably and avoiding single-use plastics as much as possible.”

Reuse household items for costumes and decorations
Make costumes and decorations with items you own or found in nature. You can also swap them among family and friends or thrift them. Instead of using electric lights use soy-based candles to create ‘spooky’ lighting.

“It’s important that we can maintain a ‘long-term mindset’ when we go Halloween shopping,” said Kevin Montenegro, a graduate student in ecology professor John Kominoski’s lab. “Consider how you can reuse a spooky decoration or costume for following Halloweens and properly store them. I find that my favorite costumes are those that have incorporated reusable parts from old costumes or things you could find around the house or out in nature. It’s important to avoid one-time use decorations and costumes when you’re able to.”

Montenegro’s work focuses on how mangrove ecosystems recycle organic material, like seagrass, seaweed and mangrove leaves that wash up on their shores to help them survive against rising sea levels and store more carbon. Mangroves provide a great example of how we can make small and big efforts to reuse and recycle in our own daily lives to make our surroundings a better place to live.

It is each individual’s responsibility to ensure that they are adopting sustainable practices while celebrating Halloween this year.

“South Floridians do need to think ‘outside of the box’, as many of the American holiday traditions have a significant carbon footprint,” said Cara Rockwell, assistant professor in the institute. “Seasonal items such as Halloween pumpkins and Christmas trees are not grown in our region, so we have to be open to new traditions.”

To learn more about FIU’s Institute of Environment and its role in the study and preservation of our planet’s marine and terrestrial ecosystems visit environment.fiu.edu.