Celebrate Fall Sustainably

celebrate fall sustainably

As the leaves change colors and the air turns crisp, fall is in full swing with winter just around the corner. While these seasons bring many of us a sense of coziness and celebration, they also bring challenges for those committed to living sustainably.

How can we make sustainable choices while enjoying all that this season has to offer? We don’t have a perfect solution (because that doesn’t exist!), but we do have some ideas to help you prioritize the planet through fall and winter. Read below for some sustainability tips for fall decorations, Halloween shenanigans, home efficiency, and more!

Fall Decorating

Stores around town are stockpiled with decorations for each season – many of which are plastic. Seasonal decorating doesn’t have to be shiny and brand new each year. Pre-loved, natural, and homemade decorations are just as beautiful (more beautiful, in our opinion) and feel very homey! (All of these tips apply for winter decorating, too!)



Thrift for seasonal decorations. They are in no short supply! Knoxville has plenty of thrift and vintage shops with unique seasonal decorations. Have you seen the thrifted painting ghost trend? Buy an old painting at a thrift store and turn it into a Halloween scene with a bit of paint and creativity!

Avoid plastic pumpkins. Instead, buy your porch pumpkins from local farmers! Or… grow your own pumpkins! Save some seeds this year and store them until next year for planting. For an October harvest, pumpkin seeds should be planted through mid June and early July in southern states and as early as late May for northern states. 

Use pumpkin leftovers. As you’re carving your jack-o-lanterns, save the scraps! There are plenty of pumpkin recipes for pumpkin guts, and even the whole pumpkin! You can try a classic pumpkin pie or toasted pumpkin seeds, or you can get creative – think pumpkin soup, pasta sauces, curries, desserts, drinks, and more!

Compost your pumpkin. If you compost already, toss your pumpkin in the pile when you’re done with it! Have a neighbor with chickens? Ask them if they’d like some pumpkin leftovers for chicken feed! Scroll to the next section to find out where you can take leftover pumpkins in and around Knoxville.

Shop local & opt for nature materials. When buying new decor, support a local maker – Knoxville has tons of fall and winter markets coming up! Materials like wood, ceramic, glass, and cotton are much more sustainable than plastic alternatives.

Make your own decorations using nature. Use leaves, pinescones, branches, and berries to make wreaths and centerpieces for your home. Try this homemade natural fall leaf garland or this DIY orange garland

Repurpose materials for crafty decorations. Upcycle old cardboard, paper, and more into crafts and decor! Check out this adorable toilet paper roll ghost craft! Signs, confetti, and other decorations can be made on the back of cardboard and used paper.

What to do with your Leftover Pumpkins

If you compost already or have your own farm animals, then you don't even have to leave your home to dispose of your pumpkins sustainably! Most of us, though, don't have our own compost or chickens... Instead, you can drop your leftover pumpkins at various farms and zoos in Knoxville and surrounding areas.

*None of these locations accept pumpkins with paint, markers, candle wax, or any type of decorations, including any kind of treatment to make them last longer. Some accept carved pumpkins and others do not.

  • The Knoxville Zoo (3500 Knoxville Zoo Dr) accepts uncarved pumpkins to feed their animals. Drop uncarved pumpkins off at their Ranger Station during business hours.
  • Little Ponderosa Zoo & Rescue in Clinton (629 Granite Rd) accepts both carved an uncarved pumpkins for their animals anytime during business hours.
  • The Pine Branch in LaFollete (124 W Central Ave) accepts carved and uncarved pumpkins for their animals and compost during business hours.
  • Race Family Farmstead in Lenoir City (323 Country Ln) accepts carved and uncarved pumpkins for their animals and compost 

     reach out to them first to schedule a drop off time: message  @race_farmstead on Instagram or email nick@racefamilyfarmstead.com. 

Halloween Costumes

In 2019, Hubbub found that over 80% of Halloween costumes used “non-recyclable oil-based plastics,” and over 60% included polyester (Waste Managed). These costumes only add to our piles of textile waste and microplastic production. If it’s your thing, dressing up for Halloween is a really fun part of the season – but you can do it in a more sustainable way! Instead of buying a new costume, consider other options listed below.



Use what you have. There are plenty of costumes that can be made from items in your closet! Got a broom? That’s the makings of a witch. White dress? Zombie bride. Flannel shirt? You’re on your way to a scarecrow or lumberjack. Some of our favorite KnoxFiller & KnoxFill team ideas for simple closet-costumes are:

  • Decades (60s, 70s, 80s, etc)
  • Lumberjack
  • TV, movie, or book character
  • Sheet ghost
  • Wednesday Addams
  • God / goddess
  • Cowgirl / cowboy
  • Cat or dog

Build your costume with essentials. A pair of ears can go a long way! Some things we just don’t have lying around. But… if you’re intentional about your purchases, they can serve you for years to come. Avoid single-use costumes.

Take a trip to the thrift store. There are plenty of costumes and clothes to be reused! Better yet, find something you plan to wear again. Remember: donating your costume after you’re finished with it is *not* the end-all to making a sustainable costume choice.

Let makeup tell the story (especially if you already have all the products you need). Makeup can be one of the most effective ways to get your point across. Draw on stitches with eyeliner, blood with red lipstick, and sunken eyes with eyeshadow.

Get crafty with upcycling. Build your costume with old and repurposed materials. Paper can make a fun dress, and leftover fabrics are perfect for custom costumes! Go as a trash king or queen and create a costume with items from your recycling bin – bottle cap necklaces, newspaper skirts, cardboard crowns, and plenty more can be made from your own household trash.

Plastic Free Halloween Treats

Halloween candy is often wrapped in single-use plastic that gets thrown in the landfill (or littered around the neighborhood), eventually leading to microplastic pollution. We have some lower-waste plastic free treat ideas for your trick-or-treaters – but keep in mind that these are just ideas, and Halloween looks different for everyone. No one is expected to have a completely “zero waste” Halloween – just be mindful and do your best!



Cardboard-boxed candy. Although bulk options are in a plastic bag, it’s better than individual plastic wrappers. Some cardboard box candy options are Dots, Junior Mints, and Milk Duds.

Foil-wrapped candy. Bulk options are usually in a plastic bag, but sometimes this candy is sold individually at Halloween and party stores. Chocolate is a common foil-wrapped candy.

Wax paper-wrapped candy. Bulk options are usually in a plastic bag, but this candy is also sold individually at Mast General Store and party stores. Candies like Tootsie Rolls, taffy, Now and Later, Starburst, gum, and Bits-O-Honey are in wax paper.

Other treats. Kids get so much candy on Halloween, why not change it up? Consider non-candy options such as “wrapped” fruits like mandarins and bananas (draw faces on them!), pencils and notepads, or mini pumpkins – be mindful of how you package these goodies!

Homemade treats. If you live in a close-knit community and your neighbors are comfortable with homemade treats, then this is a great option. Fun ideas are crispy rice treats, caramel apples, or Halloween cupcakes. Avoid plastic and instead wrap these treats in parchment paper, aluminum foil, paper bags, or even better: reusable food storage containers that can be returned!

Ethical treats. Chocolate is often produced unethically by big corporations. When possible, choose chocolate with Fair Trade certifications and steer clear of Nestlé-owned candy. Fair Trade chocolates can be expensive and may not be in your budget – and that’s okay! There are other ways to reduce your footprint.

Home Energy Savings

Opt-in for renewable energy. Find out if your local utility company has a renewable energy match program – Google the name of your local utility + “renewable energy opt-in.” KUB (Knoxville Utilities Board) has a “Green Switch Match” that matches 100% of your home’s energy consumption with renewable energy generated in your state and helps support more of these projects locally. Sign up here.

Get a home energy audit. Hopefully for free! Google “home energy audit” + the name of your city. Many Knoxville residents can get a FREE at-home energy assessment through TVA – see if your home is eligible. TVA also offers online resources for home energy savings, rebates, contractors, and more. U.S. residents can find more resources here. Pro tip: You can get tax credits for making these upgrades, so be sure to take advantage of all these opportunities!

Make your hot water heater more efficient. Lower the maximum temperature on your water heater to avoid wasted energy. Usually about 120 degrees Fahrenheit is warm enough for residential needs. For those with an electric water heater, insulating it could save energy and money: “Water heater insulation could reduce standby heat losses by 25%–45% and save you about 7%–16% in water heating costs—and should pay for itself in about a year” (Energy.gov). An insulation blanket may cost $20-30 and is well worth it for electric heaters (but heads up – this doesn’t work for gas water heaters!). 

The little things add up. There are plenty of other ways to save energy in your home, and the savings add up over time. Here’s a few more ways to make your home more efficient:

  • Switch out your light bulbs to LED, the most efficient bulb.
  • Decrease “vampire power” or “phantom loads” by unplugging appliances and electronics when they’re not in use – or get an APS (advanced power strip, AKA smart power strip).
  • Weatherstrip your doors and windows to reduce unwanted airflows.
  • Switch to a smart thermostat to have better control over your home’s temperature by scheduling temperatures and monitoring while you’re away.
  • Bundle up when it’s cold! Instead of blasting the heat in the winter, try bundling up more inside and waiting to turn on the heat until you need it.
  • Use smart plugs with timers for holiday and outdoor lights.
  • Here’s a few more tips from the U.S. Department of Energy.

More Holiday Tips

If you celebrate Thanksgiving in some way, check out our blog about how to have A Thoughtful Thanksgiving get-together and menu. Plus, our Sustainable Gift Guide and Sustainable Wrapping Guide are perfect for December holidays coming up!

Jenny & Michaela with sustainably wrapped presents


We hope these tips help you reduce your footprint this season. Even making a few small changes is a step in the right direction – remember “progress over perfection” and encourage others to do the same! 

Additional Sources

Waste Managed – Why Halloween Waste is the Scariest Monster of Them All

Fairyland Trust & Hubbub – Halloween Clothing & Costumes Survey 2019

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