Easter creates tons of plastic trash–here’s how to celebrate sustainably

Skip the cheap plastic Easter egg stuffers. Try one of these eco-friendly options instead.

Easter creates tons of plastic trash–here’s how to celebrate sustainably
[Photo: courtesy The Incredible Egg]

With Easter around the corner, strolling around your neighborhood means stepping into a cheery world of pastels, egg motifs, and bunny rabbits. The majority of Americans celebrate Easter, and for many the highlight of the day is an epic Easter egg hunt. According to the National Retail Federation, a third of all celebrants are planning a hunt, and among younger consumers–those between the ages of 18 and 34–nearly half are planning a hunt.


It’s all very joyous, but if you’ve been on a mission to be more environmentally responsible, you may be wondering about the impact of the holiday on the planet. The bottom line is that Easter–like other holidays–generates a lot of waste. According to the National Retail Federation, 85% of Americans plan to celebrate the holiday, and this will result in more than $18 billion in spending. A full $2.4 billion will go into buying candy and chocolate, which is actually more money than Americans spend on Halloween. Many of these sweets will be prizes in an Easter egg hunt.

This means a lot of plastic eggs. It’s hard to get an accurate count on the number of plastic eggs sold every year, but all evidence suggests it’s a very high number. Bleyer Industries was once the only American manufacturer of plastic eggs, and at its height in the early 2000s, it was making 250 million eggs a year. It has since gone bankrupt because it could not compete with the cheaper plastic eggs coming out of China. And given that Easter spending has increased every year for the last few decades, it is likely that even more plastic eggs are currently being sold.

The vast majority of these cheap plastic eggs are disposable. Half of all Americans will stuff eggs with cheap plastic toys, adding to the waste. And then there’s all the fake plastic grass that we use to stuff our baskets and eggs with. That’s a whole lot of plastic in your trash can at the end of the day. None of this means you need to skip the merriment of Easter altogether. Here are some tips for creating a fun holiday for the family that also respects the Earth.


Opt for Eco-Friendly Eggs

If you’re doing an indoor Easter egg hunt, opt for using paper eggs, which are biodegradable, or wooden eggs, which cost more but are reusable. These eggs generally aren’t durable enough to survive the elements outdoors. But on the upside, you can have fun painting them with your family before the big day.

[Photo: Eco Eggs]

If you’re planning on doing an outdoor hunt and feel like you need to use plastic, opt for reusable eggs made from recycled plastic from Eco Eggs. They’re sold online at Bed, Bath and Beyond, and at retailers like Whole Food. They come in multiple sizes, and are generally more expensive than less eco-friendly version. But they’re not totally unaffordable: A bag of 24 eggs costs $9.99. The key is to collect the eggs at the end of the day and save them for next year–and tell your guests that the eggs are reusable as well.

[Photo: Pottery Barn]

Get A Basket For The Ages

Every year, drugstores and retailers like Target tempt us with attractive, inexpensive baskets for our egg hunts. It’s easy to buy a new one each Easter. But instead, it makes sense to get a more durable basket. If you’re buying it for your child, the trick is to get something that is colorful and fun, but still somewhat classic. This means skipping the Paw Patrol or Mickey Mouse baskets. Instead, you could go with a sturdy willow basket, perhaps even embroidered with your child’s name on it. (Amazon sells them for $35.) Alternatively, you could get a simple basket with a replaceable liner, so you can swap out the pattern in a few years when your child grows out of, say, unicorns. (Pottery Barn sells a range of them starting at $14.50.)

[Photos: Hans-Peter Gauster/Unsplash (puzzle), Flickr user Dale Jackson (marbles), Lego]

Get Creative With Your Stuffers

Instead of the usual plastic toys, here are some alternative ideas for things to put inside the eggs that will last longer.

  • Puzzle Pieces: If you have a small party, with children that are similar in age, you can put puzzle pieces inside the eggs, then have the kids try to put the puzzle together afterwards.
  • Duplo or Lego Pieces: If your kids aren’t into puzzles, you can get a small Duplo or Lego set, and include the pieces inside the eggs.
  • Magnets: It’s fairly easy to get a set of alphabet, number, or animal magnets.
  • Marbles: If there are no infants in the groups, you can kick-start a marble collection by including them in the eggs.
  • Race Cars: Hot Wheels will fit inside a slightly larger egg.
  • Lip Balms and Hair Ties: For slightly older children, these are fun things that are also practical.
  • Seeds: My favorite idea is to include a small packet of seeds inside the eggs. Then spend the rest of the day planting them in the soil with your children. It’s a fun activity that can also serve as a teaching moment, helping them understand plants grow and the seasons change.
  • [Photo: courtesy The Incredible Egg]

Make Egg-Decorating The Main Activity

The egg hunt is always a highly anticipated activity, but there are other Easter traditions that are just as fun and less wasteful. One is egg decorating.

You can use hard boiled eggs, but these won’t last that long, since eventually you’ll have to eat the eggs, which will mean cracking the shell. If you’re more adventurous, you can create a small hole at the top of an egg, and a larger hole at the bottom, then blow out the center of the egg into a bowl. You can then use this raw egg for an omelette. Once you wash out the empty shell, you can decorate it and keep it for years.


There are plenty of nontoxic dyes, including this $9.99 kit created by Eco-Kids which are made from organic fruit and vegetable extracts. But if you want to be a bit more adventurous, you can make your own natural dyes. The Incredible Egg, an egg enthusiast site created by the American Egg Board, has useful information about how to create dyes from highly pigmented foods you already have in your kitchen like beets, spinach leaves, and turmeric.


About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts