One of the aspects of performing spells, rituals or making offerings to spirits that isn’t talked about enough, is what to do with the items when they’re done or you’re finished with them. There’s a lot of focus in books and online about how to craft certain spells and what ingredients to include, but not a lot of discussion on how to get rid of them. Even worse, when you do see people give casual advice, it’s usually encouraging some form of disposal that is harmful to the environment in some way.
Giving food as an offering is an abundant practice incorporated in many spirit-based and polytheistic traditions. Food is definitely a meaningful nourishing offering, a sacrifice our resources, and that sacrifice is recognised amongst the spirits. Also, within witchcraft, the use of herbs is a staple practice. Herbs are often a key aspect of many spells, rituals and offerings – whether it be simply adding them into a charm bag, burning as loose incense or scattering them on the ground. As food and herbs are natural materials, advice that is commonly given is to give it back to nature. But is this the most eco-friendly option?
The most simple way to reduce waste of disposed used herbs or plant material is by burning it instead! When the spells done and you need to dispose of the ingredients, simply take apart the spell, separate the safe-to-burn materials from objects you can re-use, such as crystals or any trinkets, and burn them safely in a fire-proof container, such as a cauldron. This becomes a send-off ritual in itself which can be a great addition to your spells.
You can further help reduce waste by before diving into your meal, offer the plate energetically your deities or spirits. Making the food in honour of a spirit you work with or want to venerate, dedicating the meal to them can be a great way to leave a food offering still, whilst not physically wasting the food. Many practitioners feel more comfortable practicing this way, as its further symbolic of ‘eating with’ the spirit too. Though this custom may clash with certain traditions and the taboos around eating your offerings. So before doing this with a particular deity or spirit, you may want to research the cultural background context so that you’re remembering to be respectful. Though, in general, if your views aren’t compatible with this practice, of course that is completely valid and give offerings in the way you feel is more appropriate.
As briefly mentioned before, once the spell or ritual is complete, simply put to one side what you know you can use again. This can be charm bags, poppets, crystals, trinkets, any tools, etc. Even leftover candle wax can be reused! Are spell jars a big part of your practice? Well, re-use those jars! Take apart the spell when its done, physically clean it and spiritually purify it, and it’s perfect for the next spell. So long as you’ve taken the necessary steps to cleanse and purify any prior lingering energy or spiritual miasma, then re-using the jars shouldn’t interfere with your future spells.
So often do I see fellow online witchcraft educators or authors recommend to bury a jar spell or worse, throw it in rivers, but in all honestly, you do not need to perform these actions. Items such as spell jars are usually made with glass bottles, and glass in itself will virtually never decompose. I never recommend burying any spells or magical objects as our soil ecosystems are relatively quite fragile. Our soils are home to an array of important key species, and invertebrates such as earthworms are already being negatively affected by pollution, in which they ingest chemicals that come out of plastics. The microplastic pollution in soils has further shown to affect the growth of plants and have reduced bacterial diversity. This is only the beginning of research into the disruption of soil ecosystems. If you’re dead set on burial as a method of spell disposal, I recommend researching the decomposition rate of the said object or material to be aware of how long the natural process of decay will take.
Many practitioners also opt to leave food offerings out in nature for it to decompose, however should should be aware of their local fauna or wildlife before doing so, as certain foods can be toxic to certain animals. Also, repeated feeding of wildlife can create self-destructive behaviour in the animal. Because increased resources is appearing in a certain area, it creates habitual behaviour where the animal will more likely visit that area as they believe resources are plentiful there. You can imagine with actions such as throwing out apple cores on the side of the road, that this can lead to dangerous situations and species decline.
Further as a lot of witches dispose their plant material out in nature, one should be wary of whether what you’re putting out in the wild invasive to your area. Invasive species are one of the leading drivers of species extinctions, so it’s worth researching the ecology and conservation status of the plants you’re working with. Local nature books or field guides are great for getting to know your natural surroundings, and there’s plenty of information online to find these things out.
Keeping a compost bin is a great alternative for disposal if you’re able to have this option. At the moment in my living situation, keeping a compost bin isn’t accessible for me unfortunately. But as a general tip, the act of keeping one in itself, can be a great offering to the local land spirits or any Earth deities, etc., and if you’re an avid gardener or plant parent, then you can further utilise the compost. Otherwise, depending on your local council waste regimes, popping leftover herbs or plant material in the food bin is a great option, or if all else fails, the non-recycling bin works too. It’s better to just put it in the bin if you deeply unsure of whether you’re going to cause more harm than good!
What’s important to note is that everything we do, just by living in this modern industrialised world, affects the Earth. There’s a limit to what us as individuals can do, change needs to happen systematically and pushing for individuals to live 100% perfectly environmentally friendly, quickly becomes unreasonable and inaccessible for many of us. We’re all just doing what we can, and what we can do will look different to each person. But what’s also worth remembering is that we can affect change. Even within our magical worlds, we can help leave this Earth better off from when we found it.