Green Halloween

There are plenty of ways to turn the holiday into an environmental treat.

By Jodi Helmer

October 2010

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It’s not the little ghosts and goblins that should send chills down your spine this Halloween. Actually, the environmental impact of plastic masks, fake tombstones, fog machines and chocolate bar wrappers are the scariest things about Fright Night. As a result a growing number of consumers plan to adopt greener Halloween practices, such as making costumes themselves and reusing decorations made of natural materials, according to the National Retail Federation.

Rosie Molinary is one of those consumers. She’ll decorate her Davidson, North Carolina, home with fresh pumpkins instead of plastic and take her two-year-old son, Abram, trick-or-treating with a reusable goodie bag in a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood close to home instead of driving around town. “When Abram grows up and looks back at how we celebrated traditions, I want him to remember that we thought about the environment and our neighbors, not just ourselves,” Molinary says.

It’s easier than ever to go green at Halloween. Here are some suggestions to get started.

Pick an organic pumpkin: To find one, go to farmers markets or visit the Organic Consumers Association at www.organicconsumers.org.

Get creative with leftovers: Pumpkin seeds make a great fall snack for the birds. Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society, advises roasting the seeds to dry them and prevent them from molding before adding to the bird feeder. Add the pumpkin itself to your compost pile. (If you don’t have one, a growing number of cities offer municipal composting sites; go to www.earth911.org and enter your zip code to find a composting program in your area.)

Green the goodies: Trick-or-treaters gobbled up almost 600 million pounds of candy in 2009, according to Nielsen Company, resulting in millions of landfill-bound wrappers. Cut back on waste by buying treats in bulk and offer each child one or two treats instead of a handful. Also look for organic lollipops and fair trade chocolates at your health food store. “Trinkets such as stickers, glass marbles and [temporary] tattoos are fun treasures that come with less packaging,” says Rebecca Kelley, co-author of The Eco-nomical Baby Guide (Stewart, Tabori & Chang).

Dress to impress: When costume shopping, skip the mall and go to a secondhand store. “Coming up with a costume using old clothes is fun and creative, and it means one less item that would end up in the landfill,” says Trish Riley, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Living (Alpha). A prom dress is perfect for a princess, while becoming a flower child is as simple as finding faded jeans, a floral blouse and a bandana. Almost-new costumes of favorite characters are also available at secondhand stores. In addition, Kelley suggests trading costumes with friends or renting them.

Go natural: Instead of hitting big box stores for motorized witches and plastic jack-o-lanterns, Molinary decorates with mums, pumpkins and gourds from local farmers. “I’m not inundated with plastic and I like the aesthetic,” she notes. If scary witches hanging from the oak tree are a must-have, “head to the local thrift shop,” says Kelley. “You’ll be amazed by the aisles of [secondhand] Halloween decorations for fabulous prices.”

Remember to recycle: Donate costumes to secondhand stores or offer them to friends and toss mini boxes from trick-or-treat bags in the recycle bin. Molinary puts all of her decorations into her compost pile, where they help to fertilize her spring garden.

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