Having a Green Halloween

Lynn Colwell & Corey Colwell-Lipson
October 20, 2008

Creating a Halloween your kids and your mother (Earth, that is) will love. Halloween, like all holidays, is meant to be enjoyed, but somewhere between planning and cleanup, many parents find themselves feeling uninspired or overwhelmed. It might seem that considering the planet while following tradition is too much work and way too expensive. Some fear it could zap the fun right out of the day. But creating an eco-savvy Halloween doesn't have to be scary or cost an arm and a leg when you follow these pointers.

Consider costumes. Many costumes and accessories contain toxic chemicals that are not only a potential hazard to your child, but also to the environment and the people who helped to make them. If purchasing online, look for fabrics such as cotton, wool and silk or make them yourself from materials you know to be safe. Here are a few more ideas:

  • Start a tradition of going on an all-house hunt for costume components -- don't forget to raid the recycle bin! Try out lots of different combinations. Have fun experimenting!
  • Make your own face paints using natural diaper rash cream and organic food-grade coloring.
  • Instead of disposable "treat" bags, suggest kids carry their loot in backpacks, purses or the 'ol pillow case. If you do buy a new bag, make sure it is sturdy enough to be carried year after year.
  • Let your kids take the lead during the costume creation process. If they want to be a stick (and not a tree), or a crow construction worker (and not a crow or a construction worker), let it be and have fun with it! You might just find that the appeal of buying off the rack quickly diminishes as your kids creativity soars with lots of encouragement from you.

Think decor. Americans spend billions of dollars on Halloween decorations (second only to Christmas). When decorating your home for Halloween, skip the cheap, plastic black cats and paper skeleton streamers that will barely last through the last trick-or-treater's knock. Instead, choose dcor inspired by Mother Earth -- fallen leaves and gourds or pumpkins and 100% beeswax candles.

  • Search online for healthy and healthier recipes with a spooky, gory, Halloween twist. Emphasize foods in Halloween colors.
  • Instead of buying new, host a dcor-swap with your friends and neighbors (you can do the same with costumes).
  • Choose reusable tablecloths, napkins, plates, cups and utensils for your Halloween party. Don't have enough? Ask the parent of each child to bring a tableware set, or check your local thrift store for items that can be mixed and matched. (On a recent trip to the second hand store we had no trouble turning up a great selection of plates in fall colors -- orange, brown, yellow, black and of course, green). Renting is also an eco-fab idea, if the budget allows.
  • Old orange incandescent decorative lights need to be replaced? Recycle them and be the eco-savviest home on the block with LEDs or even solar Halloween lights.

Choose green treats and treasures. With concerns like the childhood obesity epidemic, lead-laden treats and child-slaves in the chocolate industry, even savvy parents may not know what is safe, earth-friendly, ethical and affordable to hand out to the kids who come knocking.
Not to fear -- there are ample possibilities. You've just got to "think outside the conventional candy box."

Here are a few possibilities:

  • Agave or honey sticks (very low price point and we've never met a kid who doesn't love 'em. But never give honey to a child under age two)
  • Polished rocks and stones
  • Store bought or homemade play doh
  • Feathers (an in-person poll of hundreds of kids -- toddlers to teens -- made feathers the #1 "treasure" of 2007)
  • Organic candy or Fair Trade Chocolate. (Both can be found in bulk or Halloween packs)
  • Handmade friendship bracelets
  • Jokes, puzzles or fortunes printed on recycled paper, rolled up and tied with string, or placed inside of a walnut shell and then tied with string.

(When it comes to "treasures" take a clue from doing laundry. What kinds of things do you empty from your children's pockets? Acorns, shells, coins?)

Regardless of which "goodies" you choose as giveaways, hand out less. Preferably your goodies of choice are healthy and/or Earth-friendly, but even if they're not, handing out just one (rather than the conventional handful), of something is better for kids, better for the planet and better for your bank account.

For more simple, family friendly, affordable ideas on celebrating a green Halloween, go to: www.GreenHalloween.org and www.CelebrateGreen.net.

Green Halloween is a program of Treeswing, a Seattle non-profit working to reverse the trend of childhood obesity. Through innovative programs and partnerships, Treeswing improves the health of our children and builds generations of healthy, active communities. Learn more at Treeswing.org.

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