How to Green Your Halloween

Follow these simple tips to make Halloween more environmentally friendly.

Ghosts and goblins aren't the only things to be scared of on Halloween. The holiday has a frightening impact on the environment. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spend upwards of $5 billion on the spooky celebration annually-and that adds up to a lot of plastic masks, candy wrappers and fake tombstones. The good news: It's never been easier to go green on the black and orange holiday. Follow these simple tips to make Halloween more environmentally friendly.

Rethink your costume.

Halloween wouldn't be the same without a costume. Skip the racks of colorful costumes at the mall (most of them are made of plastic and shipped from overseas) and come up with a creative idea for a homemade costume. Add a bandana to a pair of jeans and a denim shirt for an instant cowboy costume and the 1980s prom dress in your closet is the perfect princess dress for your daughter. Scrap fabric can also be used to make a costume for your little one. M.P. Dunleavey plans to put her sewing skills to use to make a monster costume for her 3-year-old son, Connor.

"We're getting greener and greener all the time in our household, so with Halloween coming up, it wasn't much of a shift," explains Dunleavey. "I'm going to make his costume and use a reusable trick-or-treat bag that a friend passed along as a hand-me-down."

"If you're using makeup, choose organic products that won't cover your kids with toxic synthetic chemicals," adds Trish Riley, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Green Living.

Even if you have no sewing skills and nothing costume-worthy in your closet, it's still possible to find an eco-friendly Halloween costume. Secondhand stores like Goodwill bring out tons of donated costumes at this time of year. You may also want to host a costume swap with the neighbors. The cartoon-loving 4-year-old down the block will snap up the Bob the Builder costume that your son thinks is so 2006.

Green the goodies.

Think of all the candy wrappers that one little goblin throws in the trash-then multiply that number by the millions of trick-or-treaters who are happily gobbling up their stash.

Candy-makers have taken notice of the demand for more eco-friendly alternatives to traditional Halloween treats. Try organic and fair trade chocolate. Organic apples from the farmers' market are also a good option for Halloween handouts. If you want to stick with traditional treats, buy them in bulk to minimize the amount of packaging.

Pick a green pumpkin.

Just like apples, pears and carrots, pumpkins are often treated with chemicals to ward off pests. Go organic instead.

"Organic pumpkins are more expensive and a little harder to find but they're the best choice for the environment," says Craig Minowa, spokesperson for the Organic Consumers Association. Start your search at farmers' markets and roadside stands where farmers can tell you whether their future jack-o-lanterns are organic. If you need help finding an organic pumpkin patch, check out the state-by-state directory of organic farmers published on the OCA website.

You can be even more eco-friendly by using all parts of the pumpkin: toast the seeds and sprinkle them over a salad and use the meat to make soup or pumpkin pie. After your jack-o-lantern has fulfilled its destiny on Halloween night, put the remains in the compost pile. You can also donate your pumpkin to the zoo. Numerous zoos around the country accept pumpkin donations as a treat for the animals. Call to see if the zoo in your area wants your used jack-o-lantern.

Choose natural decorations.

There are no shortage of plastic pumpkins, paper cutouts of witches and rubber bats on store shelves at this time of year. Natural materials-a bale of straw, colorful mums or a handful of gourds-are great seasonal decorations that can be composted on November 1st. If you can't imagine Halloween without a yard filled with tombstones and flying ghosts, scour secondhand stores or make the decorations from leftover materials in the garage. Trust us: No one will notice the difference between an old white sheet and a mass produced ghost decoration hanging from the oak tree in the front yard.

Jodi Helmer is the author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference (Alpha, 2008). Visit her online at

Photo: This 3-year-old girl wanted to dress up as a tree for her Halloween party at preschool. Homemade costume involves a bicycle helmet and plenty of glue.

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