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Keeping Halloween green can be spooktacular fun

I have to confess, I’m not a fan of Halloween. I had fun dressing up and walking through neighborhoods, filling up a pillowcase or two with candy as a kid. But after all these years, the thrill is gone — long gone. I don’t enjoy spooky and have no small children to plan festivities for. I’d much rather just fast forward to Thanksgiving. But Halloween is a beloved, billion dollar holiday with various estimates for consumer spending this year ranging from about $7 billion to nearly $9 billion.

So in the spirit of spooktacular fun, I dug through the boneyard of halloween tips to help keep the environment green while trick-or-treating or doing the Monster Mash with the guys and ghouls at your favorite howl-oween haunt.

I sort of feel like I should apologize for that frightfully cliched sentence.

Anyway, one way to minimize the holiday’s negative impact on the environment is to ditch the boxed and bagged costumes and go homemade. Besides eliminating the packaging, which ultimately ends up in the landfill, commercially produced costumes often contain harmful chemicals like phthalates, lead and cadmium. Even though the millions of costumes purchased for the holiday may only be worn for several hours, they will most likely end up in the landfill, leaching chemicals that harm the environment and us through our contact with it.

Going homemade also allows for more creativity. Why look like a million other costumed trick or treaters and party-goers if you can create your own unique look? Raiding closets and craft supplies are a good start. Hold a pre-halloween costume swap with friends, recycle items around the home or look in thrift shops for things to reuse. Not only is it better for the environment, it’s much more fun than buying a ready-made costume from the store.

Make-up poses similar problems to costumes as far as the potential for exposure to toxic chemicals through the skin. This is especially true for young children who may touch makeup and put their fingers in their mouths. Search online to find out what items or chemicals to avoid and find recipes for making fake skin and blood, as well as just about any other make-up item one might want. Surprisingly, to me anyway, some glitter products can also be harmful but, again, the safer alternatives can be found through the internet.

To further minimize trash going to the landfill, forego the plastic bags for candy collecting. Plastic jack-o-lanterns or bags made of synthetic fibers are a better option if they will be re-used for several years but the best options are natural fiber cloth bags or pillowcases. One of the reasons I liked the pillowcases as a kid was the size. I could fit much more candy in my pillow case than a little plastic jack-o-lantern and it was easy to carry an extra one. That came in handy since after we trick-or-treated in our own neighborhood we would also visit the neighborhoods of cousins and friends across town.

The not so sweet side of Halloween — aside from the dental and health issues — is that the wrappers create a mountain of trash for the landfill too. I’m not suggesting leaving the candy out altogether. That would be radically un-halloween-ish. I do suggest thinking about incorporating some alternatives like crayons, small toys or fruit when handing out the treats and making homemade treats for gatherings of family or friends.

Decorations are another source of trash on our overburdened waste disposal systems. Use natural, biodegradable items whenever possible. But even then, being mindful of disposing of them is important. Pumpkin painting and carving is a favorite Halloween pastime but one that sends millions of pounds of wasted pumpkins to — you guessed it — the landfill. To reduce the amount of waste, use the pumpkin and roasted seeds in recipes and compost what’s left. Even if you don’t have your own compost pile, many communities offer disposal options for compostable waste.

If adult beverages will be part of your Halloween festivities, be sure to recycle or reuse the bottles. Again, an online search will yield many ideas for what you can creat from them. One of my favorites is to simply wash them and use them as automatic waterers for house plants. They can be painted to look more like the fancy ones sold in stores.

However you choose to celebrate — or not — be mindful of your impact on the environment and have a boo-tiful and Earthwise Halloween!