Sunday, September 20, 2009

Get Ready for an EEK-O-friendly Halloween (Part 1)

Halloween should be fun, but every year it gets scarier--for parents and the planet. From the discovery of lead in fake teeth to chemicals in costumes and mercury in the high fructose corn syrup some conventional candy is made from to the garbage left in the holiday's wake, it's a wonder more of us haven't given up the festivities and spent October 31 watching It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

The good news is, there are loads of child- and earth-friendly alternatives to the usual Halloween fare.

The most important point when planning to green up any holiday or celebration, especially those involving children, is to get their "buy-in." And of course, your approach makes all the difference. Telling kids, "We're going green this Halloween--that means, no candy," isn't helpful. What can be is a discussion about the challenges that Halloween brings. Obviously, what you say (or don't), depends on the age of your children. But helping them to see the wider ramifications of their actions can help make transitioning to healthier choices more appealing or at least understandable.

Many kids are learning about eco-issues in school. They often want to do something about them, but need guidance on where to begin. Talking to them about the excess and waste associated with Halloween (and all holidays and celebrations) and discussing how they can make a difference, may spark their altruism and inspire them to act in positive ways.

A great way to start a discussion is to list each aspect of Halloween (costumes, treats, decor and activities), and brainstorm child- and earth-friendly choices to what you've done in the past. Then, encourage your kids to choose one or two of the ideas to implement this year. After Halloween, talk about what worked, what didn't and what you'll do next year.

In the "olden days," (the 80s?), many kids made their costumes, often with help from parents. Making the costume was actually an enjoyable, bonding activity. Today, millions of people spend millions of dollars on costumes that are made from non-sustainable materials (like petroleum), that are worn once, then discarded.

But there are earth-friendlier alternatives. If you usually buy costumes, consider:

  • Making them. Kids are incredibly gifted and creative when we encourage them. There are almost no costumes that cannot be handmade. If your children are stuck on turning a popular TV or movie character into a costume, brainstorm how you can make it happen with items you already own or can get at no cost by borrowing or making. Be sure to check online for ideas.
  • Purchasing costumes made from more eco-friendly materials or at least not from plastics. Choose cotton, organic cotton, silk or hemp, for instance. Unfortunately, these alternatives are not yet widely available, but if you're interested in them, ask local stores to consider carrying them next year. And check at the end of this post for some great online sources.
  • Trading them. Arrange a costume swap with neighbors, check online at swap sites like Green Halloween, or see if you can interest a local child-focused organization in sponsoring a swap.

When Halloween is over, don't throw costumes away. Save them, dismantle and hold on to the "parts," trade or take them to a thrift store.

Treats and treasures

Halloween may be all about the treats, but happily, there are great alternatives that kids, when given the option, will happily embrace. You can't do much about the sweets your children receive on their foray around the neighborhood (although you can have the "Halloween Fairy" replace the confections with a wonderful gift when the children are brushing their teeth...shhhh...), but when it comes to what your family hands out, planning ahead so that you are not making a last-minute dash to the grocery store, will help you avoid limiting choices to what's on the shelves at the moment.

If you have a local natural foods store, check out their offerings. Take your kids along and choose a few items to sample if you don't normally shop there. Honey sticks are a favorite and are very inexpensive (never give honey to children under age 2). Many natural food companies make small "bars" in flavors kids love like peanut butter and chocolate. Assuming you have the time to order online, check out for dozens of alternatives.

One issue that often comes up when discussing organic or green choices is cost. While it is true that many healthier items cost more, there is a simple solution. Instead of handing out fistfuls (or allowing kids to take as much as they want, which has become the norm), try this: Fill a bowl with a variety of great choices, whether sweets or "treasures" like sparkly stones, feathers (yes, kids love these), hair decorations, temporary tatoos, stickers etc. Cover the bowl with a cloth. When children come to the door, get down to their level and whisper, "At our house, we have some very, very special treats and treasures. You may now choose your favorite." Then with a flourish, whip off the cloth and let them sift. Compliment them on their choice afterwards.

If you're not yet ready to totally embrace greener treats and treasures you can still help cut down on expense and waste by choosing one of these options:

  • Put out two bowls, one with conventional candy, the other with "treasures." Let kids choose one item from either bowl.
  • Hand children whatever you are giving them. Do not allow them to take as much as they want.
  • Let older children know that unwrapped candy can be composted.

Whatever you do this Halloween, taking time to plan and implement will make the holiday a lot less spooky!

Photos Copyright Holli Dunn,

Eco Tips for a Green Halloween

  • Plan, plan, plan. Sit down and talk about what you need to buy or make, then schedule time to do it prior to the night before Halloween.
  • Get your local school involved. For instance, see if they'd like to host a candy composting party. Children bring in leftover candy, unwrap it and place it in a compost bin. They can be rewarded with a healthy alternative treat or treasure (see above).
  • Talk to your neighbors and friends about offering healthier, more earth-friendlier alternatives.
  • Older kids might enjoy reverse trick or treating. Check it out here.
  • Plan a neighborhood Halloween party with likeminded parents. You can control all aspects of the event so it is as eco-friendly as you want.

Eco Picks for a Green Halloween

Costume ideas:

  • Organic cotton costumes for "wee ones" can be assembled by pairing themed onesies and caps. (Try Kee-Ka's pumpkin body suit with Under The Nile's veggie cap.)
  • Sarah's Silks, Nova Natural, A Toy Garden and Magic Cabin sell costumes made out of silk, rather than petroleum. While these are more expensive than others, they can be used for years for dress up and kids adore them.

Treats and Treasures

Brought to you by Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and co-authors of Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at

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