How to Go Green: Halloween


Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography/Creative Commons

Once a Celtic celebration of the harvest and a new season, Halloween is now a little less spiritual and a lot more commercial; total up candy sales, costume shopping, and decorations, and it's an industry worth almost $6 billion a year. With that kind of consumption comes a hefty carbon footprint and an environmental impact that lasts long after you've see the last of those fun-size Snickers bars.

Luckily, the basics of Halloween--spooky tales, playing dress-up, things that go bump in the night--don't require massive quantities of cash or a wasteful amount of resources as long as you're willing to think ahead and let your imagination run wild. Making your own costume will put a huge dent in the consumerism of the holiday (and earn you more than a few impressed glances at the office party)--and we'd bet you'll find the materials right in front of you, if you just look around. Simple makeup designs and hairstyles created with natural products can give your look extra impact, and your home gets a makeover of its own with biodegradable decorations from the local farmers' market (plus you're still celebrating the harvest!). As for the sweeter side of Halloween, indulge your sugar habit with Fair Trade and organic chocolate, lollipops, jellybeans, and candy bars.

An at-home Halloween party will let you save energy if you live in a spread-out neighborhood where trick-or-treating would require a car: dim the lights, set out some soy candles, and get the younger set bobbing for apples, making crafts from recycled paper, and telling their favorite ghost stories. Whichever green options you and your family take advantage of, you'll feel better on November 1 knowing you helped combat the holiday's terrifying eco-damage--just in time for Christmas.

What's really in that plastic Halloween costume? Where can you find organic Halloween candy? What's reverse trick-or-treating? We've got the answers and lots more questions about Halloween in our quiz: Do You Celebrate a High Impact Halloween? Click on over to get started and learn tons of great green knowledge along the way.


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Top Green Halloween Tips



  1. Skip the plastic costumes
    If you're trying to be the most realistic pirate, superhero, or, um, mustard bottle at this year's bash, then a cheap, store-bought costume is the way to go?though the hidden dangers and environmental impact should outweigh even the most enthusiastic compliments from other party-goers. Watch out for the soft vinyl--similar to shower curtain material--in many mass-produced costumes: that's likely polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which releases dangerous chemicals. Not exactly something you want covering your face (or your child's)--plus, it can't be recycled.

  2. Get creative at home
    So what to do instead? With a little planning and creativity, even the least handy DIYers can put together a costume with items they have at home?--try stringing old ping pong balls for Wilma Flintstone's classic necklace, or bending old wire hangers into butterfly wings. Scour your closets (and your friends', and neighbors', and local thrift stores) for flashback fashions you can pair up, trim down, sew together, or dye (naturally, of course).

  3. Face facts
    You just won't look like Marilyn Monroe without red lipstick, or turn into a zombie prom queen without plenty of eyeshadow. But do choose organic, natural makeup for your transformation, and avoid the mercury, pthalates, parabens, and fragrances that come standard in most big-name brands. You can make your own, find an organic retailer, or special-order vegan makeup for exactly the right shade. The same goes for hair dye--eco-friendly brands let you rest easy when you see it all going down the drain (aka, back into the water supply), but don't underestimate old-fashioned techniques, like a handful of baby powder for a junior Albert Einstein. Check out our guide for How to Go Green: Women's Personal Care, for more makeup details.

  4. Bar classic candies
    Half the fun of Halloween is the sugar high, no matter how old you are. But by stocking your bowl with organic, natural treats instead, you can escape many of the chemicals and preservatives that are even scarier than your neighbor's Frankenstein mask. Look for brands that donate part of their profits to environmental causes; Fair Trade-sourced chocolates; or sweets made with pure cane sugar, fruit juice, and natural colors. If you're skipping candy for health reasons, try handing out small toys, pencils, or soy crayons. There are lots more ideas at greenhalloween.org.

  5. Choose a kid-friendly carryall
    When it comes to hauling all those treasures home, reusable canvas bags get the win over plastic or paper for safety and environmental reasons. Buy your own blank bags and let the little ones decorate them with non-toxic paint--they're sure to be an annual highlight--or browse craft stores and online retailers for seasonal offerings that sport witches, ghosts, and goblins galore. Then keep your kids visible to passing cars with battery-free flashlights.

  6. Set the mood
    The soft flickering of traditional candles gives Halloween its spooky feel--and what's a jack-o-lantern without one?--but the paraffin in wax candles releases toxic chemicals like toluene and benzene through smoke and soot. Clean up your home and keep your lungs healthy with organic soy candles, which last longer and come from renewable soy bean crops. And as for that jack-o-lantern, buy him from a local farm (and don't let his seeds go to waste; toast them) or, better yet, buy a ceramic one that you can reuse next year.

  7. Keep it simple

    The rest of your decorations--plastic spiders, dangling skeletons, spooky scarecrows--should be one-time purchases that you use every year, just like the rest of your holiday decor. When possible, look for reclaimed material; if you?re buying things you know you can't keep--like streamers or paper plates--be sure to look for brands that are both recycled and recyclable.


  8. Eat--and decorate--locally
    If spiders and skeletons aren't your thing, you can draw inspiration from the harvest bounty; think pumpkins, gourds, straw bales, and corn husks (all from your local farms, of course). Serve up snacks and nibbles made from other farm-fresh, seasonal produce, like squash soup, carrot cake, and apple cider. Check in with Local Harvest to find farms and other local spots to get the best of the harvest in your neck of the woods.

  9. Support Fair Trade with 'reverse trick-or-treating'
    As a way to highlight the plight of cocoa farmers and to showcase the benefits of Fair Trade, the folks at Global Exchange have started a Reverse Trick-or-Treating program to help raise awareness while collecting goodies on Halloween. It's really easy. Sign-up through the 'Reverse Trick-or-Treating website to receive samples of Fair Trade chocolates, along with some cards that outline the program. Kids hand out the cards and samples to adults when they go to the door on Halloween.

  10. Skip the candy aisle altogether
    If you're such a Halloween purist that you can't bear the thought of handing out anything but sugar, then see our ideas above. But if you're the non-traditional type, try stocking up on healthy treats: organic dried fruit, granola bars, and popcorn packets all work (and come individually packaged, so even the most discerning parents won't trash them for safety reasons). GreenHalloween.org also offers a list of non-food ideas, like hair barrettes (which you could make yourself), seed packets, small toys made from recycled plastic, stickers, and soy crayons.


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Green Halloween: By the Numbers



  • 36 million: Children in the U.S., ages 5-13, who were expected to go trick-or-treating last year.

  • $117 million: Value of 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins grown by California, New York, Illinois, and Ohio in 2007.

  • 24.5 pounds: Weight of candy eaten, per person, by Americans in 2007.

  • 2,077: Shops, in 2006, where trick-or-treaters could rent or buy costumes.

  • 93: Percent of children who are expected to go trick-or-treating.

  • 9 billion: Pieces of candy corn shipped to stores in October; total weight of the sugary kernels is 35 million pounds.

  • 163: Percent that organic candy offerings increased from 2005-2006; the industry went up another four percent in 2007.

  • $5.77 billion: Money Americans are expected to shell out for October 31 this year; the total breaks down to $66.54 per person.

Sources: US Census, Candy USA, Austin Business Journal.

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Green Halloween: Getting Techie


Why all the fuss about PVC?
A major part of the miracle of plastic is the sheer number of different items it can be made into?from credit cards to children's toys to industrial pipe. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is one of the most popular and most versatile; it's the plastic used in all those products, plus bottles, imitation leather, and car interiors (to name just a few more).

And while it's indisputably useful, PVC is also hazardous, creating and releasing dioxin during its creation, use, and breakdown. (Dioxin, the main ingredient in Agent Orange, is thought to cause cancer, reproductive problems, and immune system damage.) Greenpeace maintains a database of PVC-alternatives for residential and commercial builders, but ridding it from the rest of your life takes constant vigilance.

What's so bad about my makeup?
Let's be clear: a one-night-only application of eyeliner to complete your Dracula look is probably not going to hurt; there are women slathering the same stuff on their eyes every day who are still alive. But on the whole, most commercial cosmetics contain a variety of chemicals that result in their color, texture, and waterproofing abilities?and most cosmetics are not regulated by the FDA. The ones we mentioned above each have their own dangers: parabens, which are chemical preservatives, have been found in breast cancer; phthalates, which are chemical plasticizers, cause sperm damage and infertility; and fragrances are full of toxins and allergens.

Why bother with Fair Trade?
Fair trade is a model of international trade that promotes giving farmers and producers equitable compensation for their labors. Though the numbers vary by location, Fair Trade uses what counts as a living wage in each farmer's country of their origin, and ensures that the lion's share of the producers' hard-earned profits aren't whisked away by predatory (and unnecessary) middlemen. By supporting Fair Trade-certified products, you're leveraging your power as a consumer to push for better trading conditions and fair returns for marginalized producers and workers. Go to TransFair USA to learn more about Fair Trade certification in the U.S.

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Where to Get Green Halloween Candy and Costumes


Eco-Friendly Candy
Yummy Earth Organic Lollpops
Endangered Species Chocolate Bars
College Farm Organic Hard Candy
Natural Candy Store
Equal Exchange Chocolate
Vegan fudge and candy bars
Trick-or-Treating Must-Haves
Battery-free Shakable Flashlight
Limited Edition Chico Bag
Non-toxic face pencils
Non-toxic costumes for kids
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Green Halloween: From the Archives


Dig deeper into a green Halloween with these articles and resources from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.
More Tricks and Treats from TreeHugger:
Green Halloween: Sugar Rush
Reverse Trick-or-Treating for a Fair Trade Halloween
Green Halloween: Ghostly Lights
Green Halloween: Don't Dress to Kill
Green Halloween: Healthy Treats
More Tricks and Treats from Planet Green:
Read more about making your Halloween Green:
How to Go Green: Halloween
Buy Green: Halloween Candy
How to Throw a Spooky Eco-Fab Halloween Party
How to Put Your Face On A Jack-O-Lantern
Decorate with Nature, and More Eco Friendly Halloween Tips
Do it Yourself Halloween Cobweb From Cotton Balls
4 Easy Eco Friendly Halloween Tips
Make Your Own Broadway-Inspired Wicked Halloween Costume
Make Your Own Cheaper, Better Halloween...Mask
Make Your Own Cheaper, Better Halloween...Witch Costume
Make Your Own Cheaper, Better Halloween Costume
Make a Halloween Costume You Can't Find at Wal-mart
DIY Halloween Crafts from Maura Madden's Crafternoon
Save Those Seeds!
Cut Out Preservatives, Curb Hyperactivity
Make This Addictive Matzo Candy

Also be sure to check out more hair-raising Halloween how-to's on How Stuff Works.

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Further Reading on Green Halloween


Get more info on a green Halloween in these other sources.
Tips for kids and parents at GreenHalloween.org
Ideas for a green Halloween at StopGlobalWarming.org
Eco-friendly costume ideas from EcoChild'sPlay.com
Tricks and Treats for Halloween from the Sierra Club
Solar Powered Decorations
Africa: The Dark Side of Chocolate
Toxic Dangers Lurking in Some Halloween Costumes

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