Making Halloween Greener
Halloween, though still far from the most expensive holiday, leads Americans to spend approximately $5 billion a year, a third of which goes to candy. The environmental impacts of this range from simple packaging waste (some of which ends up discarded as litter) to the costs of shipping goods from around the world, from pesticide use and harmful growing practices (as are often found in commercial cacao operations) to the use of non-renewable resources, like the oil used to make plastics.
If you are hosting a Halloween Party, or bringing a dish to someone else's, consider using fresh, local foods that are in season. This includes the ever-popular pumpkins and apples, but can also mean acorn and butternut squash, sweet potatoes, pears, cabbage (and other leafy greens), bell peppers, carrots, and more. Pumpkins (and squash) can be used in a number of delicious dishes, from soups to pies to breads and muffins, and, of course, you can roast the seeds for a snack for you or birds and other wildlife. Just as pumpkins can be used as both decoration and food, so can apples be used either in delicious treats like ciders and pies or as decoration - shrunken heads can be made by peeling apples, carving faces into them, soaking them in 1 cup lemon juice mixed with 1 tablespoon of salt, and letting them shrivel (do this a week or so in advance).
Other offerings you might consider are organic snacks and candies, like Newman's Own, Frito-Lay Naturals, Endangered Species Chocolates, etc. Grocery stores carry more of these items than ever, so stocking your party with healthy and organic foods shouldn't be too difficult an enterprise. Getting biodegradable cutlery and plates is a little more difficult, but possible, since plates and cutlery can now be made out of potato or corn waste fibers. If you don't want to go this route, just use normal everyday dishes that don't need to be thrown out at all! And, when preparing your invite-list, try e-invites rather than paper ones; there are a number of websites with electronic invitations and greetings available for free. If you're determined to send invitations through the mail, buy ones made with recycled paper, or make your own from whatever you have on hand.
Other eco-friendly decorations can range from solar-powered or LED holiday lights (available through holidayleds.com, a company who will also take back any old holiday lights for recycling or at improvementscatalog.com, among others) to using old clothes to make a scarecrow, zombie, or dismembered limbs. LED lights will not only save energy compared to less-efficient alternatives, but are also safer, as they produce less heat and are thus cool to the touch. Another lighting option is that old standby, the candle, preferably made of beeswax or soy. Old clothes, either ones you already have or ones purchased from a thrift store, can make good costumes as well. Old cardboard boxes can be used both in innovative costumes and as tombstone decorations for the yard. If you do buy decorations, save them for next year rather than throwing them away. If carving pumpkins, use an endangered-species themed stencil from the World Wildlife Fund (available at http://www.worldwildlifefund.org/sites/pumpkins/index.html) and be sure to use as much as possible of the pumpkin (whether for eating or just in your compost pile).
If you plan to pass out candy to trick-or-treaters, consider alternatives like popcorn (available in organic, single-serving packages from Newman's Own), trinkets or toys (pencils, crayons, coins, beads, Halloween-themed erasers, stickers, or temporary tattoo), or organic products. There is an ever-increasing number of organic options available, from Endangered Species chocolates to Clif Bars, from honey sticks to fruit leather or organic cookies. Several websites offer a variety of these products, including veganessentials.com, the Global Exchange Fair Trade Online Store, and healthysnackstore.com, as well as grocery stores and health-food stores.
If your child is trick-or-treating, send them out with a reusable collection container, whether a pillowcase or just a reusable cloth or canvas bag, and if they're going to carry a flashlight, make it one powered by shaking. For parents who'd rather not have their child eating huge amounts of candy, consider allowing them to trade pieces of candy for credits toward something they want more or have them trick-or-treat for a valuable cause, like UNICEF, the World Wildlife Fund, or the Red Cross (Coinstar machines offer a wide variety of causes from which your child can choose). Talk to your children about making better choices, on Halloween and the rest of the time. For more helpful ideas, including recipes and informative articles, check out Green Halloween at greenhalloween.org