Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.
I was at Target looking for a costume for my grandchild, and was overwhelmed by all the awful-smelling fumes in the costume aisle. Is this stuff safe for children? And while you're at it, any other tips for a green Halloween?
Remember when the biggest Halloween hazard was razor blades in the candy? Or so we all thought: We donned devilish masks and ran around the neighborhood giddily gathering piles of candy in our plastic pumpkins, coming home to stuff our faces with mini Mars bars and tiny Twix until our tummies hurt.
When you're a kid, ignorance is bliss; now that I'm older, greener, and wiser, I know better: Turns out many masks aren't rubber but toxic PVC; those plastic pumpkins are still sitting in the landfill all these years later; and the ingredients in conventional candies have been genetically modified.
But that doesn't mean you should start passing out the pennies and raisins. There are few pleasures as wonderful in life as digging into a big 'ol bag of trick-or-treat goodies, and even yours truly wouldn't trade her bite-sized Baby Ruths for baby carrots.
With a few simple swaps, however, you can guard the health of the planet and your little ones (and your own, if you're still a kid at heart) without sacrificing a ghoulish good time. Here, my top 10 tips for a green Halloween.
1. Pass on the plastic pumpkin. There's no need to collect candy in a petrochemical-based plastic pumpkin holder when any reusable bag will do. Plus, you can collect more goodies by going retro and reusing an old pillowcase. Gotta go Halloween-themed? Check out the handmade reusable monster pouches from Freak-O-Bags.
2. Construct your own costume. Store-bought vinyl Halloween costumes and masks smell chemical-y because they're actually off-gassing toxic chemicals -- like phthalates, which have been linked to ADHD and feminized genitalia in baby boys. Check out these no-sew alternatives that reuse everyday items like coffee filters and old umbrellas.
3. ...Or rent one. Looking for a more elaborate disguise? Secure one from a local costume rental shop. You may not avoid the aforementioned exposure to nasty chemicals, but at least you'll have a greener conscience knowing that your synthetic-hair wig and plastic mallet will outfit another Thor next year.
4. Mind the makeup. Even Halloween face paint labeled "nontoxic" can contain poisonous metals. This, from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which last year found lead (a neurotoxin that can reduce IQ) in all of the samples it analyzed. Paint your kids' faces with your own eco-friendly makeup, or make your own with food-based ingredients.
5. Indulge in green goodies. Organic Halloween candies can break the bank if you get upwards of 500 trick-or-treaters every year, but if you only have a few sweet tooths to satisfy, pick up packs of treats that are free of genetically modified corn syrup and artificial dyes -- like YummyEarth organic lollies.
6. Rethink the Reese's. If you must buy in bulk, hold off on the Hershey's brand: A new report points a finger at the candy king for the continued prevalence of child labor and trafficking in the cocoa industry. Nestlé, on the other hand, is working to improve social and environmental conditions for its cocoa farmers.
7. Compost your jack-o'-lantern. A pumpkin may be all-natural, but send it to the anaerobic environment of a sealed landfill and it will emit methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Help cut down on the 1.1 billion pounds of annual pumpkin waste by composting yours.
8. Ditch disposable decorations. The only thing that's scary about plastic witches and goblins is the amount of time they'll take to decompose in a dump (1,000 years). Stuff old clothes with newspaper for a sustainably scary scarecrow, or make dancing ghosts out of worn sheets and leaves.
9. Add a green glow. You'll save electricity by creating a creepy, candle-lit atmosphere to welcome trick-or-treaters and party guests, but make sure you're not causing indoor air pollution by burning petroleum-based paraffin. Light the way with candles made from beeswax or GM-free soy instead.
10. Find fun on foot. Driving your kids around town may help them haul the biggest loot, but it also wastes gas unnecessarily. If you live in a safe area, curb your kids' candy carbon footprint by walking them around the neighborhood. Wise words for a green -- and lean -- Halloween!