By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Imagine Halloween without the costumes. What a charmless, dull and brazen event it would be. Kids would openly beg for treats and we’d greet them warily at the door, as we might a pit bull. Later, marauding, undisguised tots and teens on a sugar rush would smash eggs on our front lawns before passing out back home from lack of protein.

Wait, that sounds a lot like the current situation.

So, um, we need those costumes, to give Halloween a veneer of sanity. But what, Tinkerbell, should be do about all this consumerism?

Princesses share outfits

Too many Halloween costumes, not to mention those buckets of plastic spiders, bats and eyeballs, turn out to be single- or nearly single-use items. Those plastic gee-gaws create about 10 seconds of amusement. A costume is good for a night or two.

Not to mention the raison d’être of the holiday: a bucket full of sweets handed out to kids in the grip of a diabetes epidemic. OK, that sounds harsh. But true, right?

How can we keep the fun, and still make this celebration a little easier on the planet and better for our kids? For a growing number of people, the solution starts with recycling, or swapping, costumes. Another answer lies in getting people to think more creatively about what constitutes a “treat”.

First, the costumes. Consider last year’s precious, must-have satin Belle ensemble or Wild Things costume. Where are they now? Sulking and forgotten in the back of the closet. Give them new life, say swappers, as someone else’s beautiful or scary get-ups. The price tag will help tame the consumer beast within.

Frankenstein would approve, too.

It sounds so sensible. But swapping doesn’t come naturally to consuming Americans, even wee ones.
Those pouty little munchkins may need convincing that this route can be as much fun as an afternoon frolic at one of those atmospheric Halloween stores that spring up in vacant strip shops every fall (talk about spooky!). The answer: Organize a swap party. And make it darn fun.

Yes, Tink, costume conservation can be magic. Just gather up the costumes to be traded, assemble a few food trays, a music machine and the munchkins. It’s all good. (And you’ve seamlessly slipped in a lesson about frugality.)

There’s even a special day for this pre-Halloween event, National Costume Swap Day (Oct. 9),  promoted by Swap.comGreen and other sponsors.  You can visit GreenHalloween to find an event near you.

The website also has ideas for organizing your own swap party.

Vegan Apples (Photo:

Of course, you’re free to hold a swap event whenever. Best to get on it soon, though.

Don’t worry about whether it will make a difference. At Green Halloween, they’re sure it will. If only half of the kids who celebrate Halloween would swap costumes, it would reduce annual landfill waste by 6,250 tons, an amount equivalent to the weight of 2,500 midsize cars, a GH spokesperson said.

Here are some tips for a smooth swap that’s environmentally friendly from

  • Serve healthy food without artificial dyes and preservatives, or hydrogenated fat. Try Vegan Carmel Apples, from
  • Use green party items, made with biodegradable or low-impact materials.
  • Put on a Halloween puppet show.
  • Make a scarecrow using old clothes.
  • Hand out green party favors, like t shirts made from organic cotton; or soy crayons. (Find greener products at Recycling is Cool, a website by Weisenbach Recycled Products, a sponsor of Green Halloween.)

Granola bars, a sweet treat that's healthier than a candy bar.

Now about the treats. Green Halloween has some suggestions. Hand out fun toothbrushes (quaint, but useful), coins or oyster shells painted like ghosts.

A few more alternatives: Packaged granola bars; trail mix; dried fruit; pumpkin cookies (for parties, obviously you can’t give out home baked goods at the door anymore).

See more tips for healthier treats and greener Halloween practices at Nine Ideas for a Green Halloween.

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