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Tips for a Festive and Eco-Friendly Halloween

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Celebrate Halloween with a spooky scavenger hunt - MEREDITH BAY-TYACK
  • Meredith Bay-Tyack
  • Celebrate Halloween with a spooky scavenger hunt

Where do you fall on the Halloween-appreciation spectrum? Does your love for the holiday spur you to start decorating and planning on September first? Or maybe you slightly dread it and drag your feet until the last minute. Over the years, I've landed all over the map but trend toward liking it because I've always enjoyed dressing up. Growing up, I was typically instructed to dig through dress-up bins to find a costume. Occasionally, we'd take a trip to the fabric store for bits and bobs to embellish it.

This year, Halloween — and other holidays — will look and feel different. And that gives us the chance to approach it differently, too.

Did you know that Halloween in the United States generates millions of pounds of trash each year from costumes, decor and plastic waste? That's truly ghastly. Follow these tips for an environmentally conscious take on Halloween that's still full of frightening fun.

Costumes

Buying a brand-new costume is tempting, especially when the kid in your life has a specific idea of what they want to dress up as. Before buying new, though, look for secondhand costumes at local stores and Facebook swap boards, and by asking family and friends. Consider pulling together your costumes with a mix of items repurposed from closets and borrowed or bought secondhand, along with a few new pieces, such as masks or accessories.

If you have a sewing machine or even a glue gun, there are lots of instructions online, ranging from simple to elaborate, to create fun costumes with materials you already have at home. Fabric paints and iron-on decals are another low-waste and relatively quick way to add customization and get the perfect character details your kid wants.

Face paint can also bring a simple get-up to new heights. We love the eco-friendly set by Natural Earth Paint, which is safe for kids' faces and the planet.

Pumpkins

There are a myriad of local options for pumpkins. Or maybe you've grown your own! Our garden was decimated by hungry squirrels this year, so I'll be buying a selection of Vermont-grown pumpkins from local farms and garden stores.

Leave them as-is for the perfect all-natural fall decor. Put small pumpkins and gourds on the table and mantle, and larger ones on the front stoop, and you're all set. For extra eco-points, bring the pumpkin in before it rots or is eaten by the aforementioned hungry critters. Pumpkin seeds and other pumpkin desserts are a delicious way to make your decor do double duty. Pumpkins are food first, after all!

If you opt to carve your pumpkins, I highly recommend saving and toasting the seeds. Olive oil, salt and pepper is all you need, but there are loads of recipes out there to jazz them up. Spray your carved pumpkin with lemon juice and vinegar to keep it fresh longer. You may see recommendations to use hairspray or petroleum jelly to extend its life, but then poor ol' jack won't be able to be composted when Halloween is over.

Decor

Go for reusable or compostable. Again, I hit up second-hand stores and what I already have at home first. If you're feeling crafty, make a hanging banner with triangles of fabric or paper and some yarn. Write out a spooky message or have your kids glue on leaves they collect!

Vermonters are lucky in that most of us can walk into our backyards or to nearby parks to collect branches, leaves, grasses and dried flowers for beautiful and natural fall decoration. We love preserving leaves in melted beeswax and hanging them from windows or displaying them on the wall. Cut out a large cardboard circle and glue or tie on leaves to create a festive wreath.

If there's some adorable autumnal tchotchke at the store calling your name, go for it. But ask yourself first whether you'll use it or toss it when the season is over — or whether you can make something similar with stuff you already have.

If you're willing to go out on a limb — er, vine? — make a papier-mâché "trash pumpkin" from a plastic bag, non-stinky garbage such as dryer lint and clothing tags, and other basic craft items. Find a tutorial on TheGoldHive.com. You can also use a scrap of fabric, fill it with soft trash or lint, and wrap thread around it to create those classic pumpkin grooves.

Treats

It's tough to avoid waste when it comes to festive candies and treats. If you want to go the extra mile, choose candies that come in cardboard boxes that can be recycled or composted. Some brands, such as Alter Eco, even make truffles and other sweets in compostable wrapping. If you go for foil-wrapped chocolate, gather the foil in one big ball and recycle it. Just make sure it's at least two inches in diameter.

The majority of Halloween candies come in small individual plastic packages. These are easy to lose outside, so make a commitment as a family to put all wrappers securely in a pocket or bag and properly dispose of them in the trash.

If you know you'll be home and serving food only to family and close friends, making special-themed snacks and desserts from scratch is low-waste and can be a fun activity. Try decorating cookies or even personal pizzas with Halloween-themed toppings!

Parties and get-togethers

If you are hosting a small get-together at your home or in your neighborhood, consider using real utensils, cups and plates. If you don't have enough, pool resources with other households. Or take a trip to the thrift store. An extra dishwasher load is worth avoiding a huge bag of trash! Reach out to local forums and groups; you may find that there's already a neighborhood lending service in place, such as the Silverware Share hosted by Sustainable Williston. Compostable paper plates are readily available, too. If you go with this option, pick up an extra pail for $5 from Chittenden Solid Waste District to accommodate the extra compost. Check with your local solid waste district to learn about their composting options.

Our family is reimagining Halloween this year and plans to set up a trick-or-treat scavenger hunt in our house and yard. We'll hide the treats in Easter eggs with jack-o'-lantern faces drawn on them. Instead of going door to door to gather treats, my kids will go from room to room. They're young enough that I'm hoping this will be exciting. For older kids, a spooky backyard scavenger hunt could be fun. If you're short on planning time, check Etsy or Pinterest for Halloween-themed scavenger hunt ideas with the clues already written for you.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.