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A Green Halloween

I asked my kids how we could reduce our consumption this Halloween season. They said: Buy bigger candy bars to give out. Then we wouldn’t have to buy as many candy bars; it would also mean fewer, but bigger, leftovers. (That wasn’t really what I had in mind, but consider the source.)

There’s a whole movement of folks concerned with trying to reduce, reuse and recycle—the environmental mantra for cleaning up our planet—during the Halloween season. EcoMom Alliance created www.GreenHalloween.org to promote environmentally conscious choices at this time of year. Members encourage actions and purchases that are: good for people (less sugar, for example), good for the planet (less waste) and good for the community (buying from locally owned stores or stores that make donations to the community).

One of the group’s most prominent programs is the National Costume Swap Day (http://www.greenhalloween.org/CostumeSwap/), which is Saturday, Oct. 8. If your child hasn’t decided on a Halloween costume, this day may work for you. Gather a group of parents, children and costumes worn in previous years; spread the costumes out and let the kids pick a “new” one for the current year. Everyone saves money, the kids still get a choice, and the garbage dump doesn’t grow.

Hand-me-down costumes are not a new idea, but organizing a fun exchange with other families may make it more exciting for little ones. “Time to raid Grandma’s closet” is how one friend describes hunting for costumes each year. One year’s treasure was a 1950s purple velvet dress coat that served nicely as a witch’s wrap during chilly trick-or-treating.

Asking moms about “reuse” ideas brings up some humorous memories. “My mom dressed me as a paper bag when I was 3. Hole in top for head, (holes) in sides for arms. Quick, easy, and I didn’t know any better,” says my friend Maria Erdman of Syracuse.

That reminded me of my laundry basket costume. When I was about 7 or 8, my teenage siblings thought it would be cute for me to wear a plastic laundry basket upside down on my head with lollipops taped all over it. I thought it was a cool idea, too. Now I don’t know.

Costumes can be created from almost any thing found around the house. My son wore a giant big-screen TV box last year, but covered it with birthday wrapping paper first. He cut holes in the box for his head and arms and donned a red hat covered in paper bows. He was a birthday present!

I believe in “investment pieces” for Halloween. One sister and I have traded my red devil cape and her black vampire cape many times over the years. Last year my daughter wanted to dress up as Morticia from the Addams Family. She picked out a black costume dress and then I spotted the last long black spider-web lace cape on the top shelf in a costume shop. It was floor-length on my then fourth-grade daughter, Annie, and nicely long on me. Even Annie balked at the $30 price tag. But I figured she and I would be wearing this at Halloween parties for years. When we got to the register, the cape rang up as $15!

Thrift stores and resale shops offer a bounty of options—from used or new costumes to clothes that can be adapted for a would-be Mary Poppins, Princess Tiana or the Wicked Witch. And when Halloween’s over, these costumes can be donated or sold right back to the same shops for another round of use.
Everyone knows leftover trick-or-treat candy often goes straight to a parent’s workplace. (Well, except my friend Rich, who says, “What leftover candy?”) For those who manage not to eat it all, consider putting that candy corn to creative use. Ronnie Kobuszewski of Madison mentioned a Thanksgiving cornucopia decorated with candy corn. The leftover candy was glued to the wicker-type cornucopia and then the whole piece was shellacked. The candy brightened up the decoration and was used every year by the family. Another home took leftover pumpkin-shaped candy corn and strung it on a line—just like a popcorn garland at Christmastime. Candy from Halloween also can be saved for decorating gingerbread houses or used as toppings on ice cream treats. If the ice cream shops can use candy mix-ins, why can’t we?

Some candy is best given away—even after Halloween. If your child wears braces, check out the orthodontist’s office. Most in the Syracuse area sponsor a “buy back” program for Halloween candy. Dr. Michael Meharg, whose office is in Syracuse’s Franklin Square, has been doing this for 10 years. “Some of the candy is bad for braces: sticky, chewy, nutty type things, and it’s just a little incentive for kids to bring it in,” he says. His office pays $2 per pound, with $1 going to the child and $1 going to a local charity. His office sends the candy—last year some 60 to 70 pounds—to military troops overseas, says Meharg, who is a retired from the military. The buy-back program is part of the American Association of Orthodontists promotion of National Orthodontic Health Month.

I pick up Halloween decorations, candles, even plates and napkins, at yard sales from spring to fall. Most have been used only briefly each year or are still new in the

My sister, a mother of three in Manlius, holds an early Halloween party that is all about pumpkins. Everyone brings a pumpkin and my sister spreads out a plastic Halloween tablecloth from the dollar store and kids’ paints, sparkles, stickers and any other leftover craft items from around the house. Guests paint their pumpkins, which last longer than ones cut into a jack-o’-lantern. “It works great for the little kids who don’t have the patience for carving or even know what a jack-o’-lantern is,” she says. Dumping paint on top of a pumpkin and letting it drip down makes a fiendish look, or sprinkle it with glitter for a sparkly effect. Some parents still carved, but the event made a celebration of pumpkin prep and forced them to do it before Oct. 31.

In the “creating atmosphere” category, here’s one of our favorite random reuses: Don’t overlook the old baby monitor. My husband puts the receiver in a front window and the microphone end next to the stereo speaker, which plays his scary CD tunes. (That one’s courtesy of my son.)

When the trick-or-treaters venture out each year, parents in our neighborhood walk as an informal posse behind them. Maybe this year we could carry a bag or two as well—for picking up any stray trash we see along the way. They’ll come in handy to catch those candy wrappers, too.                 

Eileen Gilligan, a mother of two, lives in Baldwinsville.

Photo by: © Michael Gray | Dreamstime.com

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