7 tips to Green your Halloween

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There is a lot to love about Halloween.  What other time of year do people open up their homes to strangers just to give something away?  The smell of roasting pumpkin seeds and images of fairy princesses and dinosaurs roaming the neighborhood are powerfully happy, but nowadays there is a mostly scary story behind the way we are celebrating. Our traditions have been largely stolen by big business who have some truly frightening skeletons in their closet. How to conjure up some real magic?  Reclaim the holiday and bring some of the happy back to Halloween. Here are some ways to do it:

  1. Buy organic pumpkins…even for your Jack-o-Lanterns.
  2. Give Fair-trade and organic candy,  home-made treats (gasp), or non-edible  treats…get creative
  3. Host a costume swap, Create a costume from finds at a local thrift or second-hand store, or use things you have around the house. If you must buy new, support a small ethical company
  4. Use non-toxic make-up
  5. Use decorations that can be re-used year to year, recycled, or composted. Use soy based or beeswax candles or LED lights.
  6. Have the kids carry a re-usable, washable, cloth bag or pillow-case to gather treats
  7. Use washable plates, cutlery and napkins for your parties. If you must use disposable, make it compostable and actually compost it.

                                                                                                        Why? and How?

Organic Pumpkins:

Twilight Greenaway wrote a funny piece for grist.com where she describes her inner dialogue about buying pumpkins:

“Voice of hedonism: Buying lots of pumpkins and cutting them up so they’ll eventually rot in front of your house is your right as an American. Plus, it’s fun!

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Voice of conscience: But they’re food. And you are really careful about food. All the winter squash in your kitchen came from local farmers. So why should you get a free pass just because you’re planning to waste these ones?

Voice of hedonism: Look, they have big ol’ giant ones, classy white ones, and teenie tiny ones. Clearly you need one of each!

Voice of conscience: You’re right. Is anybody looking?”

I have definitely been there…but here is the thing:  Pumpkins are big business and we are always voting with our dollars. Even if we are not going to eat them, those pumpkins grown conventionally used up a whole lot of toxic chemicals and when we buy them we support those practices.  When you buy organic you are voting for better health for farmers and farm workers, less polluted streams and rivers, healthier soil and cleaner air.  So buy organic and support the local farmers who are doing it right.

Handing out Happy treats

There is nothing good or happy about candy that is made for our American children off the scarred backs of  children overseas, but the awful truth is that almost every snack-size candy bar available in stores this Halloween is tainted with child slavery. The connection between the major candy bar manufacturers (which includes Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and the U.S. division of Cadbury) and child slavery has been one of the world’s best-kept secrets until fairly recently.  So far government has not been able to do much. In 2001, after Congressman Eliot Engel (D) NY learned of these terrible practices, he slipped in an addendum to the FDA bill about to hit the Congressional floor requiring chocolate companies to mark their bars “No Slavery Here” if that was the case. When the candy lobby got wind of it, they hired George Mitchell and Bob Dole as their lobbying henchmen to thwart the bill before it went to the Senate.  They were successful. Instead of any new laws they got  The Harkin-Engel Protocol an unenforceable  promise from candy makers that they would voluntarily clean up the supply chain of the worst forms of child labor with remediation to be done by 2005.  How has that worked out?   Not so well.  According to Chris Bayer, a Tulane University researcher studying the problem, “We have seen very little implementation of the actual commitments. Industry did not live up to the Harkin-Engel Protocol.”  So if the politicians do not have the backbone to pass a law, we must once again vote with our dollars. In the past few years a few excellent documentaries including CNN’s “Chocolate’s Child Slaves” and “The Dark Side of Chocolate”  have helped to educate consumers about the issue. As a result, many consumers are being choosier about what they buy.  Perhaps this is why earlier this month Hershey pledged to end child slave labor in its cocoa production by 2020. ( 7 more years of child slaves is acceptable!?)  This is quite possibly another empty promise for the sake of marketing, but Hershey does seem to be feeling some market pressure.  Our voting dollars at work. So if you are not buying tiny Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups what can you get?   Quite a few local stores sell fair trade and organic Halloween candy now. Check the IV Co-op, Whole Foods and Lazy Acres. You can also buy them online here.

You could also just make some homemade treats.  I love Lenore Skenazy’s idea to “Occupy Halloween.”  She writes about the homemade treat phenomenon on her bog post:

“Start with the fact that there has NEVER been a case of children poisoned by a stranger’s candy on Halloween. That’s according to University of Delaware sociologist Joel Best, who has studied the urban myth since 1985. Nonetheless, the advice we ALWAYS hear is to “check your child’s candy for tampering,” and treat homemade goodies like radioactive waste. All of which is based on the belief that we are quite likely surrounded by psychopathic child killers  (who hold it in till Oct. 31st).

But that idea isn’t just wrong,  it’s corrosive. Start thinking of your nice neighbors as potential killers ONE day a year and how are you supposed to trust them the REST of the year?”

Going back to homemade treats is one small step to reclaim our communities and move away from the fearful society we have become.  I like the idea of including a little note explaining that your treat was made with wholesome ingredients (no high fructose corn syrup here) and a lot of love.

If you want to stay away from the sugar craze entirely, you can choose to get creative with non-edible treats. Here is a list of green treat ideas to get you started.


woodleywonderworks / Free Photos

When you buy that cheap costume at the big box store you are supporting all kinds of bad…inorganic cotton that uses 25% of the worlds insecticides and 10% of its pesticides, petro-chemical fabrics that will never biodegrade, terrible conditions in polluting  factories…you get the picture. Here are some other options:  Join the  National Costume Swap or host your own.  Check out thrift stores like Alpha Thrift or one of the local children’s second-hand stores like Polar Bear or My Sweet Pineapple for costumes or clothing that can be made into a costume.  Get creative and use things from around your house.  You might just come up with a traffic stopping idea like this ;)  and recycle your cardboard while you are at it!  If you need to buy new, be sure to support a good company. Sarah’s Silks is a “Green America Approved Business” and a fun source for dress-ups.  Sites like ETSY also have a lot of eco-offerings.


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Make-up can make your costume rock, but it can also be full of toxic chemicals. You clearly don’t want to be using lead filled lipstick,  especially if you using it on a child. It is always a good idea to check the ingredients of any cosmetics before you use them.  Environmental Working Group has a fantastic data base to check the safety of cosmetics. For the DIY types, here are some recipes for homemade Halloween make-up.

For decorations, parties, and moreGreen Halloween.org has lots of “eek-o-friendly” suggestions.

Holidays are a great time to reconnect to each other and our own core values.   We have to be brave enough to shine the light on those skeletons in the closet and then choose to cast our spell for love, creativity and a healthy planet for all. What’s in your spell book?

Are your cleaning products toxic?

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When you look at the label on your jar of peanut butter or bag of chips, you will see all of the ingredients in the jar or bag listed. (You might not be able to tell if they used GMO corn in those corn chips, but you will see corn listed.)  You see it is mandatory to show all of the ingredients on labels in all food, cosmetics and drugs sold in the U.S.  That way,  you can choose to nix the face cream that is loaded with parabens and pass on the hydrogenated oil filled crackers.

Not so for the products you use everyday to clean your dishes, clothing, sheets and showers.

There are no requirements to label ingredients in cleaners.

Hence,  only 7 percent of companies adequately disclose the ingredients of their products and it is common to list just a few of the ingredients or describe them in vague terms such as “surfactant” and “solvent.” Well that “solvent”  might just be a known carcinogen. Once again, the Environmental Working Group has come to the rescue of the modern consumer.  They recently  created the first online guide that rates more than 2,000 household cleaners with grades A through F for safety of ingredients and disclosure of contents.

“Keeping your home clean shouldn’t put you and your family at risk, and with EWG’s new online guide you won’t have to,” EWG senior scientist Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D, said. “Quite a few cleaning products that line store shelves are packed with toxic chemicals that can wreak havoc with your health, including many that harm the lungs. The good news is, there are plenty of cleaning products that will get the job done without exposing you to hazardous substances.”

EWG’s staff scientists spent 14 months researching and compiling the guide.  They found that even some “green” brands do not disclose ingredients adequately.

I decided to check the cleaners I use to see how well they fared. I do most of my cleaning with baking soda and vinegar (this inexpensive, simple disinfecting spray works better than most commercial cleaners)  but I do buy dishwasher detergent, dishwashing soap and laundry detergent.  I tend to buy whatever “green” brand is on sale..in fact  there was a great sale on Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Gel the other day so I  just bought five bottles.  Well, according to the EWG guide, those five bottles got a big fat F!  The funny thing is that Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Powder, Free and Clear got an A.  Looks like I will be doing an exchange!   Obviously it is important to look at the specific products that you are using and not just the brand.  So how did my other cleaners do?  The Planet Ultra Dishwashing Liquid  got a “D” and the Trader Joe’s laundry detergent I have been using received an “F”!                                        Time for some changes.

According to a post on the EWG site, the day after their guide came out they were contacted by many of the manufacturers of poorly rated products.The manufacturers said they had added new ingredient information to their product labels, changed the ingredients – or both.  They were eager to give the EWG their updated information and, hopefully, get a better score on their products.   (Speaks to the power of information and why some companies fight so hard to avoid transparency.)  Weak disclosure or potentially harmful ingredients were two of the big reasons why many well known product lines ended up with low grades.  EWG responded:

We’re happy to get the new information and will use it to update the Guide on a regular basis, but for the most part, the original scores will stay.


Unlike a tomato or a banana, cleaning products don’t go bad in a hurry. If you’re like most consumers, you probably have bottles of window or floor cleaner under your sink or in your cleaning closet that have been there for months – if not years. In stores, too, it can take a long time before old inventory sells out and gets replaced with the “new, improved” versions.

I took a look at the Seventh Generation website to see if they had anything to say about the guide, and found that they did. While they were very supportive of the EWG and the guide, they took exception with some of their findings.  EWG considered ingredients listed as “essentials oils” or “preservatives” as “incomplete disclosure” but Seventh Generation said that the exact ingredients were also listed. They had differing opinions on other ingredients such as methylisothiazolinone with Seventh Generation explaining, “There’s also the sticky wicket of methylisothiazolinone, a synthetic preservative used to maintain freshness in our plant-based products. (Natural microbes love to eat our natural plant-based ingredients!) EWG gives this ingredient a D, though it meets our rigorous safety and environmental standards.”    In any case the end result is that Seventh Generation promised to continue improving their products and hope to eventually get an “A” rating on all of them.

The guide, it seems, is already having a positive influence.  Consumers can better understand what might be in the cleaners they buy and manufacturers are feeling the pressure to improve the transparency of their products.

So take a look at what is in your cupboard. See how your favorite products fare.  Think about whether you really need them at all.  Check EWG for their recommended products. Then vote with your pocketbook next time you buy a cleaner. Support a company that is making safe products.

…  and don’t forget to vote on the ballot for the other “information to the people” initiative  California Proposition 37, Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food.

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