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Jack O Lantern

The surest sign that autumn is knocking at the gate comes each year in the dying light of late September. Over a dinner plate filled with garden finality, my daughter will invariably look up out of the blue and ask in sudden panic, "Hey! What am I going to be for Halloween?"

We parents know the drill. Free-flowing summer's crash into the new school year reawakens an awareness of calendars, and as the dust settles little people everywhere suddenly realize that major Halloween decisions are looming like a pack of underfed vampires at a blood drive.

You can practically feel the Earth tremble in fear as it faces another horrifying Halloween of overconsumption that's far more trick than treat. Yet the season needn't be haunted by senseless waste and a ghastly spirit of disposability. Boos and ghouls of all ages can dress up without creating an environmental monster.

  • Once your kids decide what they want to be, see who's got what lying around or if there are any hand-me-downs to be had. You might find a complete costume or cannibalize one for parts. Things can always be borrowed from others' dress-up trunks, too. It all saves money and materials.
  • Costume swaps are another fiendishly fantastic resource. Walk in with last year's costume and out with a good-as-new one. October 13th is National Costume Swap Day. Check local listings for one near you.
  • Don't overlook the recycling bin, where metal cans (watch for sharp edges!), plastic containers, old TP rolls, boxes and cardboard of all kinds provide fodder for young imaginations.
  • Raid the woods, too. From gnarled dead branches and withered flowers to vines and fallen leaves there's a lot out there for witches, zombies, fairies and others.
  • You might also find useful raw materials for Halloween fun waiting in the less-visited places corners of your attic, basement and garage. Don't forget the junk drawer for small stuff.
  • The linen closet deserves special mention. Old sheets, towels, and pillowcases are really capes, cloaks, ghosts, mummies, and more in waiting.
  • Still looking? Head for local thrift stores where recycled clothes, fabrics, costume jewelry and useful odds and ends abound for little cost. It's all about the art of repurposing—decorated chopsticks for wands, an old fishbowl for a crystal ball, funnels for robot ears.
  • Do not overlook the miracles of homemade paper. Compostable flour, water and paper can be endlessly transformed into masks, horns, noses, accessories and so much more. The stuff's amazing.
  • You can also rent a costume at many vintage clothing and theatrical supply shops. There are even dedicated costume rental stores around. It's pricey, but sustainable.

Just be sure to avoid store-bought make-up, hair products, plastic teeth, rubber masks and the like, which can hide some scary things. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, for example, tested 10 kid's face paints a few years ago and found lead and other heavy metals in every sample. Phthalates can lurk in flexible plastics, and hair products are possessed by sinister toxins that go bump in the night. But you don't need this stuff. Recipes for homemade versions provide the same special effect without spooking your bloodstream.

That's really the point: We don't want real terrors on Halloween. We just want to pretend for awhile and wake up on November 1st without any eek-o-logical specters threatening the planet with an early grave. Dressing up renewably drives a stake through the heart of waste and makes sure we do too.

Geoff the Inkslinger and his Dog

The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!