In the good ol' days, Halloween smelled of fall leaves, juicy apples and melted chocolate candy-and I was the cute little trick-or-treater. My mom, who is by no means a Martha Stewart kind of mom, made my most memorable costume: a raccoon. My face was painted with a button nose and whiskers. I wore an old fur hat on my head and a brown towel as a poncho. My tail was made of pantyhose that was stuffed with newspaper and wrapped in black tape. It swung behind me as I walked.
Now, thanks to the booming costume industry, Halloween has lost some of its creativity, most of its eco-friendliness and... it smells like plastic.
What's an eco-conscious parent to do?
- Make your own costume.
Raid the recycling bin. Yogurt containers could be robot buttons. Toilet paper tubes could be Frankenstein plugs or a spyglass for a pirate. If you have a big cardboard box, you're definitely in business. Cut head and armholes in the box and paint it like your favorite cereal box. Turn the box into a car so your child can dress as their favorite NASCAR driver-or paint it brown to turn it into a UPS truck.
If you plan to sew your child's costume, use fabric scraps or choose eco-friendly fabrics like organic cotton, wool or bamboo. And if your child's costume calls for a little face paint, make your own using cornstarch, water, cold cream and food coloring-it's cheaper and non-toxic.
- Score a new-to-you costume.
Most kids don't want to wear the same costume they wore last year, but most parents don't want to buy a new costume every year. Make the kids and parents happy by hosting a family-friendly costume swap. Who knows, you may start a new neighborhood tradition.
If hosting a swap isn't your style — or if your friends have horrible taste — check out your local freecycle or craigslist. Scour your local thrift stores for costumes and non-costumes alike. A piece that makes a statement or reminds you of a certain era (i.e. disco) can inspire a fabulous idea.
- Buy an eco-friendly costume.Pre-made eco-friendly costumes do exist, but they're a lot harder to find than a costume-in-a-bag. Harrisons Halloween has costumes made of 100 percent cotton and even a few that are made with organic cotton. Costumes made by Sarah's Silks, are made of silk-a renewable and biodegradable material. If you're willing to spend a bit ($50 and up), check out these adorable Tom Arma animal costumes. The company purchases Green-e certified renewable energy certificates to offset all of the electricity used to make their furry friends. And, each costume comes with educational information from the National Wildlife Federation.
- Don't stress. Remember, Halloween is supposed to be fun. If you're too busy to swap costumes and comb the thrift stores and if you're absolutely convinced that you're not creative enough to make a costume, rent one. Find a local costume rental shop-they tend to pop up all over the place as Halloween nears-or find an online costume rental service.
- Raid your own closet. Finally, the easiest, cheapest and perhaps eco-friendliest way to find a Halloween costume! With enough duds from the ‘70s, you could create a hippie costume. Classic ‘80s gear could produce a stylish punk rocker. How ‘bout a Jazzerciser? All you need is a bathing suit, tights, leg warmers and a skinny belt. A bandana, hoop earrings, cut-off shorts and a ruffled shirt would make a great pirate. Sports fans, if you're really coming down to the wire, be a professional athlete. Toss on a Tom Brady jersey, grab a football and voila, you're an NFL quarterback.