Friday, September 2, 2011

An Eco-friendly Halloween: Green Costume Ideas

No offense to Kermit, Shrek, the Geico gecko, Slimer (remember him?) or the Jolly Green Giant, but they're not exactly what I have in mind when I say "Green Costume Ideas." (Though I'm sure if you're creative enough you could come up with eco-friendly versions of all of those!)

If you're a Halloween nut like I am, you probably started thinking about your child's costume, or your costume, no less than a month ago. If you're not such a Halloween nut, you still may have started thinking about it recently, since the holiday/seasonal marketing campaigns seem to begin earlier every year, and I have definitely seen the topic discussed already among some of my Facebook mama friends. Halloween can be a wonderfully exciting time for your child and for you, but when you consider just how much waste is produced - and, oftentimes, immediately discarded or hoarded away to take up space in a closet somewhere - you might start to feel a bit less excited!

Never fear! There are greener solutions for almost everything, even Halloween. Here are a few greener costume tips to help set your eco-conscience at ease:

1) Reuse a costume. I'm listing this one first because it is definitely the most eco-friendly solution! No more waste will be produced when you reuse one of your own old costumes or someone else's. If you use one of your own, you can always put a new spin on it: if you or your child were a fairy last year, you could be a ghost fairy, or vampire fairy, or a fairy dentist this year. Use your imagination! That's what the day is all about, isn't it? (At least, that's what it's all about these days!) Good places to look for used (and cheap or free) costumes that are still new to you are Freecycle.org and Craigslist. You can probably also find some on ebay or other online marketplaces, but keep in mind there would be packing materials and fuel involved in the shipping process, making this option somewhat less green.

2) Make your own costume. The most eco-friendly way to do this is by using materials you already have or can obtain used (which would make this option just as green as option 1). Old clothes - such as ripped jeans, flannel shirts, pajamas, and old evening gowns - can be transformed into a number of different costumes, like scarecrows, farmers, mummies, prison inmates, princesses and beauty queens. Unearth your favorite old tie-dye shirt and be a hippie for a night (not a big stretch for some of us). Old boxes can transform your child into a TV set, a giant cereal box, a wall socket, even a Lego...the possibilities are endless. If you sew, you might want to try something more fancy or elaborate, or a character not easily made from items you already have...in this case, you could consider buying organic or fairly traded fabrics, or just avoid polyester (plastic) blends. Even if you just buy any old fabric from the local craft store, there's still quite a bit less production waste involved than in buying a costume off the rack from Target, Walmart or a major online retailer!

3. Buy WAHM-made. Don't think you're crafty enough to make something, or just don't have the time? There are plenty of WAHMs and other crafty people with Etsy shops, or even local shops, selling handmade costumes for kids, and even some for adults (though adult costumes can definitely be on the pricier side). Some Etsy sellers are even willing to reuse packing materials and ship via USPS if you ask nicely (and some already do without needing to be asked). If you need it in a hurry via UPS or FedEx, you could have it shipped to your workplace or your husband's workplace or someplace where UPS and FedEx already make daily visits anyway.

Jem in his very first Halloween costume, Dopey, made by  Leaping Lizzie of Etsy
4. Buy a costume from an eco-conscious costume company: ecofabulous has some great suggestions for these!

5. Buy a costume you can reuse for other occasions. If your little girl wants to be a princess and you have absolutely nothing you could use, resist the urge to head to the Disney store: maybe it's time to invest in a nice fancy dress she can wear for Christmas, church, weddings, whatever. You don't have to spend a fortune on this, my mother has a knack for finding really great deals on fancy children's clothes at Kohl's and Target, and I've seen gorgeous clothes in great condition at consignment shops. It doesn't hurt to buy a size larger than her current size so that she'll still be able to wear it several months down the road (honestly, who cares if a child's clothes are a bit on the baggy side?) If she MUST have that costume she saw on the rack at Disney and you're out of the energy and willpower to say no, make sure she will keep using it as a dressup costume, and that she knows once she grows out of it that it will be going to another child who can use it!

Which brings me to...

What do you do with the costume after Halloween is over?

Obviously, this depends on the costume. Random pieces of clothing or household items you threw together can be returned to normal use. Store-bought or good quality handmade costumes can be sold or donated if they're not being used for dressup. Keeping a costume stashed way for nostalgic purposes really just takes up space when it could be going to good use elsewhere! And honestly, how often do you take them out just to gaze at them? My advice: take pictures. The memory of your little one or yourself in that awesome costume will be much better preserved that way anyway. If you have, or plan to have, more children who could reuse the costume down the road, by all means store it for them, but once they're done with it pass it on to someone else!

I personally have been a variety of different fairy tale princesses for Halloween in the past several years. This was actually for business purposes: I used to entertain at kids' parties on weekends, dressing up like fairy tale princesses (Cinderella, the Little Mermaid, Tinker Bell, Snow White, etc), leading sing-a-longs and games and painting faces. So every Halloween I'd buy a new costume and then use it for my parties. It was a fun and not entirely difficult way to make some extra cash, and definitely put those costumes to good use! They have all been stored in the back of my closet lately, since I intended to get back into the party business this year. That hasn't happened yet. So I figure I'll give myself one more year to get back into it, and if I don't then all of those costumes will go to someone else who can use them!

The Royal Family: Mommy in her reusable, machine washable  Snow White costume from My Dress Up Trunk (boy do I look tired here...dealing with a feisty 6 month old will do that!), Daddy in his homemade Prince costume (a cut-up old Snuggie, a bedsheet, and a belt...he's a good sport) and the littlest dwarf.
My last bit of advice is regarding cheap plastic Halloween costumes. You know, the kind they sometimes sell at CVS and Walmart? If you do nothing else to green your Halloween, I urge you to avoid these costumes. First of all, many of them are so cheaply made that they are destined to tear or break before Halloween is even over (or started), meaning they can't be sold or donated and will just end up in a landfill (I think we had maybe one or two of these when we were kids and I don't think they ever even got touched in the dressup box before they got thrown away). Also, many of them are made of off-gassing plastics like PVC that contain harmful phthalates (softeners), which, if inhaled, can contribute to asthma and other respiratory problems. PVC has also been implicated in disorders like ADHD, and recurring symptoms such as headaches and nausea. A good tip: if the costume smells like a new shower curtain or beach ball (which also generally contain PVC), do not buy it!

Trick or Treat! Let's see, here's a candy bar for the TinMan and a migraine for Dorothy! Phthalates and wheezing and chest pain, oh my!


I'll have more Halloween eco-tips in the coming week, so stay tuned! Happy planning! :-)

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