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FEATURE ARTICLE - September/October 2012

Green Your Halloween

When Corey Colwell-Lipson took her two daughters trick-or-treating in 2006 in her home city of Bellevue, WA, she noticed that the girls were excited whenever they had an opportunity to collect treats that weren’t conventional candy. As her girls chose bubbles and stickers over Hershey bars, Colwell-Lipson saw a window of opportunity to revolutionize a consumer-driven holiday.
Herbal Tea

From the doctor’s office to birthday parties, “children are overexposed to candy,” Colwell-Lipson says. She wondered how she could “help health-centered and eco-centered moms celebrate the holiday with the traditions that their family loved—but with an eco-friendly twist.”

That was the beginning of Colwell- Lipson’s quest to “green” Halloween. She approached like-minded parents and grassroots organizations in her area with the idea of holding a Green Halloween community event, and it met an outpouring of interest. Today, Green Halloween® has evolved into a national movement, which has expanded to address all aspects of the holiday—from helping families find nontoxic face paint, to facilitating costume swaps to promote reuse, to encouraging people to buy Fair Trade and organic candy from green companies.

“Last year was our fifth year, and we reached about 1 million people at events across the country,” Colwell-Lipson says. After spearheading the Green Halloween movement for five years with her mom, Lynn, Colwell-Lipson reached out to Green America for support. Green America adopted the initiative this year to help the program reach more people.

“Green America has a national network and a reputation for helping people go green,” says Elizabeth O’Connell, Green America’s Fair Trade coordinator. “Our involvement will help to grow Green Halloween and involve more families.”

The Candy Problem
Colwell-Lipson started Green Halloween in part because of what she calls “the health epidemic and declining well-being of our children” caused by poor eating habits. One out of every three children is overweight, and the same number is expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This Halloween, Colwell-Lipson encourages families to give out healthier treats and non-food “treasures” to trick-or-treaters.

Ideally, she says, treasures are recycled, natural, or sustainably sourced and will be “treasured” long after kids’ Halloween candy is gone.

Whenever Colwell-Lipson attends Green Halloween events, she brings a poster board about alternatives to candy, from polished stones and seashells to temporary tattoos and friendship bracelets—with surprising results.

“We were floored—absolutely shocked—that first season when at these events thousands and thousands of kids came by and not one single child of any age, toddler to teen, said that they would rather have candy when they saw the alternatives. Not one,” Colwell-Lipson says. “What was interesting was that it was the parents who had the harder time making the leap.”

For those who want to give out more traditional treats, there are many organic and all natural options—from organic and Fair Trade chocolate to sustainable chewing gum. If you’re buying chocolate, it’s particularly important to choose Fair Trade chocolate, as many conventional chocolate companies have ties to child labor.

People may think they can’t afford organic treats on Halloween, but the sixbillion-dollar-a-year holiday leaves room to cut back. Families can save by giving out one or two healthy treats instead of handfuls of candy, Colwell-Lipson says.

“When I was a child, I received one piece of candy at every house. We’ve not only supersized our fast food, our homes, and our cars, but we’ve also supersized our holiday traditions,” she says. “What this means is that people are actually spending more money, they are generating more waste, and children are consuming even more chemical-laden conventional candy.”

Swap Those Costumes
The US Census Bureau estimates that 41 million children go trick-or-treating nationwide, meaning that families purchase, make, swap, or reuse millions of costumes before October 31st each year. Green Halloween has spearheaded National Costume Swap Day since 2010 to encourage families to trade costumes rather than purchase new ones, cutting back on waste and reducing the use of resources, transportation, and packaging.

Volunteers organized more than 200 swaps in the United States and Canada last year and 70 swaps in 2010, when Good Morning America featured Costume Swap Day on its morning program.

The National Costume Swap Day website is a registry where anyone can register a swap. This year’s Costume Swap will take place on Saturday, October 13th, across the country. To find an event near you or to get the word out if you choose to host one, visit

“Swapping costumes is easy, it’s fun, and it saves money,” Colwell-Lipson says. The average US consumer planned to spend over 40 dollars on costumes last year, according to the National Retail Federation. Families can also promote reuse and save money by making costumes by hand from items you have at home.

Nontoxic Face Paint
A 2009 study by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that ten out of ten children’s face paints tested contained at least trace levels of lead. Exposure
to lead is unsafe at any level, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children exposed to lead can later develop hyperactivity and aggression and are at risk for fertility problems, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.

In the same study, six out of the ten products also contained at least one of the toxic heavy metals nickel, cobalt, and chromium in quantities much greater than the levels that scientists recommend. Exposure to these heavy metals has been linked to cancer.

When dressing up ghouls and goblins on Halloween, moms and dads can either make or purchase healthier face paints.

Terra Firma Cosmetics offers natural, lead-free face paint in both a Halloween set and in individual colors. Pink Quartz Minerals, featured on, has handmade, vegan face paint made from mineral ingredients. Parents can also buy brightly colored
lipstick and dramatic eye pencils from natural cosmetics companies, like Aveda or Zosimos Botanicals, which can later be used as day-to-day makeup in addition to face paint.

A more frugal option is to create homemade face paint from food-grade ingredients (find tips below).

Hold a Community Event
From its community origins in Seattle, WA, Green Halloween grew into a nationwide phenomenon through community events. At more than 50 locations last year, Green Halloween community events attracted anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of participants. So far, communities across the country, from New York City to Seattle, have planned green, public events for this year’s Halloween season. Activities range from arts and crafts to hayrides and performances.

In Issaquah, WA, each year, thousands of kids enjoy a haunted house, carnival games and rides, and theater performances at the Green Halloween Festival, while others walk a Trick-or-Treat trail organized by local businesses, and adults run the Pumpkin Push 5K race to provide support for Seattle’s homeless.

Over 5,000 people participate in the World Financial Center’s annual Screamin’ Green Halloween in New York City, where kids swap costumes and recycle materials to make masks and costumes, compete for prizes, and watch parades full of witches, ghosts, and goblins.

“One of my favorite activities was making costumes and décor from repurposed household objects,” says Debra Simon, who helps organize the New York event. “We do this activity hoping that it will inspire families to go home and see what they have in their houses andto repurpose something wonderful and creative.”

In addition, over 100 zoos and aquariums across the US have expressed interest in holding Green Halloween events this year.

Green Halloween provides a 60-page volunteer coordinator guidebook with all of the how-to information you need to plan your own green trick-or-treat trail or Green Halloween community event. If you plan a public Green Halloween event for 250 people or more, you’ll also get free product donations from Green Halloween sponsoring companies and a larger “official event” listing on the Green Halloween website. To find Green Halloween events in your area—or to register a new event,
small or large—visit Green Halloween.

“I think it’s such a family- and child-centered holiday that it’s an opportunity to engage children at a young age—and families—about what it means to care about sustainability, our environment, and how they can actually do that in their own lives,” says Simon.

Nina Ford


Green Halloween Resources is the go-to resource to green your Halloween. The Web site includes a guide to hosting your own Green Halloween party, toolkits for holding a community event or Costume Swap, treat and treasure ideas for trick-or-treaters, homemade costume hints, DIY face paint instructions, arts and crafts ideas, energy conservation tips, downloadable posters, kids’ activities, and more!

Bite-sized Chocolates
These sustainably sourced chocolate companies offer mini pieces perfect for trick-ortreaters, using all-natural, Fair Trade, and/or organic ingredients:

Alter-Eco Chocolate Minis:
Coco-Zen Chocolate Squares:
Divine Chocolate Medallions:
Endangered Species Chocolate Organic Bites:
Equal Exchange Organic Chocolate Minis:
Unreal Candy:

Healthier Treats
Cascadian Farm Chewy Granola Bars: Organic bars.
Glee Gum: All-natural, Fair Trade chewing gum.
Honest Tea Honest Kids Juice Pouches: Organic fruit juice.
Larabar Mini Multipack: Kid-sized fruit and nut bars.
Plum Organics Kids Yo’ Drops: “Crunchable” fruit and yogurt drops.
Surf Sweets: Organic gummy bears and jelly beans.

Bedrock Industries: Recycled “sea” glass.
Crayon Rocks: US-made, soy-based, rock-shaped crayons.
Greenline Paper Company: Pencils made from recycled money or cast-off blue jeans.
Naturally Playful: Nontoxic colored highlighter pencils.
Education and More: Fair Trade friendship bracelets.

Nontoxic Face Paint
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: Recipes for homemade face paint.
Green Halloween DIY face paint video:
Terra Firma Cosmetics: All-natural face paint.

Other Items
ChicoBag Company: Reusable, collapsible
Halloween-themed trick-or-treat bags.
Sarah’s Silks: Handmade, eco-friendly silk cloths in a variety of colors, easily transformed into capes, skirts, belts, and robes.

More green-living articles from the Green American »

Article Summary

Green your Halloween!

Save money and resources, and build community with Green Halloween events.

Halloweeen is a $6-billion-a-year industry in the US. By making green choices, you help support green businesses, a clean environment, and social justice for workers.

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