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A green Halloween

The only thing scarier than ghosts is landfills overflowing with holiday waste

It's no secret that Halloween is a big deal in the United States. According to the National Retail Federation, it is the second-biggest decorating holiday of the year (after Christmas), and Halloween-related spending is expected to increase from 2005 to 2006 by more than $1.5 billion.

The costumes, pumpkins and candy can leave an orange and black heap of garbage at the curb Nov. 1, but with a few tweaks to tradition, it's possible to have a more environmentally friendly All Hallows Eve.

COSTUMES

As Halloween continues to grow in popularity, so do costumes. The National Retail Federation reported in 2005 that more than half of American consumers plan to buy a costume for Halloween, and will spend an average of $31.88 on that purchase. More zealous revelers could spend more than $100 on a more elaborate costume.

But what happens to that costume the rest of the year? It sits in the closet, and since it's never cool to wear the same costume twice, it usually ends up in the garbage or at a garage sale.

It's still possible to have a stylin' costume without shelling out a lot of cash or cluttering up the closet.

Thrift stores such as Goodwill, Value Village or St. Vincent dePaul are inexpensive treasure troves of fun and funky costumes.

Buy some baggy overalls and other farm attire, and then stuff the shirt and pants with plastic grocery bags and a little straw to become a scarecrow. The grocery bags may be recycled at a supermarket later. From old wedding dresses to legwarmers to trenchcoats, there's plenty of low-cost inspiration available. If necessary, visit several different thrift stores to find all the pieces of an unforgettable costume.

Once Halloween has come to an end, there's no need to clutter the closet or the dumpster with a thrift store costume; just donate it right back to its store of origin. Can't get much more sustainable than that.

Some fashion inspiration: Robin's FYI, www.robinsfyi.com/holidays/halloween/costumes.htm; eHow.com, www.ehow.com/how_1571_create-costume-thrift.html; About.com, familycrafts.about.com/od/thriftstorecostume/index.htm.

PUMPKINS

Like costumes, jack-o'-lanterns quickly fall out of favor after Oct. 31. In many cases the hollowed-out pumpkins have formed a fuzzy white coating of mold on its interior, and its carvers hope they can throw it in the dumpster before it liquefies into an orange, gooey mess on the front porch.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that American pumpkin growers produced 998 million pounds of pumpkins in 2004. That's a lot of heavy, orange goo being carted off to the landfill.

Instead of discarding the festive gourd sculpture, the end of Halloween is a great opportunity for people to start a compost pile. Compost piles - which produce nutrient-rich, chemical-free soils for gardens - require equal parts 'brown' materials such as dry leaves, yard debris and sawdust, and 'green' materials like green leaves, vegetable waste from the kitchen and-yes-pumpkins. The hollowed-out jack-o'-lantern and its insides may all be put into compost.

Learn more about composting: www.ehow.com/how_137794_set-compost-system.html; www.howtocompost.org; www.compostguide.com.

Long before the mold grows on the gourd, it's possible to make the most of your pumpkin by using it in the kitchen. Baked pumpkin seeds make a great snack, and the 'guts' can be used for pumpkin pie or soup.

The Internet is a treasure trove of pumpkin recipes. Here are a few Web sites to get cookin': www.pumpkinnook.com/cookbook.htm; www.pumpkin-patch.com/recipes_main.html; www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/pumpkins/recipes.html.

CANDY

With about 36 million potential 'trick-or-treaters' taking to the streets Halloween night, there's going to be a lot of candy consumed. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans consumed 25 pounds of candy in 2004 - a large portion of which is believed to be consumed by children around Halloween.

Most of the candy that will be handed out from the porches of America will be 'fun size,' individually wrapped candies. It doesn't take a lot of math to realize that after the stomachs of America's children are filled, so will the garbage cans - with the wrappers of hundreds of millions of candies.

Safety-conscious parents probably won't accept unwrapped candies from complete strangers, so why not keep trash out of the landfills by handing out pencils, dimes or other items that won't create any waste?

For the Halloween party host or the office employee with the much-adored candy dish, there are more sustainable choices out there than the standard Nestle or Hershey varieties.

Organic chocolate is made from cocoa grown in its natural rainforest habitat without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers - good for body and earth.

The Candy Basket (1924 N.E. 181st Ave., Portland) offers several varieties of organic chocolates for a limited time, at the slightly spendy price of 99 cents per piece of unwrapped chocolate. The pieces are 2-inches in diameter and come in standard chocolate flavor, peanut butter, spirulina (freshwater algae, reportedly a 'must' for organic consumers) and almond. Call 503-666-2000 to learn more.

For next year, remember these other companies that sell organic sweets: Dagoba certified organic chocolate company in Ashland, www.dagobachocolate.com. Edward and Sons, Inc. of Carpinteria, Calif., www.edwardandsons.com/let_do_organic.html.