Dear Umbra,

What do you recommend handing out to the trick-or-treaters this Halloween? I would like to avoid the wasteful packaging and additives found in store-bought goodies. I’d bake my own treats, but I doubt parents would let their kids eat anything that’s not individually sealed. How can I have an environmentally friendly Halloween?

Walla Walla, Wash.

Dearest Robin,

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We are on the cusp of a most intriguing holiday, so I’m happy to take a break from preparing my costume (can’t tell you what it is, you’ll just have to guess) to pipe up with some Hallo-green advice.

And don’t forget to compost your pumpkin.

Yes, I know there are those who regard this spook-filled night as the work of the devil, and it seems that the people who do participate increasingly end up trick-or-treating at a mall somewhere. But Halloween finds its true origins in the land, like so many of our holidays: it was originally a Celtic harvest festival, directly tied to agricultural practices and the changing of the seasons. Whatever your beliefs, I say it’s a chance to get out into the fresh autumn air, kick some leaves around, and become someone or something else for a few hours. We could all use a dose of that.

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I’m delighted to know that you still get little ghosts and goblins — or, I suppose, Potters and Idols — at your door. And it’s frightfully thoughtful of you to worry about packaging, not to mention your trick-or-treaters’ health. I do have a few ideas for you, and I hope readers will chime in with others in Gristmill.

The first idea is the worst, so let’s get it out of the way: you could turn off all your lights, sit inside in the dark, and bemoan the fate of the world as you listen to the far-off sound of laughter waft up to your windows. Tempting for some, maybe — and think of the energy you’d conserve — but I sense that you have more optimism and ambition than that. So let’s proceed.

If you’d like to stick with edible treats, there are several options to think about. You might buy fair-trade, organic chocolate or small boxes of organic raisins. Perhaps some cute little boxes of healthy cookies or crackers, or even packets of organic cocoa or all-natural juice boxes. Usually companies that make healthier food are also thoughtful about their choice of packaging materials. And while it’s possible that these goodies might not be a hit with the kids, I bet their parents will thank you.

Perhaps you’d rather avoid sweet treats altogether. Then you might consider handing out quarters, dimes, pennies, or even dollars — but be sure they’re not grungy, as you know how the current anti-bacterial fetish makes parents anxious. You could give out small, non-plastic toys. Or how about seed packets, which would pay tribute to the holiday’s history, and give kids and parents something to do together? Or maybe recyclable toothbrushes? They’d certainly come in handy.

If you have time (and maybe this is an idea to tuck away for next year), you could reuse paper to make coupon books full of small things that kids can do to help make this planet a better place, like turning off the water when they brush their teeth, or recycling pop cans. Here’s one more idea along the reuse lines: make a collection of things that you own and are ready to get rid of, like CDs, books, jewelry, trophies, trinkets, and the like. Put them in a treasure chest of your own devising and let the children choose one item each. Ooh, sparkly. Makes me wish I were a kid again.


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