5 Ways to Green Your Halloween
By Clara Chaisson
If you're into the spooky side of Halloween, there are plenty of fun ways to get your fear fix—going to a haunted house, slathering on fake blood or taking in the latest horror flick. But not even the most adventurous fright fans want to be scared about their family's health or the planet's come Oct. 31. That's not fun-scary, that's just plain old scary.
Unfortunately, there are some threats to look out for. Halloween has become a major consumerist holiday, with the average American expected to spend about $87 on it this year, adding up to a whopping $9 billion nationwide, according to the National Retail Federation. All that spending increases the likelihood of cheap items—costumes, candy, decorations and party supplies—winding up in our landfills come November. And they're not just bad for the Earth. Readily available store-bought costumes and accessories can also contain dangerous ingredients.
Here's how to avoid getting tricked by damaging products and instead treat your family to a safe, creative and festive holiday.
1. Decorate with recyclables and spooky snacks.
NRDC's senior resource specialist, Darby Hoover, offers this pithy principle to help guide your Halloween decor selections: "Don't buy more stuff if you can help it; don't throw away more stuff if you can help it."
That doesn't mean you can't have the faux-graveyard lawn you've always wanted or the spider-infested window display of your dreams; it just means getting a little more creative. Plan a family craft night to make your own decorations. Use old cardboard boxes as bases for DIY tombstones; transform pipe cleaners into creepy crawlies.
If you absolutely need to buy something, opt for sturdy items you'll reuse year after year. If you're hosting a Halloween party, consider serving festive treats that do double duty as decorations. Pass the witch finger cookies, please!
2. Embrace the pumpkin spice of life.
Don't get too excited—pumpkin-spice lattes aren't going to save the world anytime soon. But if you plan to carve jack-o'-lanterns, adding a little pumpkin to your diet can be a good thing.
The U.S. produces about 1.4 billion pounds of pumpkins every year, many of which end up in the trash. Pumpkin chucking is part of the much larger problem of food waste in our country, where 40 percent of all food gets tossed.
The pumpkins we display in our windows and on our front stoops are edible; you can use the flesh in soups or pies or toss it into pasta with sage. Big, decorative pumpkins tend to be stringier and less flavorful than the smaller "sugar pumpkins" (though both are perfectly safe to consume), so factor this into your choice at the farm stand or supermarket. And the seeds from any size of jack-o'-lantern make a delicious snack when roasted.
Once your pumpkin is ready for retirement, compost it if you can (chop it into smaller pieces first). If you don't have your own bin or access to a curbside composting program, check to see if your community offers a compost drop-off site.
3. Stay away from toxic face paint.
It's reasonable to assume that there's no harm in a little Halloween makeup. But that's not always the case. "Cosmetics are one of the least regulated consumer products on the market today," wrote the authors of the aptly named Pretty Scary 2 report, produced by the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners. The group's Campaign for Safe Cosmetics enumerates the toxic chemicals lurking in face paint and makeup marketed to children at Halloween. Chemical safety laws are woefully outdated and contain loopholes that allow harmful ingredients to persist in our personal care products, often unlabeled.
But some are printed right on the bottles and tubes; in fact, just by reading the labels of children's cosmetics, the Pretty Scary team identified endocrine disruptors, chemicals linked to organ toxicity, and ingredients that can be contaminated by carcinogens. (One major ingredient to watch out for is fragrance, which typically contains a class of hormone-disrupting chemicals called phthalates. Another is anything ending in "paraben"—such as ethylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, isopropylparaben, butylparaben and isobutyl paraben—a group of antimicrobials that mimic estrogen and have been found in tumors.) The researchers also sent 48 Halloween face paints for laboratory testing and found that almost half contained trace amounts of at least one heavy metal like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead or mercury; some contained as many as four.
"Children can be especially harmed by the toxic chemicals in Halloween products," said NRDC senior scientist Jennifer Sass. "They are more likely than adults to put their fingers in their mouths and end up consuming face paints, etc., and their developing bodies are much more vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead, mercury, and other poisons." Consulting apps like Think Dirty, Healthy Living and the Good Guide—or skipping the makeup aisle altogether—can help you avoid these risks.
4. With costumes, think outside the box.
Homemade costumes are guaranteed to be more unique than their store-bought counterparts—and, of course, they're budget friendly. There are other reasons to steer clear of packaged costumes: Toxic chemicals can be hiding in those, too. Many store-bought costumes and masks are made of PVC or vinyl, which can leach phthalates.
You can assemble a getup from items you already have around the house—just remember to choose materials like fabric and cardboard instead of plastics. If you're not the crafty type, visit a thrift shop or arrange a swap with friends.
But note this caveat from Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a nonprofit that works to protect the public from toxic chemicals: Metal costume jewelry is also a no-no. Toxic metals like lead and cadmium can be in those trinkets, making an accidental ingestion a very serious risk.
5. Serve (and stash) treats responsibly.
All those individually wrapped pieces of candy add up to a lot of pollution when the night is done, contributing to the millions of tons of debris floating around in our oceans. If you're hosting a party, consider buying treats in bulk instead of in the "fun-size" category. Serve bulk candy in a punch bowl with a ladle and provide your guests with reusable cups.
Candy wrappers are inevitable, though, since most parents advise their trick-or-treaters not to accept anything that's not commercially wrapped. A good option for dealing with candy packaging is to band together with neighbors or work with school groups to recycle en masse. TerraCycle, a private company based in New Jersey, specializes in hard-to-recycle items and offers a collection box for candy and snack wrappers that can be shipped back to TerraCycle for free. Another option is to forgo the sweet stuff altogether and hand out treats that need no packaging—think crayons, stickers, decorated sticky notes or pretty things found in nature, like seashells.
And avoid giving your tiny witches and ghosts single-use plastic bags to collect their goodies. Americans use more than 380 billion plastic bags each year, which collectively take 12 million barrels of oil to make. Hoover suggests going with a homemade or reusable option. If you're up for channeling your inner Martha Stewart, a DIY pillowcase bag can double as a spooky accessory to a costume. An added bonus to going the old pillowcase route, Hoover notes, is that, "the bigger the bag, the more candy you might be able to get into it anyway."
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The Washington Redskins will retire their controversial name and logo, the National Football League (NFL) team announced Monday.
By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
- New England Fishing Communities Being Destroyed by 'Climate ... ›
- Shrimp Fishing Banned in Gulf of Maine Due to Ocean Warming ... ›
- Atlantic Salmon Is All But Extinct as a Genetically Eroded Version of ... ›
A heat wave that set in over the South and Southwest left much of the U.S. blanketed in record-breaking triple digit temperatures over the weekend. The widespread and intense heat wave will last for weeks, making the magnitude and duration of its heat impressive, according to The Washington Post.
- Hot Weather and COVID-19: Added Threats of Reopening States in ... ›
- 50 Million Americans Are Currently Living Under Some Type of Heat ... ›
- Second Major Heat Wave This Summer Smashes Records Across ... ›
By Joni Sweet
If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
- Anti-Racism Protests Are Not Driving Coronavirus Spikes, Data ... ›
- Cell Phone Tracking Analysis Shows Where Florida Springbreakers ... ›
NASA scientists say that warmer than average surface sea temperatures in the North Atlantic raise the concern for a more active hurricane season, as well as for wildfires in the Amazon thousands of miles away, according to Newsweek.
By Andrea Germanos
Oxfam International warned Thursday that up to 12,000 people could die each day by the end of the year as a result of hunger linked to the coronavirus pandemic—a daily death toll surpassing the daily mortality rate from Covid-19 itself.
- These 6 Men Have as Much Wealth as Half the World's Population ... ›
- Climate Change Forces 20 Million People to Flee Each Year, Oxfam ... ›
By Jun N. Aguirre
An oil spill on July 3 threatens a mangrove forest on the Philippine island of Guimaras, an area only just recovering from the country's largest spill in 2006.
- 15,000 Gallon Oil Spill Threatens River and Drinking Water in Native ... ›
- Mysterious Oil Spill on Massachusetts' Charles River Spurs Major ... ›
- Disastrous Russian Oil Spill Reaches Pristine Arctic Lake - EcoWatch ›