Little kids running in Halloween costumes

However conscientious you are in daily life, holidays have a way of getting out of hand. Even a minor holiday like Halloween can mean big waste — candy wrappers, cheap disposable decorations, and costumes that get worn once and thrown away. But a little creativity is all it takes to avoid a scary amount of waste on Halloween.

Consider the Source

Printed-plastic costumes are fortunately a thing of the past, but the ready-made costumes you buy at the drugstore are still an environmental failure. These are usually poorly made with inexpensive fabrics and won’t hold up to repeated wear. They also incorporate materials — like sequins, plastics, and feathers — that make them harder to recycle than most textiles. Costume rentals are a splurge but do provide high-quality costumes that will be used many times.

DIY for the Win

If you can sew, you can use remnant or eco-friendly fabric to guarantee that your costume is sturdily made from recyclable fabrics. But you don’t have to be a textile master to make your own costume. Scrounging a costume from existing materials is the least resource-intensive, and the most fun, way to make a costume.

You might be surprised what you can create from items in your closet. After all, everyone except Lady Godiva wears clothes. A long-sleeved T-shirt can be a ninja mask. Become a fortuneteller by adding a headscarf and big earrings to a boho dress; skinny jeans with the same headscarf and one earring make a pirate.

Thrift stores are perfect for sourcing iconic accessories to turn outfits into costumes. A red hat turns your interview suit into Carmen San Diego or Agent Carter; a black one turns black jeans and a black button-down into Johnny Cash. After Halloween, these new purchases may become part of your wardrobe, find year-round use as a child’s play clothes, or go back to the thrift store.

Prop Carefully

Props like plastic tridents and swords are destined for the landfill, while makeup can say “vampire” as effectively as plastic teeth, without the hygiene issues. If a prop is indispensable, try to use biodegradable and recyclable materials rather than plastic. Recyclable cardboard and construction paper can make everything from turtle shells to the Handmaid’s hat.

Save for Next Year

Some adults enjoy wearing a signature Halloween costume every year. Many items like hats, wigs, and wings can be incorporated into a variety of costumes. You can expand your choices and give new life to old costumes by organizing a costume swap.

Safety First

Don’t let creativity trump safety for kids’ costumes. Use nontoxic makeup (be sure to allergy test) instead of masks. As The Incredibles’ Edna Mode warned, “No capes!” Costumes should not create a tripping or choking hazard. Costume fires are rare, but not unheard of: Look for flame-resistant fabrics. The biggest danger to children on Halloween is being hit by a car — make brightly colored costumes, add reflective strips or glow jewelry, and send trick-or-treaters out with flashlights.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on October 12, 2018.

By Gemma Alexander

Gemma Alexander has an M.S. in urban horticulture and a backyard filled with native plants. After working in a genetics laboratory and at a landfill, she now writes about the environment, the arts and family. See more of her writing here.