Every year the UK celebrates Halloween more and more. What was once seen as an eccentric holiday that our cousins across the pond enjoyed is now becoming much more commonplace in the UK, with the country embracing costume parties, tacky decorations and an abundance of candy. In 2017, Channel Mum found that 84% of families planned to celebrate Halloween, with 94% planning on buying outfits; this includes a 12% increase from the 82% survey in 2016.
This isn’t the only survey that’s seen Halloween’s popularity explode either, as Hubbub, an environmental organization, carried out a survey that found 33 million people dressed up for Halloween in 2017, and in households with children, the proportion with at least one person dressing up rose to 79%. This means that just by looking at one element of Halloween, the costumes, we’re seeing an incredible increase in potential plastic pollution.
Taking other aspects of Halloween out of the picture, such as the many one-off plastic decorations and the various forms of packaging for Halloween based products, still leaves plenty of plastic pollution. Halloween costumes have often been found to be mostly, if not entirely made of plastic materials, including polyester, nylon and elastane. A study conducted in 2017 by Fairyland Trust, a charity that helps promote environmentally friendly ideology for your children, dove deep into many of the Halloween costumes & clothing sold by major retailers, including Amazon, ASOS & Top Shop, and found that approximately 90% of them were made of synthetic materials.
WRAP, the waste agency charity dedicated to a circular economy & resource efficiency, discovered in 2014 that approximately half of the new clothing bought in the UK contained synthetic fibers in lieu of natural fibers, which means they aren’t biodegradable. More worrying still, the industrial group, Textile Exchange, found that 64% of global textile production was plastic. With the entire industry adhering to polyester as a primary material, Halloween costumes & clothing will, instead of being recycled (or being able to be recycled), will simply fill up the likes of landfills for years to come.
The massive increase in popularity surrounding Halloween naturally means more Halloween costumes will be produced and sold, which may not sound like too much of an issue until you start to think about the ultimate fate of these products.
The North London Waste Authority discovered that, on average, seven million costumes are thrown away every year, and Channel Mum’s study calculated that out of the 33 million people buying Halloween costumes only 4 out of 10 of them will be worn once. This study shows that even the seemingly high average count from the NLWA study may be too low and that the reality may be twice as severe; with estimates suggesting over 13 million costumes being thrown out after being worn once.
This results in a huge amount of plastic pollution, granting Halloween an unexpectedly sinister edge and providing the world with something much scarier than mere ghosts & goblins. Halloween costumes go hand in hand with decorations & displays, many of which can be used for a lifetime (such as those bizarre pumpkin ghost figures you’ll find in any pound shop) but even with a lifetime’s worth of use the product itself will remain for generations.
Halloween Costumes & Fast Fashion
Of course, Halloween costumes creating plastic pollution is merely a symptom of the growing problem that is fast fashion; the clothing phenomenon that can be found on every high street. The likes of Primark (who will also produce a high amount of Halloween orientated clothing and even costumes) create an incredibly high amount of clothing that mostly, if not entirely, use synthetic and unrecyclable materials.
The sheer quantity of these clothes adds even more to the growing mound of plastic pollution. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee discovered that, compared to the rest of Europe, Britain buy much more fast fashion per head. Their findings showed that on average a British citizen consumes 26.7kg of fast fashion every year, and with a population of 66.04 million this means that Britain alone consumes almost two million tonnes of clothing that contain synthetic fibers and thus are much more difficult to recycle.
This large influx of cheaper clothing, some of which is often seen as ‘one-usage’, means that landfills will face more and more garbage and thus cost the UK more and more. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee revealed that it costs £82million a year to dispose of clothing alone in landfills.
For comparison, the lowest consumer rate in Europe is Sweden, at 12.6kg per head, and the second-largest consumer in Europe is still 10kg less, with Germany having an average of 16.7kg of fast fashion per head. Germany’s consumer rate should be alarming to us Brits, as even with a population count of over 15 million more than our own, they still consume approximately 300 million tonnes less than we do.
How to Prevent Plastic Pollution with Halloween Costumes
At the end of the day, there’s still hope for reducing these drastically high numbers. Simple solutions can be utilised to combat plastic pollution with Halloween costumes, Halloween decorations and even the growing problem of fast fashion as a whole.
- Reuse & Hire Costumes:
It sounds like an obvious solution, but many people will often forget about Halloween right up until the last minute and simply jump onto Amazon or rush out to the stores to grab a costume they’ll only wear that one time.By preparing a little ahead, organising a costume hire, or simply reusing an old costume you have lying around (even jazzing it up with a fresh take, or simply going with the joke of ‘being too lazy to find another one’) can serve as a fantastic alternative to grabbing another, easily disposable costume.This solution also applies to decorations. If you simply have to have Halloween decorations around the house, or outside on the porch, then nothing’s stopping you from reusing the same ones for years. The only perishable decoration is a pumpkin, and even that can be recycled for mulch or fertiliser.
- Make Your Own Costumes/Decorations:
Another simple solution, and one that often rewards creativity. Anyone can dress up as Batman, or a Sexy Nurse (or Sexy Batman) but showing off your creativity and sense of humour (or your skills as a makeup artist/costume designer for ‘serious’ costumes) will surely go down much better at parties.Think about inside jokes with your friends, aim to recreate favourite celebrity looks; just have fun with it! As long as you don’t go for the old ‘dressed up as myself’ bit you should be fine. This approach also helps kill two birds with one stone, as if you have any clothes you want to throw out or any old costumes, you can simply incorporate them into your DIY costume/decorations.Have an old, moth-eaten sweater? Now you’ve got the basis for a Freddy Kruger costume. How about an old spooky skeleton costume? Fill it up with balloons as a skeleton decoration. The only real limits are your creativity and the time you want to put into them.
- Recycle & Donate Your Clothes:
Another incredibly simple solution; charity shops across the country will, more often than not, gladly take any and all clean clothes you have. A backlog of costumes would also go down a treat before Halloween, and even if you have a one-off costume you can simply donate it after Halloween and charity shops will have something ready for next year.
Have any thoughts of your own about how to best use old Halloween costumes? Have you had success with some good old fashioned DIY costumes as opposed to store-bought? Let us know via Facebook or Twitter!