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Let's make Halloween more sustainable!

How is Halloween bad for the environment, and what could be done to celebrate it more sustainably?
Green News
2023-08-03T00:00:00.000Z
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Halloween is swiftly becoming one of the most loved celebrations in the UK each year: as Brits of all ages adorn their homes, throw spooky soirées, take their children trick or treating, or don themed outfits for work or school. It's the season where pumpkins grace every high street, and shops like Tesco and Sainsbury's brim with witches' hats and spider cobwebs ready for purchase.

While Halloween has taken on a unique flair in the UK, many might not realise the considerable environmental toll this festive season can have.

👉 Why is Halloween detrimental to the environment, and how can the British adjust their Halloween traditions to be more eco-conscious?

What is Halloween?

Halloween, celebrated every October 31st, originally penned as, "All Hallow’s Eve” – is an old tradition that originated in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the north of France from an ancient tribe called, “The Celts”. 

Every Hallow’s Eve, the night before all Saint’s Day which is still celebrated in Europe to this day on November 1st, the Celts held a festival called Samhain – where they would light bonfires, wear costumes, and do all sorts of things out of the norm in attempts to scare of ghosts. The Celts believed that every year on the evening of October 31st, the living and dead were able to walk amongst the same realm of the world. November 1st was known as the new year to the Celtic region back then, therefore – the annual attempt to ward off ghosts or other supernatural spirits was also to ensure that the new year would be free of evil.

👉 Halloween traces its roots back to Europe, particularly the Celtic festival of Samhain. When early European settlers arrived in North America, Halloween was not widely celebrated. The first colonists, primarily of Protestant beliefs, were sceptical of festivities that involved evil spirits or ghosts.

Yet, as time passed, regions in the U.S., especially areas like the Mid-Atlantic and the South, began to embrace the holiday. This adoption was influenced by a melding of European Halloween traditions and customs from the Native Americans. Out of this cultural exchange emerged practices that modern Americans associate with Halloween: "play parties" where individuals would masquerade as someone or something else, events to celebrate the autumnal harvest – including the iconic pumpkin that symbolises Halloween today, the sharing of eerie tales, and even fortune-telling sessions.

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a lantern and some books

During the latter half of the 19th century, the U.S. saw an influx of immigrants, notably the Irish fleeing the devastating Potato Famine. These new settlers played a pivotal role in shaping the modern celebration of Halloween by popularising All Hallow's Eve traditions among the early colonisers. Over the years, customs like pumpkin carving, festive gatherings, dressing in costumes, and the practice of trick-or-treating became deeply embedded in the American Halloween tapestry.

With the onset of industrialisation, the U.S. experienced a surge in commercialism, influenced in part by retail powerhouses like Target. This evolution brought about the grand and commercialised Halloween celebrations we associate with the U.S. today.

While Halloween undoubtedly offers a lively and joyous occasion, its environmental impact is a concern that cannot be overlooked. As the UK begins to adopt these grander, more commercialised celebrations, it's imperative to reflect on the environmental cost and consider sustainable ways to revel in the festivities.

How do Brits celebrate Halloween?

Today, the British celebrate Halloween with various festivities, from intimate family gatherings to lively community parties. Dressing up in spooky or creative costumes is a popular tradition, as is trick-or-treating. Children in the UK venture around their neighbourhoods, knocking on doors with the playful chant of "trick or treat," eagerly awaiting sweets. This custom can be traced back to ancient Celtic practices intended to appease wandering spirits. In contemporary celebrations, the notion is that children, embodying these spirits, offer a harmless threat: provide sweets or face some mischievous antics.

👉 In the UK, Halloween has seen an increase in commercialisation. Many Brits now buy copious amounts of pre-wrapped sweets, Halloween-themed disposable tableware, pumpkins for carving, and an array of decorations for both inside and outside their homes. Many also purchase new costumes annually.

How are these evolving British Halloween traditions affecting our environment?

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Why is Halloween so bad for the environment?

Halloween is scary, but it’s even scarier for the environment. Even the classic symbol for Halloween, a carved pumpkin, is contributing to significant waste. In the UK alone, 18,000 tonnes of pumpkins produced will be tossed in the bin instead of being made into something useful such as soup or curry. This means that 60% of consumers who purchase a pumpkin for carving on Halloween don't do anything with the flesh.

👉 Compounding the issue, not only are pumpkins frequently wasted after use, but their cultivation also requires an exorbitant amount of water to grow in the first place – requiring an average of 2 to 4 mega litres (ML) of water per hectare during the growth period.

However, the most notable negative effect Halloween has on the environment is the excessive use of plastic throughout the holiday. Sweets, often bought in bulk in preparation for dozens of Halloween trick-or-treaters, are often bought in plastic packaging – with famous candies like Twix, Snickers, Milk Way, Starbursts, M&M’s, and Skittles being wrapped in single-use, individual plastic packaging. 

While this serves as a year-round plastic consumption problem for the UK, the truth is a large portion of these plastic-packaged sweets are purchased during Halloween in the UK.

Plastic is the main culprit behind the monstrous carbon footprint of Halloween as nearly everything used for Halloween is made out of plastic or uses plastic in some way – such as traditional packaged Halloween sweets, indoor and outdoor Halloween decorations, trick-or-treating buckets, and even the costumes purchased from retailers like Tesco, Sainsbury's and ASDA. 

👉 The issue with Halloween costumes primarily stems from their polyester composition. Being the world's most produced synthetic fibre, polyester significantly exacerbates textile waste. For context, a staggering 60.53 million metric tonnes of polyester was produced globally in 2021 alone, and Halloween further amplifies this number. Another chilling statistic to consider: fancy dress costumes often have short lifespans. While most are worn only twice, a shocking 2 in 5 are donned just once. This results in an estimated 7 million costumes being discarded annually in the UK, intensifying the environmental concern.

Synthetic fibres, such as polyester, pose environmental concerns not only due to their contribution to waste and potential to pollute our oceans, but also because they are derived from oil—a non-renewable resource.

Every year, our oceans are inundated with 500,000 tonnes of plastic fibres, an amount equivalent to a staggering 50 billion plastic bottles. Further highlighting the issue, a study by ADEME disclosed that 90% of microplastics discovered in Sweden's rivers can be traced back to synthetic fibres from textile garments. This includes the costumes crafted for Halloween, positioning these costumes as some of the most egregious culprits within the fast fashion industry.

Halloween's reach has now encompassed our pets. In 2021, Americans shelled out a staggering $500 million on Halloween costumes for their furry companions, while the British expenditure stood at £12 million. While the UK's spending is considerably less, the trend is unmistakably on the rise. Regrettably, many of these pet costumes see only a single use before being discarded. This trend amplifies Halloween's contribution to the unsustainable and environmentally detrimental practices of fast fashion.

a dog dressed up as a ghost

Why is plastic bad for the planet?

Plastic is even worse for the planet than you may think. Plastic has proven itself to be a culprit in the grand scheme of global warming – as the production of plastic contributes to excessive greenhouse gasses that provoke further climate change, and also creates colossal amounts of waste.

Plastic is popular for things like Halloween as it can easily be moulded into any shape desired – such as for skeleton decorations or pumpkin trick-or-treating baskets. It’s easy, lightweight, and often inexpensive – but the biggest problem with plastic is that it isn’t biodegradable.

👉 It turns out that the scariest part of Halloween might be how much plastic is used. In the United Kingdom, an estimated 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste - the equivalent of 83 million plastic bottles - will result from the creation of throw-away Halloween costumes.

You may think that your Halloween costumes, decorations, and used chocolate wrappers are easily recyclable – but the problem is that most plastic doesn’t even get recycled to begin with, or it’s placed in the wrong recycling bin and ends up in landfills instead. In addition to the fact that recycling management is questionable at the current moment, most sweet wrappers from Halloween treats can’t even be recycled to begin with. Turns out, the parents often ridiculed for trying to offer healthy snacks weren’t just looking out for trick-or-treaters’ health – but also the planet’s. 

Is there a way to move forward with your Halloween plans without sacrificing the planet’s journey to sustainability?

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halloween decoration

How can you have a sustainable Halloween?

You might think it’s impossible to celebrate Halloween without the use of plastic, but there are so many things you can do to make sure you still have the spookiest of Halloweens without giving mother nature an undesirable fright. 

If you want to make your Halloween more sustainable, the first thing you have to do is break-down all of your usual Halloween activities and then alter them one by one. For instance, the first thing many people think of when it comes to Halloween is their costume. Most people don’t repeat their Halloween costumes – ever. 

Try to make a Halloween costume that you’ll enjoy wearing every few years. In other words, instead of opting to pick a brand new costume every year – start making a rotation of costumes, so that the costumes never get thrown away. If possible, try to avoid buying costumes made out of plastic at all costs – and opt for a DIY costume instead, such as dressing up as a well-known superstar or T.V. show character. These kinds of costumes can often be created with what’s already in your closet. This also prevents the peril many end up in every Halloween: wondering what to dress up as!

👉 By rotating your costumes, you’ll save time and money from not needing to plan a new costume every year – and reduce your Halloween carbon footprint at the same time. 

Decorating for autumn and Halloween is a growing trend in the UK and shows no signs of waning. As an alternative to the typical plastic decorations, consider embracing eco-friendly approaches. Rather than relying on disposable items, you can opt to decorate your space with practical seasonal items. For instance, using real produce like butternut squash or apples can provide an autumnal feel. Additionally, incorporating fall-themed soaps, lotions, or candles not only adds to the ambience but ensures the decorations serve a purpose throughout the season. This approach ensures that your autumnal decor is both sustainable and functional.

👉 If you must incorporate something spooky for Halloween – try to make DIY decorations like cut-out paper ghosts and spiders. 

two halloween pumpkins

People often buy whole pumpkins for Halloween solely for craving, and throw away “the guts”, or the part that can actually be eaten – away without a second thought. However, pumpkin doesn’t have to go to waste – and can be used in multiple autumn-themed dishes as well as recipes like pumpkin pasta or pumpkin bread that are good no matter what time of year it is.

The best part is that pumpkin freezes well – so even if you have no idea what to do with it the week of Halloween or carving pumpkins, you can store pumpkin in your freezer for up to three months. If you’re a baker, pumpkin can also serve as an excellent, less sweet substitute for bananas in baking.

As for the treats, one of the most environmentally detrimental components of Halloween – it’s hard for trick-or-treating, but if you’re hosting a party – try to make your own Halloween treats. This way, you’ll reduce your plastic consumption while still keeping the Halloween theme. 

We can’t change how Halloween treats are currently packaged, but we can do a lot of other things on our part to make Halloween more sustainable without sacrificing the fun. Halloween was once celebrated before plastic even existed after all!

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about the environmental impact of Halloween has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

Click here to learn more about Greenly and how we can help you reduce your carbon footprint.

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