Roar writer Amiya Johar on the negative environmental impact caused by Halloween celebrations.
Elaborate costumes, ostentatious decorations, jack-o-lanterns and hordes of candy – what a joyous picture of autumnal celebration! But have you ever paused to think about where it all goes when October comes to a close? What is the environmental impact of Halloween? Can spooky season survive without such commercial overindulgence?
Halloween was celebrated rather differently 2000 years ago. The Celts, who originated from present-day Ireland, would mark the end of the summertime harvest and begin preparations for the onset of a grim winter on 31 October. On the night of Halloween, then called Samhain, they believed that the spirits of the deceased returned to the earthly realm, wrecking crops and playing mischievous pranks. However, the presence of these otherworldly entities was also rumoured to render fortune predictions made by Celtic priests more accurate. The Celts celebrated Samhain by burning enormous bonfires as insulation from the harsh winter, donning costumes of animal hide, and making mystic predictions about the future. Halloween festivities have since undeniably transformed drastically.
This ancient festival of exceptional cultural significance has now morphed into a mammoth capitalistic venture profiting from the consumerism pervasive in contemporary society. With costumes being disposed of each year, and synthetic, plastic-based accessories and decorations flooding markets, it is safe to say that Halloween is a nemesis of the environment. In the UK alone, nearly 7 million costumes are dumped annually, engendering the generation of an estimated 2000 tonnes of plastic waste in 2019. In the same year, approximately 83% of costumes from popular retailers were found to have plastic composition, of which more than half were non-recyclable.
But, the environmental impacts of this seasonal consumerist culture isn’t limited to costumes. Like many non-autumnal commercial food products, including Nutella, most Halloween candies contain palm oil. Palm oil plantations are to blame for the large-scale deforestation and habitat destruction in the jungles of South-east Asia. One of earth’s most vital ecosystems is being decimated by such plantations – the oxygen-rich island of Borneo, nicknamed the ‘earth’s lungs’. Moreover, the plastic waste generated by the the often non-biodegradable plastic wrappers encasing individual candies is doing no favours to our rapidly deteriorating planet.
Jack-o-lanterns aren’t absolved of causing environmental damage either. A staggering 18,000 tonnes of food waste is annually generated in the UK from the binning of pumpkins. Deceptive due to their their organic, biodegradable composition, discarded pumpkins are notorious for generating methane emissions while decomposing in landfills. Such greenhouse gases are directly responsible for global warming and the perforation of the Earth’s protective ozone layer.
Despite these disheartening figures, Halloween is not cancelled! This is simply your call to action to alter your spending habits and unsubscribe from the norm of seasonal overconsumption for a more sustainable Halloween. A greener alternative to buying retail costumes is shopping at thrift stores, or even creating your own spooky ensemble from old clothing! Avoid contributing to the post-Halloween waste nightmare by reusing your costumes for more than one season. Reuse your decorations each year as much as possible, and try crafting your own from household supplies – it’s easier on the environment and your wallet.
Additionally, bulk-buying candy is sizeably more sustainable than purchasing individually-wrapped treats. Ensure the ingredients of your sweets have been sourced sustainably – easily achievable by investing in locally-made products. Don’t dump your pumpkins into the garbage come November morning! Try to incorporate the fruit into your autumn cooking, even roasting its seeds for a convenient snack. Don’t forget to compost the remaining pumpkin and any other organic waste generated from your festivities. Lastly, avoid single-use cutlery for Halloween parties – their frightful environmental impact makes some extra washing bearable.
If all else fails, please read the labels on all your Halloween purchases to ensure that they are biodegradable and/or recyclable. The planet shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of our seasonal indulgences. This spooky season, be a friend of the environment.