Environmental Nightmare- You won’t believe how much is spent on Halloween
Modern day Halloween, based on a once sacred Celtic tradition celebrating the summer’s end, has become one of the largest spending holidays in both the United States and the United Kingdom. It is estimated that over $9 billion will be spent on Halloween in the U.S. whilst last year the UK surpassed their estimated spending of £320 million. Unfortunately, the increased commercialization of this fun autumnal celebration has resulted in an excessive amount of unnecessary waste being produced annually. So before you begin your holiday shopping, just give a thought to how you could reduce your Halloween footprint this year.
Below are some waste issues associated with Halloween:
Did you know that in the UK, once Halloween is over, more than a quarter of the pumpkins and jack-o’-lanterns end up in landfill, roughly equating to around 18,000 tonnes of food. To look at it another way - the contents of every carved pumpkin could potentially generate enough food to provide one bowl of soup for each person in the country. In the US, the problem is no better and the U.S. Energy Department claim that more than 254 million tonnes of pumpkin is ending up as waste each year.
An important thing to note is that food waste that ends up in landfill releases methane as it breaks down, producing a global warming impact 20 times higher than that of carbon dioxide. Although methane is a naturally-occurring gas, it makes sense in these times of global warming and climate change that we try to limit unnecessary methane-producing activities where and when we can. At the end of the pumpkin’s life - composting is the best option by far.
The most expensive part of Halloween is undoubtedly the costumes and accessories, neither of which are ethically-produced or sustainable. Most costumes are polyester based, and most accessories plastic - neither being biodegradable. Probably manufactured in sweatshops, these cheap ‘disposable’ items are intended to have a short life. It is estimated that over 3/4 of Americans will spend $3.4 billion on dressing up. In the UK, our behaviour is much the same, with a majority of our costumes only get worn once before ending up in landfill each year - truly frightening!
If you are looking for a scary story, let me draw your attention to the horrific trail of plastic waste that we are leaving behind as a result of everyday living. Currently, the UN Programme reports that only 9% of the world’s plastic is recycled, with an estimated 50% ending up in landfill, oceans, waterways and the environment, especially single-use plastic such as water bottles, plastic bags and cellophane food packaging. Plastic does not biodegrade and scientists have recently discovered that plastic items, rather than fully degrading are breaking down into tiny bits called microplastic that can get into our oceans, become ingested by fish and even end up in our bodies through the food chain. This plight has recently been exposed to the masses through David Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet’.
Okay….so you may be thinking…..how does all this relate to Halloween? Well if you consider that around $2.6 billion will be spent on candy in the US - that is a lot of potential plastic waste. Granted, there will be wrappers made from foil, paper or cardboard but most will be made from cellophane, plastic or mixed materials that cannot be recycled. Also candy wrappers that are eligible for recycling are usually too small to even be considered.
Halloween enthusiasts enjoy decorations as much as they do candy and spend about $2.7 billion each year on these items as well. You know the type of thing - broomsticks, pumpkins, devil horns, skeletons, gravestones, trick n treating buckets - most of which are made of plastic. But there’s often confusion as to whether they are recyclable and more often than not they end up going to landfill. Many decorations are battery run and unfortunately, 99% of these batteries are discarded with household waste instead of being recycled properly. In landfill, the batteries leak chemicals into our environment - not good!
Please don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Halloween!!! I think it’s lots of fun, and everything I mentioned - the pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating, spooky costumes and decorations are all part of what makes Halloween so spooky and special. I want to enjoy Halloween and I want you to enjoy it too. With a bit of preparation and out-the-box thinking we can take steps towards having a more ‘green’ Halloween by finding alternative and creative ways to enjoy the day which literally won’t cost the earth.