The Plastic Pollution of Halloween

Halloween is nearly here, which means it’s time to get the decorations up, carve a Jack o’lantern or two, and stock up on candy. The thrill that comes with dressing up on Halloween and collecting candy in neighborhoods decked out with the glowing jack o’lanterns, stringy spider webs, spooky gravestones and haunting music makes it one of the most exciting days of the year. Unfortunately, this celebration comes with a scary aftermath as more and more cheaply made costumes, one off decorations and candy wrappers are ending up in landfills.

Every year, as the days inch closer to Halloween, people invest money, time and effort into creating their best Halloween yet, looking forward to each year’s new decorations and spooky costumes. The Retail Council of Canada estimated that Halloween represents a $1 billion industry in this country, with 68% of the population taking part. They also estimated that Canadians spend more per capita ($70) on costumes, candy and decorations than our American counterparts. According to Statistics Canada, in 2018 Canadians spent around $550 million on candies and snacks in October.

The amount of garbage and waste that’s produced during Halloween, can have some pretty serious and scary consequences for the environment. For instance, one of the biggest pollution issues arising from Halloween each year is plastic waste. Plastics are found in wigs, cosmetics, toys, candy wrappers, bins and many other products and items used to decorate and celebrate the holiday. 

Plastics are very cheap, easy to produce and extremely durable due to their chemical compositions. Plastics are composed of what’s known as polymers which are long chains of molecules. To put it simply, these molecules are very difficult to break down and when they enter the environment, they’re very stubborn and difficult to remove. It may take up to hundreds of years before plastics break down. Much of the candy handed out to trick-or-treaters come in single-use plastic wrappers, usually made of a combination of foil and plastic, which are not easily recyclable. Those plastics then get broken down in the environment to microplastics, which scatter around the world and affect numerous ecosystems by altering habitats and natural processes.

Cheap costumes, decorations and single-use candy wrappers all contain types of plastic that we know are mostly ending up in landfills or are being burned, and are increasingly polluting our communities. Considering many costumes are made cheaply out of plastic-based materials, buying a new Halloween costume for one night is similar to using single-use plastic bags to carry groceries home in. When it comes to treats, they are just a miniature version of the chip bags, chocolate bar and candy wrappers, pop bottles and other snacks that end up in landfills, burned or polluting beaches and greenspaces around the world. Brightly designed bags and boxes of Cadbury, Sour Patch Kids, Maynards, Trident, etc.., most companies’ treat products appear on supermarket shelves every October, and, because the contents all come in single-use packaging, they can not be recycled and are considered garbage.

A study conducted by hubbub recently revealed that Halloween costumes contain the same amount of plastic as 83 million plastic bottles, creating 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste every year  in the UK alone. The same study estimates that 4 in 10 costumes were worn only once, putting 14 million costumes in the garbage.

The Way Forward

 There have been lots of tips and tricks on how to reduce your plastic use and waste on Halloween. While reducing plastic use is important, it is a band aid solution to the larger plastic pollution problem. We need to start thinking of the lack of truly plastic-free, zero waste treats, costumes and decorations that are available across the country? Why aren’t there toxin free alternatives that are easily accessible and inexpensive? That’s why governments must hold polluting companies accountable and force them to turn our wasteful consumption machine around. We need government action to accelerate the shift to a system that allows all of us to enjoy holidays like Halloween to be toxin-free and eco-friendly.

Recommendations

  • Create a nation- wide reuse and refill strategy so more of the things we eat and use in our daily lives come package-free, plastic-free and zero waste, and
  • Expanding the single-use plastic ban list to include highly polluting and waste generating items like multilayered packaging like wrappers, chip bags and sachets, bottles and caps, and a long list of problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics.

Elena Edo
One Thought on The Plastic Pollution of Halloween
    Alicia
    31 Oct 2022
    11:34am

    Thank you for writing about this!
    Holidays and the trash that comes with it is something I never hear anyone talking about. Like everything there are steps we can take away from single use items, decorations etc. and instead work towards becoming sustainable and reuse.

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