Halloween’s whole bit is being very scary: Uh oh, deranged clowns are trending this year, meaning every bar you pass will be teeming with belligerent Jokers. And, yikes, is that a Sexy Chicken Sandwich leering at you hungrily, as if it were about to eat you? Spooky prospects, sure, but these are pedestrian frights compared to the holiday’s environmental toll: A new survey estimates that mass-market costumes will use 2,000 tons of plastic this year — in the U.K. alone.
To put that figure in context for you, we’re talking a reported equivalent of 83 million plastic Coke bottles.
In October, two environmentally minded British charities — Hubbub and the Fairyland Trust — polled 19 prominent retailers, including supermarkets, department stores, fast-fashion companies, and Amazon. They found that 83 percent of the materials used in 324 costume pieces incorporated non-biodegradable, oil-based plastics, the same materials you find piling up in landfills and oceans. Overwhelmingly, these clothing items used polyester (which accounted for 69 percent of materials) over non-plastic options like cotton (10 percent of materials) and viscose (6 percent).
The survey points out that Brits typically toss about 7 million costumes per year, which shakes out to tens of millions of bottles in plastic waste. All told, 30 million people in the U.K. dress up for Halloween — child’s play compared to the United States, where over 175 million people celebrated the holiday in 2018, according to the National Retail Federation. Of that group, 68 percent planned to buy Halloween costumes.
Not all of those outfits will have come pre-packaged from a big box store, but that corner of the Halloween business appears to be booming nonetheless. Take Yandy, the premier (but certainly not the only) manufacturer of those current-events-as-lingerie ensembles that go viral every year: In October 2015, Yandy projected $50 million profits for the year, about a third of which accrued in Halloween season alone. That’s a lot of plastic-based fabric, even before you factor in the speed at which Yandy cranks out its supposedly hot takes on news items and cultural events. (See: the aforementioned chicken sandwich, a riff on the Popeye’s menu item that recently took Twitter by storm, but also Sexy College Cheating Scandal, Sexy White Claw, Sexy Impeachment.)
From both a carbon emissions and a water-use perspective, producing fast fashion is a climate nightmare. Even without a precise idea how large a contribution manufactured Halloween costumes might make, it seems safe to assume that so many single-use synthetic garments would have a similarly devastating impact on the environment. Sorry to bring down the party, but, it appears Sexy Climate Crisis is in fact the spookiest costume of them all.