BY KIDA BRADLEY
All images made and produced by Kida Bradley.
In the spring and summer months, we confront the lifestyles we have crafted, reminding ourselves why we need to commit ourselves to a zero-waste and low consumption existence. The ritualistic spring cleaning of our spaces inspires discourse about why we consume more than we need, as well as its impact on vulnerable and marginalized human and non-human populations. The unforgiving summer season is imbued with natural disasters that dehydrate, burn, and erode away the land–leading to heated debates about what we should be doing to address the increasing severity of our Earth’s climatic reactions.
But, that insightful and eco-conscious reflection dissipates as the holiday season rolls around. The idea of sacrificing comfort and cultural traditions for the environment seems unfathomable and unfair, yet it becomes necessary for the greater good of the planet and our future generations. Halloween’s religious and ethnic roots have become second to its regional status as a global northern holiday, celebrated secularly on the national level. It is largely embedded in the contemporary culture of the United States and UK, but it has become a heavily consumerist holiday—creating tons of environmental waste and degradation.
While there are several unsustainable aspects of Halloween that should be addressed, one easy, individualized way to reduce our impact is by utilizing sustainably-made costumes. One of the largest sources of plastic waste dumped into landfills is the manufacturing of cheap, quickly-produced outfits and costume pieces. Data is limited on Halloween textile waste, making it difficult to analyze the impact individuals have from their Halloween consumption. However, estimates show that 40% of consumers only wear their costume once, resulting in almost 12 million lbs (5.4 million kilograms) of costume waste per year from approximately 35 million costumes in the United States. We need to be more critical and aware of our ecologically-destructive relationship with material comforts, a lack of reusable waste management, and the climate privilege of waste disposal. To start, we need to change what kind of costumes we pick for Halloween.
To start you off on your journey of being sustainable this Halloween, pick a character, person, or thing you wish to emulate or “character-bound.” Character-bounding is the method of dressing up like a fictional character without the use of “costumey” clothing, especially in a more contemporary and casual fashion, to resemble the style and aesthetic of the individual. If you are wishing to dress up as a character, look for one whose fashion is similar to your own style. Doing so allows you to integrate the “costume” into your own wardrobe, or source the costume from your already-existing one, rather than discarding it afterwards or treating it as a one-time experience.
From there, you want to select locally produced costumes and avoid big budget pop-up locations like Spirit Halloween or corporate plastic aggressors like Party City. It may be hard to find a local costume producer in your region, especially if you do not live in a city, so discovering local costume designers that you can pick up from is a great alternative. If you purchase online, consider the ecological costs of having a costume delivered, such as carbon emissions and fossil fuel usage.
Etsy can be a great source to find all kinds of costumes, however it is necessary to look at an essential aspect of costume waste: the kind of textile used. 83% of Halloween costumes are made with non-recyclable oil-based plastics (plastic polymers)—which can take 20 to 200 years to decompose. Plastic polymers in the textile industry can include synthetic fabric, artificial coatings, and plastic embellishments (glitters and sequins). Considering the presence of microplastics in living organisms and our atmosphere, researchers have advised reducing the usage of plastics to prevent further accumulation in our own bodies and reduce steadily increasing change to our climatic systems. Approximately 10% of the microplastics found in the ocean, from surface to sea floor (as seen in geological sediment collections), come from textile waste. Microplastics typically shed from fabrics over time, or can be washed off in the production and cleaning processes. As artivism, using art for social justice advocacy, and crocheting becomes more popular and accessible, consumers now have alternatives to synthetic fabric. Crocheting, the interlocking of yarn, can be done sustainably if the yarn used is recyclable or OEKO-TEX MADE GREEN certified–an eco-friendly product label established by research institutions in Europe and Asia. It's a great way to avoid having an intricate costume in your closet (that will require heavy fabric maintenance), reducing unnecessary textile usage and saving space for forever pieces.
Thrifting Costumes with Forever Pieces
Forever pieces are articles of clothing that you intend to keep for a long time and can be mended to extend its longevity in your closet. To start finding some, you could thrift your Halloween costume from a local thrift store. Fast fashion waste, of which Halloween is a large producer of, accounts for 92 million tons of waste per year. Most of that waste ends up in the global south, where extremely low income and marginalized communities are forced to exist alongside the consequences of our refusal to re-wear outfits and clothing.
Finding forever pieces does not just mean finding clothing you can see yourself re-wearing for the next 10 years— It also means committing to learning how to take care of your clothing to ensure its longevity. Learning to mend one's clothing helps individuals reclaim generational knowledge that was unknowingly taken from many people due to the convenience of buying new, cheaply-produced clothing. The climate-unfriendly aggressors of the fast fashion industry do not want people to be able to fix what they have, because it would threaten their profits. Another aspect of embracing forever pieces is dedicating yourself to understanding the ways that fabric from your clothing can be recycled, to prevent its final destination in a landfill.
Donating and Recycling Halloween Costumes
Donating old Halloween costumes can prevent the further creation of new ones using ecologically-destructive material by reducing market demand. It can also slow down the pipeline between fast fashion, landfill accumulation, and ocean pollution. Some cities host their own Halloween costume donation drive so people can come together and exchange costumes, as well as give to those who cannot afford their own. Communities should come together to host these kinds of events to promote sustainable living and consumption.
If a piece of clothing becomes unwearable, it can be transformed into a material with new purpose. Growing up, my old t-shirts became my grandmother's cleaning rags that she would take to work. Upcycled old costume fabric can also be turned into reusable pads that are ecologically safer, and promote more independence from a system that forces women in the United States to pay taxes for basic necessities. Additionally, a fun way to upcycle old Halloween costumes can be the creation of new costumes for our pets, and prevent the further growth of another wasteful market.
The sustainability of makeup is its own topic and article of its own, but it has to be addressed because of the use of makeup across the gender spectrum during Halloween. Individuals need to switch to zero waste makeup because of how dangerously wasteful makeup creation and packaging is. From containers to decorative displays and promotional packages, 70% of the cosmetic industries carbon emissions come from the package. Zero waste makeup also includes consideration for the chemical composition of a cosmetic product, especially those that use synthetic materials. Consumers should begin to switch to organic-based makeup products that contain beeswax, as well as sustainably-sourced crops and minerals.
Additionally, It is necessary to avoid companies that use octinoxate, oxybenzone, and butylparaben—parabens which are all linked to coral bleaching and habitat destruction. Parabens have also been linked to endocrine disruption, with high concentrations being show to affect the reproductive systems and lower population rates of dolphins and polar bears. Using products that do not contain palm oil can help prevent further deforestation and ecological colonialism in Global South countries such as Brazil, West Africa region, and Indonesia region.
It is also important to only financially support companies that donate to environmental initiatives and utilize carbon offset methods—to ensure your economic choices feedback in a positive way. Purchasing from small businesses that utilize bamboo or reusable packaging can prevent its eventual destination in Global South wastefields. If you are finding it difficult to find ecologically safe companies, consider making your own makeup at a lower cost than buying.
We need to stop allowing plastic conglomerates to become rich off of the decaying health of our planet. Feigning ignorance for the sake of Halloween fun has to be addressed and handled adequately, to protect the communities and ecosystems across the globe that we have an indirect impact on. As individuals, we may not be able to create sustained large-scale change, but we should do what we can–because that is all the planet has ever asked of us. We don’t have to subject our planet to further environmental waste to enjoy a few nights of playing pretend and dressing up. We can do so while being mindful of our only home, by taking these thoughtful steps.