By Bailey Chenevert
There’s no denying the psychological effects of the holiday season. When the leaves start turning orange and the air becomes brisk, we feel energized by thoughts of warm meals, special presents and familiar places. As we approach Halloween and the slurry of holidays to follow it, we may also be reminded of the less wholesome aspects of the season that are linked to consumer buying behavior: millions of tons of food waste, a 25 million ton increase in garbage, and an endless barrage of holiday ads promoting excessive consumption.
For corporations, it’s clear that there’s a lot of money to be gained by people celebrating. Spending is such an integral part of celebration in American culture that we may never stop to think about why we do it in the first place. We decorate our houses, cook huge meals and, most importantly, give gifts ‒ all well-intentioned things that many companies capitalize on. And it’s very effective; the 2019 holiday season saw a record-breaking $729 billion spent.
It’s not the average consumer’s fault that we associate the holidays with big spending. We can’t control a lot of the factors that influence consumer purchasing decisions, like the five retailers that each spent over a billion dollars in holiday advertising in 2019. We’ve been bombarded with messages of holiday merriment for sale for the better part of a century. For example, did you know that how Santa looks today was drawn up by marketers for Coca-Cola in the 1930s? Or that Father’s Day didn’t catch on until the New York Associate Men’s Retailers began campaigning for it?
Unfortunately for the modern consumer, the holidays are a difficult balance of truly celebrating the season and giving our money to corporations that have inseparably linked the holidays to consumption. How do conscious consumers navigate the holiday season, where the line between celebration and consumption is so blurred? The Cluey blog is bringing you a 3-part series concerning the holidays and overconsumption to help you answer that question according to your individual needs. Because even with today’s focus on ethical shopping and sustainable purchases, overconsumption is essential to modern holiday traditions.
Today, in our first part of the series, we’re diving into some of the spookiest truths about Halloween consumer behavior and how we can do our part as conscious consumers without giving up the scariest, silliest and most sensational parts of the holiday.
Halloween: Some Spooky Stats
Halloween kicks off the holiday season with a preview of what’s to come for the rest of the year. We see themed aisles in grocery stores and seasonal wardrobe items on the streets, in addition to billions of dollars spent and even more pounds of waste all in the name of festiveness.
Here are a few quick facts about Halloween costumes that you may not know:
- This year, Americans are expected to spend $3.32 billion on Halloween costumes and knowing how short the fashion cycle is these days, they’ll likely end up as landfill waste in no time.
- Halloween costumes are largely made up of plastics, like polyester, that take forever to degrade and release harmful microfibers into the environment before they do.
- An environmental charity from the UK estimated 2,000 tons of plastic waste is generated from Halloween costumes each year – and their population is only a fifth of the size of the U.S.
- Halloween costumes are so cheap for the same, unethical reasons that fast fashion is: mass-farmed, overseas materials that harm the communities around them, and unlivable wages for the people that make these garments.
And costumes aren’t the only problem:
- A lot of Halloween decorations are made mostly of plastic, as well, like fake pumpkins and spiderwebs.
- Halloween candy is made of 100% plastic wrappers that are difficult to recycle and will likely end up in a landfill, and we spend about $2.6 billion on these candies every Halloween.
Every year, about 1.3 billion pounds of pumpkin are wasted in our country that already has major food waste and hunger crises.
We can’t deny how fun and exciting Halloween is, and it’s certainly not a crime to enjoy it, but facts like these can really take the wind out of our sails in a time of celebration. In the conscious consumerism space, sometimes it can feel like everything we love is just an idea sold to us by big, brilliant corporations. If you feel at odds with enjoying the celebration and how that can misrepresent your consumer values, you’re not alone. It’s good to be aware of the impacts that overconsumption during the holidays can have, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be celebrated altogether. There are still ways to enjoy the festivities ethically and consciously.
Halloween: Tips for Tricking and Treating Consciously
We understand that not everyone has the time or resources to celebrate Halloween as ethically as they’d like. Do what you can and remember that small changes can make a big impact. Here are some tips to approaching Halloween with conscious consumerism in mind:
- Try DIYing it. Cheap costumes make up the bulk of Halloween waste, so putting them together yourself can be a fun and ethical alternative. Primary has a website for DIY costumes with helpful categories like no-sew and made in 30-minutes, and, of course, there’s endless inspiration on Pinterest.
(photo from Primary)
2. If you don’t have the time to make your costume yourself, renting and thrifting are great options. Most towns have costume rental shops and unused costumes go up for sale every year on Facebook Marketplace. Never forget about your local thrift stores when trying to keep up with fashion cycles and events like Halloween that call for new looks all the time.
3. Don’t wait for your pumpkins to rot and don’t throw them away with the garbage. Pumpkins are a delicious fruit and there are endless recipes to keep your decorative gourds from going to waste. A whole, uncarved pumpkin can last up to twelve weeks, and carved pumpkins can serve as treats for local wildlife, like farm and zoo animals. If your pumpkins have passed their prime, they can also be composted and used for gardening.
4. If you’re up for it, you may be able to forgo Halloween candy altogether this year. Homemade treats individually wrapped in compostable materials can make your house the best Halloween stop on the block. If that’s too time consuming, the Cluey app can help you choose candy that aligns with your other consumer values, like your social, environmental and political values.
Feel free to add your own creative spin to celebrate the spooky season, and stay tuned for the next two parts of our 3-part holiday consumer series. In general, we hope to bring you closer to what really makes the holidays special for you beyond consumption. You may even find that just being aware of the consumerism underlying holiday traditions helps you reconnect with what you truly enjoy about the season. The Cluey blog has some articles that can help get you started on more conscious holiday spending and endless information on the app to compare brands and learn about the impact your purchases can have on the world.
Bailey Chenevert is a freelance journalist and guest editorial contributor for Cluey Consumer. As a current master’s student at Appalachian State University, Bailey is researching the ways media consumption impacts our psychology. Bailey is passionate about impartial reporting on consumerism and the impacts that fashion brands have on our modern world. She has more than six years of experience in journalism as a writer, editor and director.