The Dark Truth Behind The Halloween Industry

by : Francesca Donovan on : 31 Oct 2017 18:37
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Spooky by name, horrifying by nature, Halloween fever has taken hold again, and it’s as stomach-churning as a Pumpkin Spice Latte.


Unless you’ve been living under a rock you might’ve noticed our supermarket shelves and TV adverts are cloaked in a veil of deadly dread and awash with the orange glow of pumpkin lanterns.

For it is the season to be spooky, but there’s a scary consequence of our morbid merriment that the Halloween industry doesn’t want you to know about.

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Amid the witch-cursed gin, highly-curated celebrity costumes, DIY Donald Trump masks, ‘sexy Pennywise clowns‘, Mother of Dragons knock-offs, and overgrown Stranger Things kids, there will be armies of us who leave it until the last minute to don something dark, splatter a bit of fake blood on our faces and head out for a night of hedonism.


…The morning after the night before and your world is inevitably a bloody mess.


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So naturally, you bin the ruined, blood-stained evidence and get on with your life, until next October when you’ll don a different costume and do it all again.

The results?

Seven million costumes sent to the scrapheap – along with your fuzzy memories. That’s a scarily hefty contribution to the 300,000 tonnes of clothes that end up in landfill every year.


On average each Halloween costume is worn only twice and 4 out of 10 cats, nurses, and zombies only get one wear before they’re chucked onto the scrapheap.


While millions of eco-conscious Brits gave their cast-offs to charity shops, these can also end up being thrown away as many charities won’t resell costumes without original fire safety labelling.

A survey of over 3,000 people conducted by Censuswide found that 33 million adults and children dressed up last year. This is projected to rise to 39 million in 2017.

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Last year, on average, we all spent £15.56 making ourselves look disgusting. Collectively, we spent up to £510 million on Halloween costumes across the UK.

Across the UK last year basic witches, thirsty vampires and ghoulish ghosts topped the list of most popular costumes – coincidentally, the easiest to make – and these traditional takes are set to be top again this year.

Politicians and film characters are a popular choice of costume for adults who can’t resist a quippy political commentary – last year saw 1.4m Donald Trumps and 2.1m Harley Quinns.

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One campaign, Sew Spooky, might just have the answer to reducing both the cost and the waste. Funded by the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) and brought to life by the environmental charity Hubbub, the campaign aims to encourage more people to make costumes and to pass on their used costumes to friends and family to give them another lease of life.

While half of the people surveyed weren’t sure about using a costume that had been worn before by someone they didn’t know, 73 per cent were happy with the idea of receiving a used costume from family or friends.

They’ve also come up with eco-friendly simple classic costumes:

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Okay, okay, so this skeleton isn’t exactly Heidi Klum’s take on Jessica Rabbit, but it will cost you literally nothing and all you need is an all-black outfit and some tape.

If you like your Halloween costume to reach the dizzying heights of the darkness, Sew Spooky have some handy tips on how to create a pair of bat-wings in under five minutes.

Watch the minute-long video below to see how:

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Councillor Clyde Loakes, chair of NLWA said:

People love to join in and get dressed up for Halloween but with so many outfits being worn for only one day, it creates a terrible amount of textile waste.

The Sew Spooky campaign will demonstrate to people how easy it is to pass costumes on friends or family to use again and it provides some fantastic opportunities to learn how to make their own costumes.

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Heather Poore, Co-Founder of Hubbub said:

It truly is a Halloween horror to see the amount of costumes that are only worn once before ending in landfill, when it’s so easy to save used costumes from a nasty end and pass them on to friends and family.

Our Sew Spooky campaign also includes lots of quick and easy ideas for spook-tacular costumes that a child could make, which can make for a fun half-term activity.


The gospel according Mean Girl, Cady Heron, states:

In the real world, Halloween is when kids dress up in costumes and beg for candy.

In Girl World, Halloween is the one day a year when a girl can dress up like a total slut and no other girls can say anything else about it.

Apparently we now inhabit a limbo world that lies somewhere between satirical fiction slut-shaming and the messed up reality of planet earth, where it really doesn’t matter what you wear, as long as you accept the fact that the scariest thing to happen in 2017 is America electing a climate change denier as their 45th president.


2017 has been pretty scary, with the threat of nuclear war, the deadliest mass shooting in American history, Harvey Weinstein, the impending so-called apocalypse, the reality of Brexit sinking in, the mainstream return of Stephen King‘s horror masterpieces, a fashion for nostril hair, and the KFC Double Down.

If that wasn’t enough to make you scream in despair, now it turns out Halloween – our annual outlet to laugh in the face of societal structures that scare us – is also a plague on our environment.

And isn’t that just so 2017?

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Like a rabid virus of creeping commercialism, all in the name of dressing up for Instagram ‘likes’ and throwaway throwbacks to ancient pagan rituals, the secular celebration has left its mark in landfills globally.

It’s up to us to make sure the horrific sight of discarded Scream masks strewn across our sweet and pleasant land is only the thing of nightmares.

Happy Halloween, folks!

Francesca Donovan

A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you've never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.

Topics: Featured