Everyone is excited for Halloween. The costumes, the decorations, the candy in fun Halloween-themed candy wrappers, the 2,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste created from Halloween costumes alone… well, maybe not that last part.
The history department hosted a lecture called “Designed for Disposal: The Making of the Global Plastic Crisis,” featuring Susan Freinkel, author of “Plastic: A Toxic Love Story,” and Joshua Goldstein, author of “The Remains of the Everyday: 100 Years of Recycling in Beijing,” on Oct. 21. Both authors delivered compelling presentations that forced students to consider the global effects of mass plastic consumption.
Freinkel’s lecture, as her book title hints, compared the human relationship with plastic to that of a toxic love story. Like your typical Hollywood movie, it all began with a harmless flirtation with various types of plastic that eventually led to a codependent relationship. And, like every tragic tale, we understand that we should get out of this relationship, yet we cannot manage to do so.
However, I believe Freinkel’s metaphor becomes contradictory when she uses it to explain that the existence of excess plastic waste does not mean that all people must cut plastic out of their lives. Unlike a toxic relationship that needs to be cut at the root, Freinkel describes the relationship with plastic as one that should be reimagined and restructured to work toward a more positive ecological impact. Completely eliminating plastic would be a near impossible task given the role it plays in everyday conveniences. Freinkel is suggesting that we need to rethink how we use plastic without undoing the last half-century of technological progress.
Goldstein discussed some of the societal and economic effects of plastic in today’s society. Specifically, Goldstein did an in-depth study on Hong Kong’s waste management system. He began by noting the fact that while recycling is often encouraged, what most recyclers don’t realize is that a vast majority of this recycled trash is shipped over to developing countries, including China.
Goldstein’s explanation for this phenomenon is based on simple economic realities. Since American cargo ships are constantly bringing products to the United States but rarely export products to China, they have begun a process of sending recycled trash over to China, where locals attempt to turn it into something useful. But, as a side effect, it has started to create permanent damage to multiple ecosystems.
In light of both of these lectures, it is especially important for students to consider their own plastic footprint, especially during consumerist holidays like Halloween. Tia Carr, a junior international relations major, defended this position by stating that “students should be conscious about buying cheap Halloween costumes that you’re going to throw away. You can make a Halloween costume out of things you already have or thrift.”
If more students operated under this mentality, not only would individual students’ carbon footprints be reduced, but it would add to the larger societal movement to normalize environmental awareness and strive for less consumerist solutions to the environmental crisis.
This doesn’t mean completely cutting down on all plastic usage or skipping your favorite spooky season activity. However, small changes, like reusing costumes or thrift shopping for them, baking Halloween-themed baked goods instead of eating individually-wrapped candy and making your own decorations out of reused material are good ways to be more sustainable while making the most out of Halloween.
This is the opinion of Veronica Backer–Peral, sophomore film production and history double major from Pasadena, CA. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email firstname.lastname@example.org.