Students’ Costumes Are Producing Thousands Of Tonnes Of Plastic Waste

Costume nights are a huge part of student culture. In fact, we bet you’ve got a few lurking in the back of your wardrobe right now. From fairy wings to firefighter helmets, these costumes are bought on a whim, worn for the night and then either thrown away or left to languish under your bed.

Just like the clothing industry has become one of the biggest polluters of our time, your wear-once-and-chuck fancy dress is possibly even worse.

A devil’s outfit here and a Where’s Wally there may not seem all that wasteful. But in fact, it could be creating nearly six thousands tonnes of plastic waste each year.

We found 23% of students are in uni sports teams, while an even larger 42% partake in societies. That’s approximately 633,000 rugby lads and netball girls signed up to a university team.

Sports teams are infamously known for their weekly (and sometimes bi-weekly) costume socials. If every student in a sports team bought a new costume every week for a year, that would total 19 million fancy dress costumes

With the average online costume including 297g plastic in it, the outcome is not a good one. 

That means all those 19 million costumes total in at 5,639 tonnes of plastic, the same as 226 million bottles of coke per year.

Speaking to Harriet Noy, Founder of Hazaar, the zero-waste marketplace for students, she agrees that university societies are becoming a serious environmental issue.

‘I originally founded Hazaar after witnessing the throwaway culture of societies while I was at university. The amount of waste from constant online costume orders was shocking, but I also know there’s a lot of barriers for students to make sustainable choices. Hazaar was founded to help students sell their secondhand items on campus, encouraging a more circular university economy.’

To help societies become more eco-conscious with their costumes, Harriet gives her top tips for attending a sustainable social:

1. Use what you have

The most ideal solution will always be to shop your own wardrobe for a dress-up outfit. You don’t have to have an exact replica of a costume. Instead, you can try and copy the colourways of a costume you want to replicate or be creative and use make-up to elevate the outfit. Got some old cardboard lying around? See what you can make with that and recycle it afterwards.

2. Buy second hand

If you’re after a specific costume, there are plenty of buy and sell sites where you can sustainably source an outfit. The Hazaar app even has a section for sports team costumes to make this process easier. You could even ask people from your society if they have spare from another social.

3. If you have to buy, buy to last

University is an exciting time, and we know sometimes you may need to buy something new to enjoy the experience. If you do need to buy brand new, try and buy something that can be used again, either by yourself or by sharing with your friends and flatmates. Avoid gimmicky 3D costumes that will only really be used once.

4. Pass on your concerns to the committee

If you feel like your society could do better, let them know! We can only create change through conversation. Talk to them about not encouraging specific costumes that will need to be bought just for one social. You could even suggest they link up with other societies to run a revolving cycle of costume themes, allowing members to share their outfits. 

5. When you’re done, pass it on

Once you’ve finished with a costume, make sure to list it on a buy and sell site or donate it to charity. This will make it easier for other students to socialise sustainably too. Make sure you never resort to binning a costume if you can help it.

Looking for more savvy student advice? Check out our Student Life section of the blog where you can find all the latest student news and information.

Methodology

Student Beans surveyed 837 respondents aged 16-24 in November 2020 around societies and clubs:

  • University societies – 42%
  • University sports (I play) – 23%
  • Student media (e.g. newspaper, blog, radio) – 20%
  • In 2020/21 there were 2.751 million students at UK higher education institutions – Source 
    • 23% of students = 633K students who take part in university sports
    • 30 socials a year per student (1 per every week of the academic year) = 19M costumes
    • The average weight in an Amazon costume is 361g (297g plastic) Source
    • From these 19M costumes, there is 5,639 tonnes of plastic waste
    • A standard sized Coke bottle contains 25g of PET – Source
    • 5,639 tonnes of plastic waste in costumes is the same amount as 356 bottles of coke.

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