How-To

How to Celebrate Pride, Sustainably

Talia Vicars
How to Celebrate Pride, Sustainably

Happy Pride Month, girls, gays, and theys! This month of June is known for more than just Gemini season – it’s the celebration of queer history and people, culminating in parades and parties across the United States. So, how should we show up to these festivities, throw bangers, celebrate our queer selves and loved ones, and also center people, planet, and queer liberation? 

Here’s our round-up of helpful hints!

#1 Disposability is out, and reuse is in… but don’t freak over single-use products.

#2 Upcycle your fit, and go easy on the glitter.

#3 Do your research and celebrate yourself!

#1  Disposability is out, reuse is in… but don’t freak over single-use products.

When attending Pride parades and other queer events (not to mention festivals in general!) disposability is everywhere. Single-use packaging is easy for vendors and consumers alike. Making the switch from high water and energy-use products, like plastic water bottles, to reusable containers can have valuable environmental impacts… sometimes. 

Consider those plastic water bottles that are handed out in crowds to keep them cool and hydrated. They’re often made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a plastic made from crude oil and natural gas. A 2014 study found that the production of one plastic bottle contributed roughly 69g of CO2e. That’s approximately equivalent to charging an iPhone 32 times. Reusable bottles are typically made from a higher density plastic, steel, or aluminum. The catch? Depending on the type of material – with high-density plastic as the least impactful, then steel, then aluminum – the bottle would have to be reused between 10 to 20 times to offset its impact.

Not to mention, the kind of plastic bottle you’re getting at a parade is not always within your control. Listen here, organizers! Opt for lower-impact disposable bottles – it’s better on the environmental impact and on turnout. A 2008 study found that 27% of festival attendees believed that environmentally friendly practices were important in choosing which events to go to. So, consider lower-impact bottles like the Ecoshape, a disposable PET bottle that uses 19.5% less material than the average single-use bottle. In comparison to the Ecoshape, an aluminum bottle would need to be used more than 50 times before the impact per serving of water is better. 

In terms of snacks and grub, make informed decisions about the vendor you’re snagging them from. If the choice is between one that uses Styrofoam and another that serves it up in recyclable PET (or better yet, rPET, which is plastic made from post-consumer recycled materials), spring for the PET option. Just to make it extra spicy, let’s say it’s between Styrofoam, recyclable PET, and a compostable bioplastic. If there is no industrial composting anywhere in sight, then the Styrofoam would go to the trash (i.e. landfill or incineration), the PET would go to the recycling, and unfortunately, the bioplastic would hit the landfill, too. An analysis from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) found that compostable materials had higher environmental impacts, overall, than their non-compostable material counterparts that went into traditional waste treatment systems, like recycling, landfilling, or incineration. Yikes.

#2 Upcycle your fit, and go easy on the glitter.

Okay, so… what are you wearing!? Thank you so much for asking. While looking and feeling great is key to an excellent Pride month, how can we show up and show out with the planet in mind? Steer clear of synthetic latex and polyester and opt for cotton, or reuse old costumes. Dig into your closet, your friends’ closet, heck, even your parent’s closet for some goodies (just make sure that you don’t go back into the closet). 

The fashion industry is, well, not exactly awesome for the planet. Annually, the fashion industry contributes to 20% of wastewater worldwide (from fabric dyeing and treatment) and is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. When it comes to costumes, polyester is the primary suspect, and the most common material used for costume masks is latex. But just like trends come and go in fast fashion, the culture around costumes is to be on-trend with current pop culture and then switch it up every year. When we combine a throwaway culture with the durability of latex, we’re creating a lot of waste that will stick around in landfills for a very long time…which is so not cute. 

Let’s talk about the energy tradeoffs of textile materials for a minute, too. While a switch from a polyester costume to a cotton one could cut our energy footprint by 25% (woo!), it may actually increase our water footprint by roughly 9 times. We always try to make decisions using the most reliable, science-backed information available, but sometimes these tradeoffs require a judgment call. While buying non-plastic costumes may be a great way to reduce our carbon footprint, it may be more expensive, less accessible, and potentially more water-intensive. Check out this chart if you want help choosing a better option, which plots out the water and energy footprints of some fabrics. On the other hand, there’s always the option to reuse those old polyester costumes or repurpose that Halloween costume that could be perfectly camp for Pride and save on both energy AND water. 

Another option? Yep, we’re full of ‘em. Check out thrift stores or resale stores…which are actually becoming mainstream. Revenue in the U.S. from thrift or resale stores coasted around $16 billion in 2016, and YouTube bloggers and TikTok stars can show you how to upcycle those great, reused finds. Creativity and flair are well-known among the queer community and if one thing is certainly true, it’s that fashion repeats itself.

Speaking of flair…what about glitter? While glitter is almost known as a cornerstone of Pride outfits, it’s important to understand its environmental impact, too. Glitter is considered a single-use plastic and is usually made of polyethylene terephthalate (yup, PET again). As we frolic the day away, and shed glitter from our skin and off down the drain when we shower, glitter can get into the natural environment and our waterways… which isn’t so glam. Glitter can be a cause of microplastics that are metalized and sharp, which can also pose a risk to organisms and soil. What about “eco-glitter” or biodegradable glitter that’s the latest craze? Eco-glitter is typically made from plant cellulose and then coated with plastic or aluminum for that reflective quality we know and love. Unfortunately, recent research shows that it’s also not so great for the planet. The biodegradable quality of these glitters is only relevant in certain conditions… like with extreme heat and specific bacteria. There are indications that these glitters are causing damage to freshwater environments because they can’t break down (i.e. degrade) in the digestive tracts of organisms or in the natural environment. 

#3 Do your research and celebrate yourself!

First, let’s start with some history. The Pride parades we have come to know and love typically fall on the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. On June 28, 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a queer event space in New York City, brutalizing patrons. This led to six days of protests now known as the Stonewall Uprising, where queer community members, led by prominent trans women of color and lesbians, including Stormé DeLaverie, Sylvia Rivera, and Marsha P. Johnson, organized for queer and trans rights and against police brutality. So, how did we get from liberatory riots to a parade sponsored by banks and companies that contribute to the anti-gay agenda? Enter: pinkwashing.

It is undeniably hip to support LGBT2QIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Two-Sprit, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, plus) rights. And, according to a 2021 poll by PRRI, 76% of Americans favor anti-discrimination laws. Consumers want to purchase from companies that reflect this, and companies are jumping on the bandwagon… or so it seems. Pinkwashing, similar to greenwashing, is an act by a corporation or entity that attempts to mislead consumers and individuals about its support of LGBT2QIA+ communities. An organization, Corporate Accountability Action, launched a campaign to investigate corporate donations to anti-queer legislators, in comparison to their outward messaging around LGBT2QIA+ rights. While we won’t name names, we will provide the tools to help you learn that it’s abundantly clear from the CAA campaign that some companies want to look pro-gay and are actually doing the opposite, which is obviously not what Pride is about.

While having this knowledge is undeniably disappointing, it can help you make more educated and informed decisions about what you’re actually supporting when buying products and services. Check out the campaign and keep a watchful eye on which companies are putting their money where their mouth is this month, so that you can feel good about celebrating yourself.