Ideas to reduce Halloween costume waste

It’s estimated that around 33 million people dress up for Halloween in the UK every year. That’s 33 million Halloween costumes worn by children and adults to get into the spooky spirit – from witches and vampires to superheroes and the latest pop culture characters. But what happens to those costumes once November 1st arrives?

Unfortunately, lots are binned and end up in landfill. Buying a brand-new Halloween costume might be quick, convenient, and ensure you get a high-quality outfit that taps into any topical trends, but it’s another type of fast fashion. Many people wear a costume once then throw it away – and its environmental impact can be scarier than the costumes itself.

Learn all about Halloween costume waste, what happens to it, and ways to reduce it with our ideas for low waste costumes and sustainable disposal.

Visit our Halloween waste hub
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Halloween costume facts

Dressing up for Halloween is all part of the frightening fun. The costs and amount of waste it produces are truly terrifying though. To highlight the effect spooky season has on the waste industry, here are some stats, facts, and numbers about Halloween costumes:

  • Seven million Halloween costumes are thrown away every year in the UK.
  • 40% of Halloween costumes are only worn once.
  • Around 85% of Halloween costumes eventually end up in landfill.
  • Plastic makes up 83% of material in the average Halloween costume.
  • On average men spend £33.10 on a Halloween costume, while women splash out £67.80 – more than double.
  • More than a third of people buy Halloween costumes from supermarkets – only one in ten go to an independent fancy dress shop.
  • In the USA adults spend $1.5 billion on Halloween costumes, while for children it’s around $1.2 billion.
  • Three in four people dress up their pets for Halloween.
  • Halloween pet costumes account for 15% of all Halloween costume spending – around $490 million in the US alone.
  • Spending on Halloween costumes is the largest amount of all Halloween purchases (more than decorations, food and drink).
  • People aged between 35 and 44 spend the most on Halloween costumes (including purchases for their children), followed by those aged 25 to 34, then 45 to 54-year-olds.

What happens to Halloween costumes in landfill?

Most Halloween costumes thrown away in the UK contain non-recyclable, oil-based plastics – meaning when they’re thrown away, they go to landfill or for incineration. In total this adds up to around 2,000 tons of plastic waste – similar to 83 million plastic bottles being dumped in a landfill site.

The plastic materials of Halloween costumes can take tens to hundreds of years to break down when they sit in landfill – often between 50 and 600 years. For example, 63% of Halloween costumes contain polyester. This is a type of plastic derived from petroleum, which takes between 20 and 200 years to decompose.

As these costumes sit in landfill for many years, the chemicals in the plastics can leach and spread into the surrounding groundwater, soil, and air – contaminating nearby water sources. While the costumes decompose, they contribute to the methane gas landfills release. This is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes massively to global warming.

Some Halloween costumes disposed of with your general waste may be incinerated. This can generate heat and energy, and avoids taking up space in landfill. However, burning plastics still releases toxic gases including dioxins, furans, mercury, and BCPs that threaten human, animal, and environmental health.

How to source low waste Halloween costumes

To cut down on Halloween costume waste, there are other ways to get a petrifying outfit rather than buying brand new. Consider these methods to source a low or zero waste Halloween costume:

  • Visit charity shops – second-hand stores and charity shops sell all sorts of clothing you can use to create your own scary outfit. Many also sell preloved Halloween costumes donated by others, for a cheaper and more sustainable choice. Try eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and Gumtree for affordable second-hand Halloween costumes too.
  • Borrow from a friend – seen someone you know in a fantastic costume? Ask friends and family if you can use it – after all, it’s likely only for one day. You can even repay the favour by lending them your old costume in return.
  • Hire a costume – renting a Halloween costume ensures you get a high-quality outfit for an affordable price, and it’ll get used again (after a wash) rather than going in the bin.
  • Go DIY – search your wardrobes, drawers, and cupboards for clothes and items to create your own costume. This adds real charm and ensures you’ll be in a totally unique outfit, which you can dismantle and use later.
  • Repurpose last year’s – last Halloween was a year ago. Nobody will remember what you went as, so why not just reuse the same costume? Or find a way to turn it into a different character and extend its life.
dog dressed in witch costume with cauldron.

Zero waste Halloween costume ideas

As long as you don’t throw away anything after wearing your spooky outfit, you’ve got a zero waste Halloween costume. The easiest way to create one is using items you already own that you can clean down after making your costume and reuse. Find inspiration for zero waste Halloween costumes with these ideas:

  • Ghost – all you need for this classic costume is a white sheet, dress, or loose white clothing. Rather than ruining a good sheet by cutting two eyeholes in it, stick a pair of sunglasses over the front for a cool ghost. Plus, you still have a usable bedsheet (just it might need a wash).
  • Ninja – plain black clothes are all you need to transform into a ninja. A black hoodie and trousers, long black dress or shirt with an additional balaclava, scarf, or bandana for your head can quickly turn you into a deadly assassin.
  • Bank robber – what’s scarier than losing all your money? Spending it all on a costume that ends up in landfill. Instead, throw on a striped t-shirt, beanie, and draw on (or grow) some stubble to create an effective criminal costume.
  • Skeleton – get a black t-shirt and sweatpants for the base, then draw on bones with white chalk. This should brush off and wash out afterwards, so your clothes won’t be ruined.
  • Dracula – unless you’ve got a cape lying about already, fashion one from a small black sheet, towel, or piece of fabric. Wear a smart white shirt underneath and pop on a bowtie to complete the look.
  • Clown – you might need to buy a wig, but otherwise mix any brightly coloured clothes then paint your face white with a red nose to become a cheap and cheerful clown (or a sinister one if that’s more your style).

How to dispose of old Halloween costumes

Eventually the life of your Halloween costume may come to an end if it gets damaged, worn out, or you simply have no space for it. The best thing to do is give it to a friend or family member. Or you could donate to a charity shop or sell/give it away for free online through eBay or Facebook Marketplace.

Whatever you do, don’t throw away a Halloween costume with general waste, as it’ll end up in landfill or incineration. Another more environmentally friendly option is to send your old costume for textile recycling. Here the fabrics can be stripped down and reused, while any other materials will be sent for recycling and proper disposal.

Contact us if you have old Halloween costumes you want to recycle or have any questions about the process.

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