Ways to reduce Halloween plastic waste

Halloween plastic waste could be the scariest thing about the spooky holiday. Forget the creepy costumes, darker days, and petrifying pumpkins – the increased amount of plastic thrown into landfill around Halloween and its environmental effects are truly terrifying. Decomposing for hundreds of years, leaching chemicals, and releasing greenhouse gases is like something out of a Halloween horror film.

So, what can we do? The rise of plastic use and waste hasn’t gone unnoticed, and many businesses and individual are seeking plastic-free alternatives for their Halloween costumes, decorations, treat, and parties. Find out how much plastic waste we produce at Halloween and ways to cut down this year.

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two plastic skeletons in Halloween house.

How much plastic waste does Halloween produce?

Halloween produces lots of plastic waste from costumes, decorations, and sweet wrappers. Some frightening facts include:

  • 83% of Halloween costumes and clothing are made from plastic.
  • Halloween costumes create 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste every year – similar to the weight of 18 blue whales.
  • Of these Halloween costumes, around 63% contain polyester.
  • Polyester can take between 20 and 200 years to decompose in landfill.
  • In the USA, 275 million kilograms of Halloween sweets are bought each year – creating mountains of plastic wrapper waste.

To help bring these numbers down there are various things you can do to reduce the plastic waste Halloween produces.

Avoid Halloween costumes containing plastic

Buying almost any type of Halloween costume from a supermarket or fancy dress shop will contain some level of plastic that’s tricky or hard to recycle – even when sent for textile recycling. This includes everything from accessories such as plastic Halloween masks to complete costumes. The packaging they’re sold in is also often made from plastic.

Simply avoid buying a new costume every year to cut back on your plastic use and waste.

A few alternatives include:

  • Hiring a fancy dress costume. Even if it contains plastic, at least it’ll be reused many times and not thrown away.
  • Reusing a costume you already own or borrowing one from a friend. Again, even if it uses plastic at least it won’t be thrown out.
  • Making your own Halloween costume from clothing items you have, so you can dismantle it and keep wearing them in the future.
Ideas to reduce Halloween costume waste

Put up plastic free Halloween decorations

Wander round your neighbourhood in October and you’ll likely see gardens full of gravestones, skeletons, bats, and more. What do they all have in common (aside from transforming suburban semi-detached homes into haunted houses)? They’re mostly made from plastic, used once, then chucked in the bin.

Thankfully, there are plenty of non-plastic Halloween decorations you can put up in and outside your home instead. These materials and decorations can then be reused, recycled, or kept for next year. A few ideas for plastic free Halloween decorations include:

  • Paper bats and spiders – use black paper or card and cut out spider and bat shapes. Hang them around your home or garden with some twine for a simple yet scary effect. Keep for next year or throw away with your paper or cardboard recycling.
  • String spider webs – tie up some string in a simple spider web style or use more black paper to cut one out and stick to your walls, like making paper snowflakes.
  • Scarecrow – stuff some old clothes with newspaper, which you can recycle afterwards, and blow up a balloon or use a football for a head to create a scarecrow. Sit it in a chair or wheelbarrow in your garden to creep out any trick-or-treaters.
  • Light jars – most Halloween lights are made of plastic. Instead, put a tea light in empty glass jars to form an eerie atmosphere (in or outside). You can always paint the jars if you want and when Halloween’s over, clean them out and recycle the glass.
  • Scary signs – if you’ve got some old wooden board or pieces of cardboard, use a red pen or paint to make your own signs with ‘keep out’, ‘turn back now’, and other slogans. Recycle the wood or cardboard once you’re done with them.

Plan a no plastic Halloween party

Throwing a Halloween party at home or work? This can create lots of plastic waste without careful planning. Choosing plastic free Halloween decorations and costumes is a good start, but you’ll also need to focus on the catering. A few considerations for a plastic free Halloween party are:

  • Cups and straws – plastic Halloween cups, straws, and wine glasses may be a convenient choice that fit the theme, but unless you wash and reuse them next year they’ll likely end up in landfill. Use your own glasses or opt for paper cups and straws if you must use disposable ones, as these are easier to clean and recycle.
  • Plates – Halloween plastic plates are also convenient and on theme, but hard to recycle. If you can’t use your own plates, try to offer food that doesn’t need plates or can be eaten from a paper napkin.
  • Tablecloth – many supermarkets sell Halloween plastic tablecloths but don’t get lured in. Instead, use your regular tablecloth but surround it with non-plastic Halloween decorations (after all, most of the table will be covered with plates and food that hide the tablecloth’s design anyway).

Give out plastic free Halloween treats

Sweet and treat wrappers are a real problem at Halloween as most of them are made from a combination of plastic and aluminium. These need separating to recycle each stream individually as plastic and metal waste. However, it’s often either impossible to separate the two or the costs and energy involved are so high that they end up in landfill.

Even Halloween sweet wrappers made from pure plastic might not be recycled if they’re too small to provide value or simply pass through the machines. Those coated in sticky substances and bits of food waste may also be diverted away from recycling to landfill.

The easiest thing to do is provide non-plastic Halloween treats to any trick-or-treaters. Buy sweets in bulk that come in cardboard boxes or glass jars with zero packaging to hand out loose sweets. Other ideas for plastic free Halloween treats include offering home baking, fruit, or paper, foil, or boxed sweets.

halloween sweets in pumpkin shaped dish.

Remove plastic from trick-or-treating

If your own kids are going trick-or-treating, don’t buy cheap plastic Halloween buckets for them to use. These often get used once then thrown away (or left in a cupboard and forgotten about until after you’ve bought another plastic Halloween bucket next year). Instead, use a bucket you already own and decorate with stickers or paint to add a creative pumpkin or skeleton design.

You could also add a Halloween theme to any plain fabric bags you own with a few black and orange pens. If your kids are more bothered about what’s in their bucket/bag than the container itself, simply send them out with a plastic carrier bag.

Provide plastic recycling bins

Going completely plastic free at Halloween can be tricky. For any plastic you use, try and make sure it’s recyclable first. Place a few plastic recycling bins around your workplace or office for easy access and encourage guests to recycle as much as possible. It might not completely eliminate plastic but at least it should divert lots from landfill.

Learn how to have a low waste Halloween
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