Have a waste free Halloween

October 20, 2019

Halloween is the third biggest sales period for retailers in the UK behind Christmas and Easter. With an increase in sales comes a corresponding increase in waste. Unfortunately, because many Halloween items are designed to be used only for a few hours, and are often made using inexpensive non-recyclable materials, the cost to the environment is high and dealing with the resultant waste can be a Halloween nightmare.

The best strategy for dealing with Halloween waste is to follow the waste hierarchy and avoid producing it in the first place. The next best option is to reuse where possible, recycle everything you can, and  dispose of anything else responsibly as a last resort.

The Waste hierarchy ranks the options for dealing with waste from most to least favourable.

The most favourable options for dealing with waste are at the top of the hierarchy, the least favourable are towards the bottom.

We have a few top tips for enjoying a minimal waste Halloween which we hope you’ll read before hitting the shops and which should help you avoid a Halloween waste nightmare.

However, we know that a full on waste free or zero waste Halloween isn’t for everyone. If you have already bought your plastic broomstick and fake spider webs etc. you might just be looking for some advice on what’s recyclable and what needs to be disposed of responsibly. If this is you, we also have some guidelines for dealing with some of the more common Halloween waste dilemmas. Use the links below to navigate the content:

Top tips for a waste free Halloween

Home made decorations and costumes


Parties and celebrations

Trick or treating

Cosmetics & makeup

Top tips for disposing of common Halloween items



Plastic toys and decorations

Paper and card – decorations & props


Dealing with home made decorations and costumes 

Top tips for a low waste Halloween

Make your own decorations and costumes

The internet is crammed with inspiration and how to guides. Check out #SewSpooky if you plan on making and/or sharing something. Whatever you make, keep your creations and use them next year. If necessary, remember to remove batteries from anything that’s likely to be in storage for a long period of time. Use the batteries elsewhere and then recycle them at your closest battery collection point.

Borrow, swap or swish items if you don’t have what you need to hand, visit a charity shop or put out a request on social media for materials if you are struggling.

There are also a growing number of websites and apps that might help you find what you need (and to help you re-home your costume after you are done with it):

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Grow your own pumpkin or buy local

It takes months of loving care to grow a pumpkin, so if you haven’t started already, it’s too late. However, you should think about it for next year by putting a reminder in your calendar now – ideally you’ll plant seeds in late May or early June.

As well as taking weeks to grow, an average pumpkin requires 240 litres of water to reach maturity. It’s flesh contains no fat, and is a great source of potassium and beta-carotene. It also contains minerals including calcium and magnesium, as well as vitamins E, C and B.

Now you know the amount of effort that goes into growing them and the health properties of pumpkin flesh, you’ll hopefully cherish your shop bought pumpkin. Where possible however, do make the effort to find a locally grown pumpkin, and cook and eat any leftovers after carving.

As a general rule, small pumpkins taste better than large ones – they’re less stringy and grainy and have thicker, less watery flesh. Remember, there’s no such thing as a ‘carving pumpkin’, they are all edible, it’s just that smaller pumpkins tend to be less ‘stringy’ and have more flavour.

Whatever pumpkin you choose and how you cook it, make sure to retain the seeds for either planting next year (dry them and store them till you need them), feeding to birds, or roast and eat them yourself.

If you don’t fancy cooking your pumpkin, you might consider using it to make a range of beauty products instead.

If you are buying a pumpkin for ‘display’ only and have no intention of eating it or rubbing it on your face, please dispose of the remains responsibly after Halloween. A home compost bin is a great solution (You can find a comprehensive guide to composting pumpkins here. Leicestershire residents can buy a compost bin at a subsidised price from here).

If you can’t compost at home, consider that many garden birds, insects and other wildlife will appreciate feeding on a pumpkin – as long as it’s not mouldy. Simply leave it in your garden or other outside space – preferably with the ‘lid’ off so it’s easy for small creatures to get at the flesh inside. Once your pumpkin does go mouldy it can be smashed up and the pieces buried in the soil in your garden (cover the pieces with soil to a depth of 15 – 25cm) where it will decompose completely over time, adding nutrients to your soil.

If you don’t have a compost bin or a garden, place your pumpkin in the residual waste bin. Pumpkins can’t go into garden waste bins.

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Parties and celebrations

Much like vampires, single use items can’t do you any harm if you don’t invite them into your home. As a general rule, if an item can’t be reused, eaten, composted or recycled, do not let it pass your threshold. Banning single use plates, cups, glasses and cutlery is a great start.

If you intend to use “compostable” single use items (plates, cups etc.) at your party, make sure they are certified as being home compostable, and that your compost bin has space for them. Our guide to compostable and other types of plastics may help if you have any questions.

Encourage your guests to collect recyclable and non-recyclable waste separately, and help them by making it easy for them to do so by leaving separate collection containers around the party venue. You can find a list of recyclable items here.

Party food is also another area to consider. This portion calculator can help you to buy and serve just enough for your guests. If you are serving buffet type food, don’t be tempted to put it all on display at once, it’s usually better to put out a bit at a time and to top up according to demand.

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No tricks with your treats

If you are planning on giving out treats, keep in mind that a lot of sweets and chocolates go to waste over Halloween. Don’t buy more than you can give away or eat yourself. By all means give trick or treaters the choice of a healthier alternative, but know your audience and be realistic –  if sweets and chocolate are going to waste, what chance does fruit have? Try to give out treats without any packaging, or with easily recyclable packaging. You could also give out non-edible treats; Wildflower seeds or seed bombs can be successful, but again know your audience. Have a back up plan for dealing with any surplus you are left with whatever you decide to hand out.

Sweets in non-recyclable wrappers

Many sweets come in non-recyclable packaging

non-wrapped sweets bought in bulk

Look for sweets with no / recyclable packaging

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Be careful with cosmetics

Facepaints aren’t recyclable but you can keep the waste to a minimum by making your own using items from the kitchen: https://www.wikihow.com/Make-Your-Own-Face-Paint.

If you intend to buy facepaints then invest in a quality set that can be kept and reused next year without drying out. When it’s time to wash facepaints off, please avoid wetwipes which can’t be recycled. You could try making your own reusable wipes or use a flannel instead.

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Tips for disposing of common Halloween items

Pumpkin / Jack O’Lantern

Chances are that you are looking for a way to dispose of a pumpkin that’s been used as a lantern and is now sat outside your home looking somewhat saggy and worse for wear. Presumably you have read the section above and come to the conclusion that you don’t fancy eating the decomposing remains, and composting or burying the pumpkin in your garden is not an option for you. Your next step should be to ask someone with a compost bin or garden if they can help you out. There are a growing number of keen composters who are throwing open their compost bins for use by others. Ask around and or see what’s local to you on this website: Sharewaste.com. Disposal in your residual waste bin is the last resort, and remember that pumpkins shouldn’t be disposed of in a garden waste collection.

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Unless your council allows the use of a dedicated collection bag, textiles including clothing, footwear, handbags, belts, towels, blankets, duvets, and pillows should not be disposed of with your kerbside recycling. However, even the lowest quality, damaged or stained textiles are of use and have value so try to avoid putting it into your residual waste bin. Costumes in good condition can be sold or given away (see here). Charity shops will typically accept all kinds of textiles even if they aren’t in good enough condition to be re-worn (charities can get an income by selling rags). If you don’t have a nearby charity shop, use a textiles collection bank – you can find your nearest textiles collection point here.

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Many toys and decorations are not recyclable owing to the materials they are made from.

Plastic decorations and toys

These items should be kept and reused whenever possible. If that’s impossible they can be sold or given away. There are lots of options for doing that, including freecycle, freegle and ebay.

Unfortunately the majority of plastic decorations and toys are made from hard plastics, often mixed with other materials, which can’t be recycled via kerbside recycling collections in Leicestershire. If you have toys you need to dispose of please use your residual waste bin not your recycling collection.

However, toys and decorations that contain batteries, or which can be charged up, or which plug into the mains electricity supply are a bit different. These items are WEEE (that’s Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment) and these can be recycled to recover the valuable metals they contain. WEEE can be recycled of at many locations around Leicestershire including Recycling and Household Waste Sites.

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Paper or card props and decorations

An increasing number of Halloween decorations are made from a paper or card-like materials. Those made of tissue or crepe paper (e.g. paper lanterns) can’t be recycled in your kerbside collection. Paper and cardboard items containing a mixture of materials cannot be recycled via kerbside collections, for example cardboard bunting which contains; cardboard triangles, string or ribbon, glue and staples. These items should be disposed of in your general waste bin unless you are prepared to spend time carefully separating out the recyclable and non recyclable components yourself. Keep an eye open for metalised plastic films which look like shiny paper or foil. These thin plastic materials are also not recyclable. You’ll be able to identify them by doing a scrunch test. Paper will scrunch into a tight ball and remain scrunched. Metalised plastic will not remain scrunched in a tight ball.

Bunting is made of a composite of different materials and shouldn’t be put in a recycling collection unless you are prepared to separate out the recyclable from the non-recyclable parts.

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Balloons of any sort aren’t recyclable as part of your kerbside collection and should be disposed of in the residual waste bin.

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Dealing with home made decorations and costumes

Dealing with your home made creations when they have reached the end of their life deserves a bit of thought as it can be challenging, particularly if your creation consists of different materials glued, stuck or sewn together. If you are keen to recycle as much as you can, start by separating out the different types of materials and assessing the recyclability of each component individually. Items covered in paint, glue, sticky tape or glitter are not recyclable and should be disposed of in the residual waste bin. You can find a simple list of what can and can’t be recycled in your kerbside collection here.

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