Halloween waste

October 14, 2021

Halloween 2021 coincides with the start of COP26, the UN climate change conference taking place in Glasgow this year. There couldn’t be a better time to make sure your Halloween celebrations (if you are celebrating of course) are as waste free and sustainable as possible.

We’ve put together some tips and advice to help you to deal with the most common Halloween waste conundrums, from planning a waste free Halloween (or at least low waste) to responsibly disposing of unavoidable waste after 31st October. Use the menu below to skip the section you need. Also, don’t forget to check our Whats’ On page to find out about Halloween events and activities.

Top tips for a waste free Halloween
Games and activities
Store and reuse Halloween items for next year
Cosmetics & makeup removal
Top tips for disposing of common Halloween items
Plastic toys and decorations
Batteries and WEEE (Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment)
Paper and card – decorations & props
Dealing with home made decorations and costumes

Top tips for a waste free Halloween


The history of carving of vegetables into jack-o’-lanterns at this time of year is appropriately vague and mysterious, but the practice is thought to have originated in Ireland a few hundred years ago. Originally, turnips and large potatoes were the vegetable of choice for the carving of lanterns, and it wasn’t until Irish migrants made their way to North America, where they found pumpkins (pumpkins were first domesticated as a crop in Mexico) that the pumpkin based jack-o’-lantern was born. It took another few hundred years more for the carved pumpkin tradition to make its way back across the Atlantic to England. Halloween wasn’t widely celebrated here until twenty or thirty years ago.  However, Halloween has now become the third most profitable period for retailers in the UK (behind Christmas and Easter), and it’s thought that of the 24 million pumpkins bought each Halloween in the UK, over half (nearly 13 million) will find their way to the bin rather than being eaten.

That’s a lot of  unnecessary waste, especially considering that;

  • Pumpkin 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.
  • Growing and transporting pumpkins has a carbon footprint. The amount of greenhouse gasses locked up in your pumpkin will depend on where it’s from and how it’s been grown. A study from 2011 found it to range from 139g to 448g of greenhouse gas per kilogram of pumpkin. All those emissions are for nothing if your pumpkin is used purely as a decoration and goes uneaten.

As a 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 have more flavour. You’ll find a wealth of recipes and inspiration at Hubbub covering everything from pumpkin soup to kimchi and even pumpkin ale.

File:Traditional Irish halloween Jack-o'-lantern.jpg
A traditional carved turnip Jack O’ lantern preserved at the Museum of Country life, Castlebar Co Mayo.

Whatever pumpkin you choose and how you cook it, make sure to retain the seeds, either for sowing and growing next year, feeding the birds, or for roasting and eating. If you do intend to start your own pumpkin patch, it’s worth noting that pumpkin seeds can be sown from April to June, so dry the seeds and keep them in storage over winter. Pumpkins require a huge amount of water and so if you are growing your own then having a water butt is a good idea.

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

It’s also worth remembering that other vegetables and fruits can be carved too. These can be presented raw (it turns out turnips are quite creepy) or served as a cooked dish.

If you are carving your pumpkin and you aren’t likely to eat all of it please dispose of the inedible remains responsibly. A home compost bin is ideal and for those of you that haven’t already got one, Leicester and Leicestershire residents can buy a compost bin at a subsidised price.

If you can’t compost at home, but do have some outdoor space then it’s worth considering that many garden birds, insects and other wildlife will appreciate feeding on a pumpkin. Once your pumpkin starts to rot it can be smashed up and the pieces buried in the soil in your garden (cover the pieces with soil to a depth of 15-25 cm) where it will decompose completely over time and add nutrients to your soil. If you don’t have a compost bin or a garden, then you can put the pumpkin in your general waste bin. Please note that pumpkins shouldn’t be put in your garden waste collection bin.

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If you want to dress up, the most sustainable option is to make a costume from things you already own. You’ll find lots of ideas for inspiration and ‘how to’ guides online. Whatever you make, keep your creations and use them again next year. If that’s not an option then pass them on to someone who will.

Make use of sharing apps to rehome unwanted costumes and clothing, or to find one if you don’t fancy making your own:

If you have inherited a second hand costume, or found that your favourite from last year doesn’t quite fit any more, remember that they can always be altered and tweaked where required.

If you don’t already have everything you need for your outfit, then check out your local charity shop.

If you’re short on time, or prefer to keep things simple, just raid your wardrobe to wear a Halloween colour-themed outfit instead.

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Games and activities

If you aren’t keen on going out this year, why not enjoy the following low waste activities instead?

  1. Make own toffee appleswhich can be decorated as you chose.
  2. Have a game of Snap Apple – tie string around apples (one for each person playing) and hang them from a tree branch, washing line, or similar. Ensure that the apple ends up at mouth height or slightly lower for each player. The idea is to eat the whole apple without touching it with your hands. You could give a prize to the person that manages to take a bite of theirs first. It’s not as easy as it sounds and you could exchange the apple for a doughnut if that sounds more appealing.
  3. Have a go at bobbing for apples – float apples in a large basin filled with water. The idea is to grab one of the apples and remove it from the water using only your mouth. Hands are kept behind players’ backs.
  4. Watch a scary film together as a family.
  5. Prepare your own indoor Halloween treasure hunt, either in the garden, or indoors if you don’t fancy venturing outside.
  6. Decorate your house with your own homemade recyclable decorations, there’s plenty of inspiration on the internet. Or alternatively buy decorations that will last for years to come.

Bobbing Apples
Apple bobbing is thought to date back to Roman times so really is a classic game.


  • Have fun making your own Halloween mask from cardboard. You could turn it into a competition with a prize for the best mask.

  • Why not dim the lights, put on some spooky music in the background and take it in turns to tell a ghost story?

If you are planning a Halloween party please do:

  • Make use of reusable plates and cutlery
  • Look after your decorations so you can store them for use next year
  • Portion appropriately. Don’t buy or serve more food than is likely to be eaten
  • Collect recyclable and non-recyclable party waste separately

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Store and reuse your Halloween items for next year

halloween, blood, horror, dark, terrifying, black, fantasy, malle, box, 3d | Pxfuel

Why not decorate a box to store your decorations and costumes in? Do remember to remove batteries from anything that’s likely to be in storage for extended periods of time though, as this will prevent corrosion, and will help to prolong the life of the battery and the item itself. The batteries can be used elsewhere until they’re dead and then, if not rechargeable, can be recycled. It’s very important to recycle your batteries responsibly, they need to be kept separate from the other waste materials otherwise they can be a hazard and an environmental issue. They should never be put into your recycling bin or your general waste bin but instead recycle them at your nearest battery collection point.

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Cosmetics & make up removal

Face paints aren’t recyclable but you can keep the waste to a minimum by making your own using items from the kitchen: How to make your own face paint.

If you intend to buy face paints then invest in a quality set that can be kept and reused next year without letting them dry out. When it’s time to wash face paints off, please avoid wet wipes which can’t be recycled. You could try making your own washable make-up remover pads, or use a flannel instead.

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Tips for disposing of common Halloween items

Pumpkin / Jack O’Lantern

As mentioned earlier, in the section ‘grow your own’, either compost at home, chop them up and bury them in your garden (known as trench composting), or as a last resort put in your general waste bin. Remember that pumpkins shouldn’t be put in your garden waste collection.

Composting Pumpkins - www.carryoncomposting.com
Pumpkins being ‘trench composted’. Courtesy of carryoncomposting.com

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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 in your kerbside recycling. 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, but remember to mark the bag as rags (charities can get an income by selling rags). Remember to follow Covid 19 guidance which has been put in place to protect staff, volunteers and the public. It is advisable to check what donations the charity shop is accepting before arriving. If you don’t have a nearby charity shop, use a textiles/clothes bank – you can find your nearest textiles/clothes bank here. Never leave clothes in front of a closed charity shop or in front of a clothes bank – this is fly-tipping and is a criminal offence.

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Plastic decorations and toys

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

These items should be kept and reused whenever possible. If not then then they can be sold or given away. There are lots of options for doing that, including freecyclefreegle and ebay, along with your local charity shop.

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 want to dispose of please use your general 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 classed as WEEE (Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment) and are covered by legislation that determines how they are collected, treated and disposed of. WEEE can be recycled 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; the paper fibres are too short so these materials can’t be recycled. 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 film which looks like shiny paper or foil. This thin plastic material isn’t recyclable either. You’ll be able to identify it 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 but will open straight out again.

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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balloon, orange, face, funny, autumn, man, Halloween, brick, one person, brick wall

Balloons of any sort aren’t recyclable as part of your kerbside collection and should be disposed of in the general 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 general waste bin. Leicestershire residents can check the list of what items are accepted in your kerbside recycling.

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