How to have a magic Halloween without the waste

Two homemade lanterns, upcycled from milk bottles and decorated with leaves
Uh oh, here I am, back to spoil your fun by complaining about the environmental impact of Halloween. I understand. I’d like nothing more than to throw on a skeleton onesie, turn off the lights, and eat an entire bag of fun sized Mars Bars in peace….

But there’s no getting away from it: the mass consumption associated with Halloween (totally around £320 million a year in the UK if you can believe it) has a significant negative impact.

Luckily, it’s pretty easy to reduce our Halloween footprint, especially if we can unlearn the habit of impulse buying stuff we don’t need, and be honest with ourselves about the true cost of our choices. This is my new mantra every time I set foot in Lidl: I came to buy onions. I did not come to buy an inflatable ghost, a chocolate santa and a wetsuit.  We’ve brought together four ways to make your Halloween scarily sustainable. 

Choose DIY or preloved costumes

Me in July: I am so excited for Halloween! I’m going to hand-craft beautiful costumes for the kids, I can’t wait. 


Me in early October: Oh wow, it’s nearly Halloween. Better get on with those costumes! I’ll definitely find time next week…


Me at 11:57 on October 30th: Ahh, shit. I’ve got a tea towel and half a Toblerone, can I make something with those? 

I’ve been the parent who forgets to send their kid in a costume for school or nursery celebrations so I totally get the temptation to grab a last minute pair of flashing devil horns but there are some very good reasons to step away from the £5 Elsa costume. Every issue associated with fast fashion – textile waste, pollution, water use, worker rights, excess packaging – is amplified when it comes to Halloween costumes as they’re almost always made from petroleum-based synthetic fibres (that can’t readily be recycled), they’re lousy with plastic accessories, and we essentially treat them as disposable; it’s estimated that 12,500 tonnes of costumes end up in landfill every year.

Plus – you’re a beautiful unique snowflake, why are you letting Sainsburys tell you to dress up as a naff polyester vampire? Create your own costume and you can be the sexy minion, or the crime fighting mutant Joe Wicks, or the zombie George Monbiot that you’ve always wanted to be. You do you. 

A child dressed as a ghost standing next to a pumpkin

Even if you’re working with no budget, no time, and no crafting abilities you can still create a lower waste costume. Start by using what you’ve already got around the house: raid the recycling bin, upcycle old clothes, or head to the charity shops for unique finishing touches. Face paint goes a long way to making a costume special but ditch the glitter as it finds its way into the oceans as millions of microplastic particles. We love these mask templates from Wintercroft too: print them out, glue onto old cereal boxes, and make something really impressive. 

And if all else fails there’s always the classic sheet ghost. My top tips:

  1. sew an old pair of pants into the centre of the sheet to wear as a hat to keep the sheet on.
  2. Cut holes for the eyes and stick patches of old black t-shirt or leggings over them – you can see through them and it looks cool. 

If making really isn’t your thing then you could arrange a costume swap with local parents or try Facebook Marketplace. I just counted and there are well over three hundred Halloween costumes for sale in Cardiff right now including a horrible jester’s outfit that has inexplicably been listed as a ‘medieval Harley Quinn costume’ and something called a ‘sexy ribcage.’ Explore at your own risk. 

Pick sweets with less packaging

Do you give out sweets at the door? I really enjoy seeing the kids come round in their costumes but I’m not up for handing out a bucket of packaging. If I had my way I’d probably be dishing out little boxes of raisins or homemade biscuits or something (I appreciate that no one wants homemade stuff for safety reasons) but my husband reckons this is tantamount to giving out earwigs and he’s probably right so I usually go for foil wrapped chocolates plus some stickers for any kids that can’t have or don’t like chocolate. Dairy free chocolate coins are a thing if you’re looking for a vegan option. 

Do right by your pumpkin
A pumpkin carved with a toothy face

This year I once again had the lofty ambition of growing our own Halloween pumpkin – too lofty as it turned out as our entire crop of squashes is piddly and lumpy. Never mind. 


Unfortunately – but probably predictably – Halloween pumpkins are a massive source of food waste; the supermarket ones are so massive, and so cheap, that it’s easy to forget that they’re actually food! According to Hubbub (who have been running the Pumpkin Rescue Campaign since 2014) 18,000 tonnes of edible pumpkin end up rotting in landfill sites every year. 

So what to do? Here are some tips for a greener pumpkin:


  1. Buy and carve your pumpkin close to or on Halloween so you can reuse the shell before it goes slimy and furry. Those big pumpkins sold for Halloween have pretty woody and tasteless flesh (and you might not want to cut it up and eat it after it’s had a candle burning in it) but you can totally turn it into a bird feeder for the garden. 
  2. Buy your pumpkin from a farmer’s market or farm shop, and choose a few smaller ones rather than a single big one; it will be so much tastier than a mega mutant one. 
  3. Don’t be tempted to grab one of those ‘pumpkin carving kits’ they stock with the Halloween stuff in the supermarket. You’ve got everything you need at home: a knife, a bowl and a big spoon for scraping. 
  4. Use those stringy guts! Simmer them with other veg scraps for a really special stock (and don’t forget you can freeze them until you’re in stock-making mode).  Make puree by separating out the seeds and whizzing the guts in a food processor. You can use this puree for pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, risotto, hummus or this wicked pumpkin butter. Don’t like the taste of pumpkin? Turn your pulp into face mask. 
  5. Use the seeds too! I was confused by pumpkin seeds for such a long time. Why don’t they look like the little green ones? How do you crack the critters open to get at the good stuff inside?! Turns out that the pumpkin seeds you buy in a bag come from a different kind of fruit to the ‘Halloween pumpkin’ and they grow without that tough white hull. Take your Halloween pumpkin seeds, give them a rinse and simmer them in salted water before roasting them with any flavour you like (Honey and salt? Cinnamon and spice? Chilli and Lime? Mmmmm) then you can enjoy the whole thing, hull and all. Find a full recipe at Hubbub. 
  6. Compost any leftover pumpkin bits. Any chickens in your life will also happily take them off your hands. 
  7. And don’t get pulled into the Pinterest black hole of pumpkins dipped in paint, glitter, googly eyes and other abominations. 
Decorate without buying any (new) plastic

If you’re buying decorations then go for sturdy paper and cardboard over plastic, and reuse your decorations until they fall to bits. If you’re in the mood to make something then choose natural materials and things that can be recycled, or re-purpose stuff from around the house. Quite a few staples of Halloween crafts are resource and energy intensive to produce and contribute to plastic pollution – stick away from glitter, plastic googly eyes, foam stickers, plastic spiders (and that webby stuff), glow sticks and balloons.

How do you keep Halloween properly spooky without producing a scary amount of waste? Do share your tips with us in the comments below or on social. And don’t forget to repeat after me:
I came to buy onions. I did not come to buy an inflatable ghost, a chocolate santa and a wetsuit.

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