The Scariest Thing About Halloween Is the Plastic (2019)

2019 Halloween Costumes and Clothing Plastics Survey

[updated with global data 23 10 19]

(see ’10 Top Tips’ for dressing up without plastic below)

(Download a bigger version of this infographic)

Plastic is scary stuff best avoided wherever possible, so the really scary thing about Halloween is the vast amount of plastic now generated by the commercialized Halloween industry.   Indeed there is so much plastic in Halloween shop displays that it almost seems that these days, “everything Halloween touches, turns to plastic”.  This is sad considering the the original Halloween tradition was all about nature – an insight which has inspired our event, The Real Halloween (26/27 October).


We’ve gone to great lengths to try and eliminate plastic from our events and workshops from getting rid of glitter, to forswearing cable ties and plastic gazebos, and we try to ensure our ‘makes’ are made of natural materials. We no longer collect plastic for ‘recycling’ at our events as it is very doubtful that much of it really does get recycled and even if it does, the re-use process delays rather than stopping it’s final journey into pollution, for example degrading into micro-plastic or being incinerated.  We ask visitors not to bring plastic packaging, or take it home, and ask our traders not to make or use plastic in what they sell.

But at Halloween in particular, the trend for buying new clothes or costumes to attend parties or celebration events means that a lot of new plastic is bought, adding to the overall plastics problem. 

So in recent years we started giving advice about dressing up while avoiding new plastic, and last year we introduced a ‘no-new plastic’ Halloween Fancy Dress Competition at The Real Halloween, and conducted a survey of plastic in 100 clothing items offered for sale at online retail platforms, tagged as for ‘Halloween’.

Scenes from the 2018 Fancy Dress Competition

Our 2019 survey, which was conducted in October, expanded to include 19 major retailers and we recorded details of 324 items.  What we found confirms the scarily large amount of plastic waste generated at Halloween (research by Hubbub shows that many costumes are disposed of after the event). 

  • 83% of the material in 324 clothing items was plastic
  • based on a sample of costumes, and given that 7m are thrown away each year, this is equivalent by weight to 83 million Coca Cola bottles of waste (2,079 tonnes of plastic)
  • 69% of the material was polyester
  • 10% was cotton
  • 5% was the plant-based textile ‘viscose’
  • Other research has shown that more than 30m people dress up for Halloween, over 90% of families consider buying costumes, some 7m Halloween costumes are thrown away in the UK each year, and globally less than 13% of material inputs to clothing manufacture are recycled and only 1% of clothing textiles are recycled into new clothes


The report states that ‘unless retailers and manufacturers take action to increase the use of nonplastic alternative fibres such as cotton, viscose and lyocell/tencel’ the huge plastic-waste footprint of
Halloween ‘is likely to continue’, and calls for ‘better and consistent labeling’ as many consumers do
not even realize that materials like polyester are in fact plastic.

It notes that ‘concerned consumers can take personal action to avoid buying new plastic and still dress-up for Halloween, buying from charity shops or re-using costumes to create outfits, or making their
own from non-plastic materials’ but ‘without regulatory action to limit plastic entering the supply
chain a comprehensive solution is unlikely to be found’. The Fairyland Trust proposes regulation to
‘phase out non-essential plastics from the market.

The actual ‘plastic footprint’ of Halloween is even larger than this survey suggests because it does not take account of things like toys and food packaging specifically produced for Halloween.

(The retailers surveyed were Aldi, Argos, ASOS, Amazon, Boden, Boohoo, Ebay, H & M, John Lewis,
Marks and Spencer, Matalan, Next, PrettyLittleThing, Sainsburys, Tesco, TK MAXX, Topshop, Wilko,

If you are coming to The Real Halloween remember to enter the no-new-plastic Fancy Dress Competition (prizes!). 


Download the report here

Download the data here (Excel spread sheet)

TOP TIPS for dressing up without plastic – from Sarah Wise at Fairyland Trust

“1. Raid you old wardrobes or the local charity shops.

2. Look for clothes with autumn colours ,  orange, green, browns plus black of course. Add some gold cloth / accessories to jazz things up.

3. Try teaming an old evening dress with some fur and a pair of wellingtons. Its a strong outdoor Halloween look and has been done for years at festivals.

4. A hat is always a good addition – especially fur ones.  Embellish with some pheasant feathers and real leaves  for instant effect.

5. Or you could go for  the popular steam punk look with an old  top hat and goggles, plus a heavy overcoat.

6. Cloaks are easy to make from old curtains- just sew a ribbon along the top edge and you are ready to go.  All good witches and wizards have cloaks.

7. Cut a jagged edge  off old tea shirts/  trousers  for a elf/goblin tunic or even a zombie outfit.

8. Zombie outfits by definition ought to be home made.

9. And  don’t forget that old childhood favourite of sticking a white sheet over your head and painting on some  black ghostly eyes.

10. Think Peaky Blinders crossed with Lord of the Rings and a bit of The Last Showman and you are on the right track”

Video Demonstration of Dressing Up Without New Plastic – “Be like Dave”



Global Issue

The latest annual survey from the authoritative industry group Textile Exchange shows that most clothes fibres are still plastic (about 62%) and the total amount produced, eg of polyester, is still growing. 

Little of this will get recycled and even if it does, the ‘recycling’ process leads to ‘downcycling’ as the plastic degrades in the process, leading to it eventually being dumped or burnt, and it also fragments in use.  So recycling of plastic is not an ‘answer’ to the plastic pollution problem, it only delays the creation of pollution, it does not stop it.  (Other materials eg paper, steel, glass, aluminium are much less problematic).

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