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27 Oct 2021

Cleaning Halloween

Solid Waste Expectations for a Socially Distant Spooky Season

Just as sinister sorcerers sweep the air each October 31st, solid waste collectors sweep up afterwards. But under COVID’s specter, this year’s Halloween haul is sure to be different. How many people will participate in Halloween 2020, and where and what will they consume and dispose?

According to its annual consumer survey conducted each September, the National Retail Federation projects a 58% participation rate in Halloween 2020 among U.S. adults, translating to more than 148 million celebrants. That statistic is down from last year, leading to an anticipated decrease of 8.3% in overall Halloween spending from $8.78B in 2019 to $8.05B in 2020.

Meanwhile, the same NRF study suggests that those who do plan to participate will spend 6.8% more this year, increasing consumption from $86.27 per person in 2019 to $92.12. This coincides with a shift towards socially distanced activities: 53% of participants plan to decorate their homes in 2020 vs 49% in 2019, and pumpkin carving is up to 46% from 44%. Communal activities are less popular: those throwing or attending a party fell from 32% to 22%, and those likely trick-or-treating fell from 29% to 23%.

What does that mean for this year’s waste volume and composition?

Shy of a magic cauldron, some light can be shed from known entities undoubtedly spell-bound for the front stoop on November 1st.

Take, for instance, the humble pumpkin. After adorning America’s porches and permeating its palate each Fall (the U.S. pumpkin spice market stood around $600M in 2018 according to Forbes), these gourds barely ever get eaten. As of 2015, Waste Dive reported that over 1 billion pounds of pumpkins are sent to U.S. landfills annually. Despite efforts to encourage composting from organizations like SCARCE – or simply chucking the fruit in the backyard – the increased interest in pumpkin carving and decorating this year points towards fuller bins and loftier lifts.


Another hallmark of All Hallows’ Eve, though perhaps less obvious, is pizza: Halloween is typically the second-biggest delivery day of the year for Domino’s. To throw a witch’s wrench in the mix, given that Halloween 2020 is a Saturday with few neighborhood bashes or local haunts available, would-be partygoers are liable to live it up at home versus settling in for a quiet viewing of Sleepy Hollow. Household consumption of party fare like beer and take-out therefore stands to increase, adding to recycling contamination from greasy pizza boxes and refuse volume overall.

Then there’s plastic

Store-bought costumes seem destined for disposal, considering that children outgrow them and twenty-somethings wouldn’t be caught dead repeating last year’s outfit. An October 2019 study in the United Kingdom found that oil-based plastic comprised 83% of the material across 324 retail Halloween costumes, leading to over 2,000 tons of plastic waste per year in the U.K.

Plastic candy wrappers contribute to the torrent: Waste Today reports that Americans consume nearly 600 million pounds of candy each Halloween. According to the National Confectioners Association, Americans spent $4.6B on candy in the 8 weeks leading up to Halloween 2019, and 2020 candy sales were already up 13% as of September – led by Halloween chocolate, which saw a 25.3% increase.

While it’s tough to say whether the increase in per capita consumption from homebound celebrations will offset the decreased participation and communal activities to move the needle on Halloween waste overall, an increase in residential waste at the least seems plausible for Halloween 2020, as more pumpkins are patched, pizza is snacked, and wrappings unpacked. For the municipal solid waste industry, that prospect is spooky enough.


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