Smash or trash: What to do with an old jack-o’-lantern

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The toothy grin is starting to sag, wrinkles are deepening, and it’s been days since a candle illuminated your pumpkin’s hand-carved expression. While trashing it may be tempting, experts say there are better ways to dispose of your old pumpkin.

Take that pumpkin to a compost site, use it in the garden, or put it somewhere appropriate for wildlife food. “If they go to the landfill, they contribute to the landfill gas,” said Holly Meier, the sustainability coordinator for Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The demand for pumpkins in the U.S. has been increasing. Production of pumpkins for all uses rose 31% from 1.46 billion pounds in 2000 to 1.91 billion pounds in 2014, according to the USDA. The agency said the increase reflects the demand for ornamental and food-use pumpkins. A decomposing pumpkin in a landfill eventually turns into methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that has more than 20 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The seeds and the innards of uncarved pumpkins could be used to feed humans and wildlife. Pumpkins can be used for pie, chili, and other recipes. An internet search will result in dozens of recipes and tips for using pumpkins. Carved pumpkins typically aren’t suitable for eating, according to multiple sources, so it’s best to compost them.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is among several agencies and organizations that suggest using pumpkin seeds to feed birds. The Georgia DNR said pieces of pumpkins can be mixed with apple slices or other fruits to feed wildlife. But feeding wildlife depends on the pumpkin owner’s yard and other factors such as whether or not the pumpkin has been sprayed.

Waste management companies also recommend burying the pumpkin in the backyard to provide nutrients to a yard or garden. The How to Dispose website said large pumpkins can be broken into pieces for burial. Burying pumpkins is one of the oldest known disposal methods, according to the website. Pumpkin owners can also check with a local farmer who may use pumpkins in a garden, in a field, or to feed livestock.

According to the World Economic Forum, about 900,000 tons of pumpkins are tossed in landfills each year in the U.S. Cities around the U.S. have been getting creative with pumpkin disposal. Cities in Minnesota and Illinois, for example, have sponsored pumpkin smashing events, where pumpkins are smashed for compost sites. Cook County, Illinois’ goal is to collect 25 tons of smashed pumpkins at several events, according to Illinois Extension.

Illinois is the top producer of pumpkins in the U.S., according to the USDA. The state had 15,900 acres of pumpkins in 2020. A lot of those pumpkins end up in pies or similar items sold as finished products or ingredients. Some end up as Halloween pumpkins. The Illinois Extension Service encouraged people to compost their pumpkins this year.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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