After the trick-or-treaters have gone home, what becomes of the Halloween pumpkins that have outlived their decorative purpose?
You might be tempted just to throw them all away—and that’s certainly what many people do. Every year, more than 1 billion pounds of pumpkin get tossed out and left to rot in America’s landfills. Some are thrown away the day after Halloween, contributing to the 30.3 million tons of annual food waste in the U.S. When left to decompose in a landfill, that food waste produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas that’s far more potent than carbon dioxide. (It’s not just in the U.S.; The Guardian reported that in the U.K., people are expected to throw away a record 8 million pumpkins this year.)
That’s why cities and environmentalists are encouraging residents to find other ways to say goodbye to their gourds. Pumpkins are, after all, a fruit, and uncarved ones can be used as food for people and animals. Composting pumpkins, meanwhile, can capture nutrients and water that can be put directly into parks, gardens, and farms.
In Illinois, the recycling and composting nonprofit Scarce has been hosting a one-day pumpkin collection after Halloween every year since 2014. The organization has 31 collection sites at public spaces across the state—including churches, libraries, schools, and parks—and since its first event, it has saved 254 tons of pumpkins from landfills. In 2016, it collected 56 tons of pumpkins, according to its website, and with gourds being 90 percent water, that means that year, the organization diverted nearly 12,000 gallons of water back into the state’s soil.