How to sustainably discard pumpkins, other organic fall decorations once the holidays are over

Millions of pumpkins will be sent to landfills, but there's a better way.

November 1, 2023, 2:17 PM

Whether it's for carving jack-o'-lanterns or baking pumpkin pies, pumpkins are in peak demand for millions of families every fall.

But what to do with all of those orange-hued gourds once the ghouls, ghosts and goblins have departed, or the recipe has been perfected?

Pumpkins on a farm, Oct. 29, 2023, in Groesbeek, Netherlands.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Millions of pumpkins will be sent to the nearest landfill, adding to the millions of tons of organic materials, including food waste, that will release powerful greenhouse gases as they decompose, contributing to climate change.

Vegetable- or plant-based fall and Halloween decorations like hay, cornstalks and leaves that have been painted or bear any other coating or alteration that's not naturally occurring should be discarded in the trash.

Pumpkins, along with garden waste and other organic waste, await composting at the Anaerobic Composter Facility in Woodland, Calif., Nov. 30, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

As for the rest, one of the most popular alternatives is composting, which can be done in a backyard or at a local community-based composting program.

Composting, the process by which plant matter and food waste naturally decomposes into nutrient-rich compost ideal for fertilizer or mulch, is an organic way to add nutrients back into the soil and avoid more materials ending up in landfills, according to Simple Garden Life.

For pumpkins, squash and gourds, remove as many of the seeds as possible and chop them into smaller pieces to help speed up the decomposition process, the magazine states.

Straw bales make excellent brown matter for composting and can be used to help insulate fall-planted bulbs, such as garlic, according to Simple Garden Life. Remove any seeds, and also remove the bale strings to loosen up the flakes – the compressed bale sections – before adding to the compost pile.

Pumpkins are displayed during a Halloween celebration in Vilnius, Lithuanian, Oct. 30, 2023.
Mindaugas Kulbis/AP

Corn stalks work similarly to brown material but take longer to decompose. Leaves, even the ones not used for decoration but that shed from trees into the yard, are also great brown composting material.

In the U.S., food is the single most common material sent to landfills, comprising of more than 24% of municipal solid waste, according to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), released last month. Organic materials, including food waste, are responsible for 58% of fugitive methane emissions from municipal solid waste landfills, the EPA found.

Fugitive methane emissions include all of the methane that is released into the atmosphere. Just like carbon dioxide, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

Eating sustainably – including reducing food waste – is one of the easiest ways for individuals to combat climate change, according to experts.

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