Pumpkins don't get much attention after Halloween, but recyclers think it's prime time for the watery fruit.
"We've got all these rotting pumpkins. Let's do something with them that's productive," says David Husemoller, sustainability manager at the College of Lake County in Grayslake.
With that in mind, the community college Saturday will host what's believed to be the first large-scale, pumpkin-only composting event in Lake County. From 9 a.m. to noon, visitors can bring their over-the-hill pumpkins to parking Lot 5 near Lancer lane and Brae Loch Road to be collected and taken to a composting facility. One rule: Organizers ask that candles, yarn, googly eyes or other decorations be removed.
While Husemoller and others involved hope for the best in terms of participation, the DuPage County group that pioneered the idea in 2014 is expecting a windfall and the number of collection sites has quadrupled.
"Last year, we got such a great response. It was amazing. There was such little publicity," said Kay McKeen, founder of the Glen Ellyn-based School & Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education. She said organizers were stunned when 9.3 tons of pumpkins were collected in three hours at locations in Glen Ellyn, Wheaton and Elmhurst.
"We didn't know how many we were going to get, but right away we knew we had to smash the pumpkins or we wouldn't have enough room" in the collection container, she said.
That success didn't go unnoticed by Vytas Pabedinskas, who moved to the Grayslake area after completing his master's degree in soil science at the University of Arizona in Tucson. The stay-at-home dad with a passion for composting approached contacts at CLC contacts with the idea to host an event.
"I got lucky because it was easy. People were for it and it really wasn't a hard sell," he said.
Pumpkins, Pabedinskas explained, are 90 percent water and full of nutrients that are good for the soil.
But when dumped in a landfill, especially en masse at this time of year, they contribute to the production of methane and other greenhouse gases. Because pumpkins are plentiful this time of year, Pabedinskas regards the event as a chance to raise awareness about other items that can be diverted from the trash.
"It's a conversation starter," he said. Before deciding to study the subject, Pabedinskas began composting by necessity while living in Arizona.
"In the hot Arizona sun, it (trash) gets potent really quick. I basically just cut out about 60 percent to 70 percent of the trash I was throwing out."
McKeen said a state law to allow a one-day special collection had to be passed before the inaugural event could proceed.
"It was kind of a pilot project for the state," she said.
"We want to compost all of our foods scraps," she added of the not-for-profit group's mission. The pumpkins will be combined with dry leaves and converted to compost that will be sold to gardeners in the spring, she said.
Many high school and college students will help Saturday, and teachers at various levels have been incorporating the science of composting into lessons. Students from Downers Grove North and Downers Grove South high schools, for example, are participating Saturday as part of their environmental studies, McKeen said.
The theme for the events is "Don't Let Your Waste Haunt You," and there is a lot to be had. Of the 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins produced in 2008, Illinois was the leading growing state with 496 million pounds, according to the University of Illinois Extension.
And this past April, Gov. Bruce Rauner declared pumpkin pie the state pie.
The spoils from Lake County will be taken to Midwest Organics Recycling in Wauconda Township at no charge.
"We're prepared for a big crowd," Husemoller said. "I think there's more awareness about composting and what goes into our landfills. People are more aware of options."