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updated: 11/1/2017 10:15 AM

What to do with your Halloween pumpkins

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  • From left, compost specialist Vytas Pabedinskas, and environmental club members Stephanie Luz and Sandra Emmerling, pack down a dumpster of pumpkins during a collection event last year at the College of Lake County. The collection takes place again this year, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

      From left, compost specialist Vytas Pabedinskas, and environmental club members Stephanie Luz and Sandra Emmerling, pack down a dumpster of pumpkins during a collection event last year at the College of Lake County. The collection takes place again this year, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer, 2016

  • In 2014, Wheaton, Elmhurst and School & Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education (SCARCE) hosted the first pumpkin recycling collections in DuPage County.

    In 2014, Wheaton, Elmhurst and School & Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education (SCARCE) hosted the first pumpkin recycling collections in DuPage County.
    Courtesy of SCARCE

 
 

While consumer demand for them drops quickly after Halloween, there's now a growing market for pumpkins that have passed their prime.

Throughout the suburbs, the number of one-day pumpkin collection events designed to keep the big, orange fruit out of landfills is growing.

"We have 42 towns we know of around the state, which is up from 31 last year," said Kay McKeen, founder of Glen Ellyn-based School & Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education (SCARCE).

Because they are so plentiful this time of year, pumpkins have become a lure to educate the public on broader recycling opportunities involving food scraps.

Pumpkins are mostly water, which has to be managed in landfills because of potential groundwater contamination. They also release methane gas as they decompose, which environmentalist say contributes to climate change.

SCARCE started collection events three years ago and has written the playbook for schools, communities and organizations on how to host their own.

To date, the effort has resulted in 93 tons of pumpkins being diverted from landfills and converted to nutrient-rich compost, according to McKeen.

SCARCE has rebranded its annual collection effort this year as the Pumpkin Smash. It will be held at various locations from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. Visit https://www.scarce.org/ for sites and hours.

"Things need to stay fresh and interest people in different ways," McKeen said of the name change.

Prompted by the SCARCE effort, the College of Lake County two years ago became the first organization in the Lake County to hold a pumpkin collection. Last year, 150 cars visited the Grayslake campus and left behind 6.3 tons of pumpkins, said David Husemoller, CLC sustainability manager. This year's event is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, in parking Lot 3.

"I've gotten calls from people who want our information so they can post it online," Husemoller said. "I think the message is getting out."

Gurnee, for a second year, will be collecting pumpkins from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at village hall, 325 N. O'Plaine Road.

And from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the sled hill in Community Park in Mundelein, a collection for the first time has been added to the annual Pumpkin Drop, where 20 pumpkins will be launched by catapult.

Pumpkin collection was added this year at the request of recycling enthusiast Vytas Pabedinskas. He had been working with the Washington Early Learning Center in Mundelein Elementary District 75, but because of a lack of space contacted the Mundelein Park & Recreation District.

"These are small steps, but they work in the aggregate," Pabedinskas said.

Lake County has emerged as a leader in organics composting.

Residents in 14 communities can mix food scraps with yard waste, and there are drop-off locations in Grayslake and Lake Barrington. Lake Bluff and Highwood have year-round programs, and North Barrington residents can enroll in a year-round program for a fee.

"The goal is to divert that stuff away (from landfills), but we realize it will take a long, slow path to get there," said Pete Adrian, recycling coordinator for the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County.

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