Why you should recycle your Halloween pumpkins - and where you can do it

Trick-or-treaters have come and gone and another Halloween passed, but supporters of the environment say many homeowners have something left to give.

"Don't trash it - smash it!" is the annual theme of those working throughout the suburbs to keep pumpkins and other gourds out of landfills. Composting avoids landfill greenhouse gas released if pumpkins were decomposing in landfills and has other environmental benefits, supporters say.

The nonprofit School & Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education (SCARCE) and the cities of Wheaton and Elmhurst hosted the first pumpkin collections in 2014.

Since then, Pumpkin Smash has composted more than 1,012 tons of pumpkins; reduced about 752 tons of carbon dioxide emissions; and, diverted about 217,287 gallons of water from landfills.

Pumpkins and other organic matter produce methane gas, which contributes to climate change, as they decompose in landfills.

Last year, Pumpkin Smash grew to more than 76 sites across the state and a few more around the country. This year, SCARCE is coordinating 95 events.

"It helps the environment in so many ways and it's fun," said SCARCE founder Kay McKeen.

Newcomers include park districts in Hampshire and Hanover Park. McKeen, who will be busy the next few days with interviews including local TV and the Weather Channel, says there is more information available about the activity and willingness to participate.

Chances are there is a pumpkin smash coming to a community near you. Participants should remove candles, decorations or other material.

In Lake County alone, there are 11 events or locations to bring pumpkins for compost.

Most are scheduled for three or more hours Saturday and are sponsored by local communities or environmental groups. However, Mundelein Park and Recreation District is hosting an event Thursday; Vernon Hills has one Friday; and Libertyville is hosting Nov. 11.

Last year, 68,300 pounds of smashed, partially smashed or loose pumpkins were collected at eight Lake County events, according to the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County, which supports and promotes Pumpkin Smash.

"Yes, it's a good amount but only a fraction of what is sold around this area," said Peter Adrian, the agency's recycling coordinator.

Most gourds are hauled to Midwest Organics Recycling near Wauconda to be composted, Adrian said. Some sites like the College of Lake County and Vernon Hills Park District use them in their farms or community gardens, he added.

SWALCO also is providing free compost at pumpkin collections in Libertyville and Wauconda, he added.

Geneva, Elgin and Wheaton will hold Pumpkin Smash composting events Saturday.

Geneva's event will run from 10 a.m. to noon at the Community Gardens at Prairie Green, located at Peck and Bricher roads. Pumpkin-themed food vendors will be on site, and patrons also will be able to recycle batteries, aerosol cans and paint cans for a fee.

Elgin's event will be held from 9 a.m. to noon in parking lots at the Elgin Sports Complex, 709 Sports Way, and the southwest corner of Kimball and North Grove, near 250 N. Grove Ave.

And Wheaton residents can drop off leftover pumpkins from 9 a.m. to noon at the city's commuter parking lot at Liberty Drive and Carlton Avenue.

Other Pumpkin Smash sites are listed at

Keeping pumpkins out of landfills decreases the amount of emissions that contribute to climate change, proponents say. And since pumpkins are 90% water, diverting them reduces the amount of liquid that percolates through and drains from landfills.

The compost itself produces a useful, nutrient-dense soil amendment, according to Addison-based SCARCE. Composting in fall also can improve and regenerate the soil over winter, according to SWALCO.

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