Smashing pumpkins? They don't decompose properly in landfills, so here's where to compost them
Smashing pumpkins? Where to compost them -- or catapult them -- to keep them out of landfills
As Halloween season comes to a close, it's time to say goodbye to leftover jack-o'-lanterns. And there are dozens of suburban events -- both fun and eco-friendly -- to send your pumpkins off to the compost pile with a satisfying splat.
Nearly 70 organizations will host pumpkin smash events across the suburbs this weekend to divert the popular holiday gourds from landfills, where they can't decompose properly. You can compost pumpkins by putting them in a catapult, throwing them at a spiked bull's-eye or even sending them down a makeshift bowling lane at a pumpkin smash.
A partnership between dozens of organizations and the environmental education nonprofit SCARCE composted more than 242 tons of pumpkins in 2021. SCARCE founder Kay McKeen said not only does the process prevent pumpkins from emitting methane into the atmosphere at landfills, but it recycles the water inside them.
Since 2014, the events have collectively composted more than 780 tons of pumpkins, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 561 tons of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) and diverted 167,741 gallons of water from landfills, according to SCARCE, which stands for School & Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education.
The majority of events will be this Saturday, Nov. 5. A map of locations can be found at tinyurl.com/PumpkinSmashSites. Pumpkins brought to be composted should be free of decorative items such as googly eyes, yarn or stickers.
In its first iteration, the pumpkin smash had just three locations. SCARCE environmental educator Erin Kennedy said new organizations are joining every year.
In Hoffman Estates, Conant High School's Green Cougars Club is sponsoring a pumpkin smash for the first time.
"The kids in the club are very, very excited to get out there and show what we do as an environmental club," said Lisa Zara-Brito, the club's sponsor and an ESL teaching assistant at Conant. "We're hoping that this is something that we can do every year because it would be awesome."
The club recruited the high school's carpentry class to create bull's-eye targets that will hang at the back of a 20-yard-long compost container for people to launch their pumpkins at.
The smash will take place from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday and coincide with Conant's annual Fall Fest, where there will be student music performances as well as cupcakes on sale for the Schaumburg Township Food Bank.
Kennedy added that the pumpkin smash events are as much an opportunity to learn about diverting food waste from landfills as they are about composting pumpkins -- if not more so.
Nationally, methane emissions from municipal solid waste landfills in 2020 were equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from about 20.3 million passenger vehicles driven for one year -- or the CO2 emissions from nearly 11.9 million homes' energy use for one year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"The idea is to get residents comfortable with the idea of composting, because the ultimate goal would be to have every municipality in Illinois offer this service to the residents," Kennedy said.
Currently, about 70 municipalities in the state offer curbside composting. If your town allows food scrap composting along with yard waste, your leftover pumpkins can join the rest of your table scraps at the curb.
McKeen added that backyard composting -- typically using bins or tumblers -- is one of the best options. A guide on how to start composting food scraps at home, written by composting advocacy nonprofit Illinois Food Scrap Coalition, can be found at tinyurl.com/IFSCHowToCompost.
• Jenny Whidden is a Report For America corps member covering climate change and the environment for the Daily Herald. To help support her work, click here to make a tax-deductible donation.