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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Turn orange goo into black 'gold;' compost your pumpkins

a cat looks out a brightly lit home at two carved and glowing pumpkins

Keep that pumpkin out of the trash.

Halloween night may be filled with frights, but garbage day is where the real horror lurks. Every year, discarded pumpkins and decaying jack-o-lanterns are hauled off to landfills by the thousands. The masses of orange flesh piling up in landfills produce methane, the greenhouse gas with an environmental impact more frightening than your scariest Boo! Luckily, this haunting fate is easy to avoid.

Pumpkins are gassy

According to the Environmental Protection Agency in their 2022 publication called "Downstream Management of Organic Waste in the United States," landfills across the US released an amount of methane into the environment that was equivalent to 122.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. A combined 33.7% of that methane was attributed to organic wastes – namely food and yard waste – and pumpkins are in both categories.  

Under tons of garbage, these orange watery orbs (almost 90% water) break down without oxygen. If plants and vegetables break down with oxygen, they make compost in a way that is safe for people and the planet. If they breakdown without oxygen (anaerobically), the bacteria that decompose the pumpkins are different: As they consume the pumpkin, they make the greenhouse gas methane.

Go green this Halloween

Some savvy thinkers may avoid trashing their pumpkin and discard it in grass along a roadside. Although good intentioned, the vegetable mass is a source of food and attracts wildlife too close to roadways. Luckily, Bloomington-Normal area residents can re-route their pumpkins while having a little fun.

Join Illinois Extension and Rader Family Farms on Saturday, November 4, to obliterate an orange orb for the good of our blue planet. Bring your naked pumpkins, free of plastics and candles, to Rader Family Farms from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Rader Family Farms will open restrooms and concessions for this post-season event.

Remind friends and neighbors, “Don’t Trash It, Smash It!” at Illinois Extension Pumpkin Smash. The event is free and there is no limit to the number of pumpkins you bring so help the environment and collect pumpkins from those you know!

Pumpkin smash partners

Towns, cities, and municipalities across the state will Go Green this Halloween by hosting local pumpkin smash events across the state. Inspired by the environmental educational non-profit, SCARCE, over 1,000 tons of pumpkins have been composted by Illinois residents since 2014.

In Bloomington-Normal, a smashing good time is thanks to Town of Normal Public Works Department and Illinois State University Department of Agriculture. Following the pumpkin smash, thounsands of pounds of pumpkins will travel to Illinois State University’s farm to become compost for our local community. If you miss the smash, central Illinois residents can visit Illinois State University Office for Sustainability to dispose of your pumpkins in an eco-friendly way. 

Check out local events to learn more.

Photo credit: carved pumpkins and cat by N. Frillman, University of Illinois Extension


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nick Frillman is a local foods and small farms educator serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties. A fourth-generation graduate from University of Illinois, Frillman has a bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish and a master's in Crop Science with a focus on crop production. Before joining Illinois Extension, Frillman completed a field season of CSA and farmers market-style production at a small “beyond-organic” vegetable farm in Sandy, Oregon. 

ABOUT THE EDITOR: Liz Repplinger is an agriculture and natural resources program coordinator serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties. A Bloomington-Normal native, Liz earned a bachelor's in Animal Science and a master's in Animal Nutrition from Illinois State University. She has enjoyed contributing to the multiple facets of Extension including previous support of 4-H Youth Development as a program coordinator and current support of unit and statewide diversity, equity and inclusion Initiatives.