jack o' lantern decomposing after Halloween
Composting jack o' lanterns after Halloween removes them from landfills where they along with other organic materials such as food waste are a major source of the greenhouse gas methane.

CHICAGO – This Halloween, don’t trash your pumpkins, smash them with University of Illinois Extension at sites located throughout Chicago.

Illinois is a top producer of pumpkins in the U.S., but when jack o’ lanterns are past their prime, many end up in the trash. In Cook County, 37% of landfill material is food waste, a major source of the greenhouse gas methane. In Chicago alone, over 500,000 tons of organic waste is sent to landfills annually. 

To divert pumpkins from landfills, Illinois Extension in Cook County is partnering with the City of Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation, Chicago Public Schools, Lakeshore Recycling, and Plant Chicago  to host five Pumpkin Smash events on Saturday November 6 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Events will be held at

Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences 3857 W 111th St, Chicago, IL 60655

Chicago Vocational Academy High School 2100 E 87th St, Chicago, IL 60617

Gary Comer Youth Center 7200 S Ingleside Ave, Chicago, IL 60619

Lake View High School 4015 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60613

Plant Chicago 4459 S Marshfield Ave, Chicago, IL 60609

“By diverting organic waste materials from landfills and recycling it into compost we protect our environment by reducing the amount of methane gas released in to the air,” says Kathryn Pereira, Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator for Cook County. “Removing Halloween pumpkins from your garbage also produces a valuable resource, compost, used to enrich our urban soils.”

“Supporting and implementing innovative strategies to divert waste from landfills and reduce greenhouse gases is a top priority at the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS),” said DSS Acting Commissioner Cole Stallard. “This year, we are proud to promote the citywide Pumpkin Smash events, a strategy identified by the recent Delta Institute report to help with our recycling initiatives, and an enjoyable way to return pumpkins to the soil.”  

“Our goal of collecting 25 tons is modest, but this is just the beginning of our efforts to spur a culture of composting in Cook County,” says Amy DeLorenzo, Extension Educator at the Discovery Partners Institute and Cook County Composting Initiative team member.

Participants can collect pumpkins from their neighborhood, school or workplace and drop off their pumpkins at this free outdoor event. Candles, ribbons or any other synthetic material should be removed. Please wear a face mask and maintain social distancing. 

Additional Pumpkin Smash events are available throughout Cook County. Find an event near you by using SCARCE’s Pumpkin Smash event map.

For those who cannot attend the event, composting may still be an option through their local trash provider, private service, or by starting a compost pile. To get started with composting, read Composting 101 in English or Spanish.

SOURCE: Cook County Composting Initiative

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.