Rotting jack o' lantern

This Halloween, don’t trash your pumpkins, smash them. Illinois is one of the top producers of pumpkins in the U.S., but when jack o’ lanterns are past their prime, many end up in the trash. 

Intead, keep pumpkins out of landfills by composting which may be available through local trash providers, private services, or even in your backyard.

“Composting can be done on a community level through events or municipal waste collection, but it can also be done on a small scale," says Kathryn Pereira, Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator for Cook County. “You can compost in your own backyard using a compost bin or even in your apartment with a worm bin.”

In Cook County, 37% of landfill material is food waste, a major source of the greenhouse gas methane.

For a second year, Illinois Extension in Cook County has partnered with Plant Chicago to host a Pumpkin Smash the weekend after Halloween. In 2019, Extension staff collected 3.17 tons of pumpkins, a goal they hope to surpass.

“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,” Pereira says. “Removing organic materials such as food waste and Halloween pumpkins from your garbage also decreases the cost of municipal waste disposal.”

With the average Chicago metropolitan landfill tipping fee more than $60 per ton, Pereira added the savings would be considerable if all 2 million Cook County households removed pumpkins from the waste stream.

Pumpkin Smash collections are available throughout Cook County. Visit the SCARCE website at to find an event.

To learn more about composting, visit