It simply wouldn’t be Halloween without jack-o’-lanterns and afternoon strolls around pumpkin patches with the fam. No matter how gross it feels to dig out those seedy pumpkin innards or how difficult it can be to carve the perfect ghoulish grin in its rind, a glowing jack-o’-lantern (or three) on the front porch or windowsill is worth all the effort. But what are you supposed to do with it once November hits? If you don’t know exactly how to dispose of pumpkins after Halloween, you’re definitely not alone.
More than one billion pounds of pumpkins get thrown away and left to rot in U.S. dumps each year, which contributes to the 35.3 million tons of annual food waste that ends up in landfills, according to data from the EPA. The Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy warns that, when left to decompose in a landfill, your seasonal Halloween pumpkins become known as municipal solid waste, which then turns into methane — a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change by producing more than 20 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide.
Turns out, though, you don't have to throw your jack-o’-lantern in the trash after Halloween. If you want to be a little more green, knowing how to dispose of pumpkins after Halloween will spark plenty of sustainable and creative ideas to recycle your gourd. When the candy is all gone and you go to toss the carved or uncarved pumpkins that you’ve been proudly displaying all October long, think twice before you simply throw them in the garbage can. Instead, here’s how you can save your pumpkin from the dump.
What do you do with old pumpkins?
If the pumpkin you want to get rid of is uncarved, you have plenty of options to use the inside of it in delicious pumpkin recipes or DIY projects. If you have carved pumpkins, fret not — there are options here for you, too.
If your pumpkin is rotting, opt for just throwing it in your compost bin. Any sign of mold indicates that your pumpkin should be composted rather than repurposed, and the mold may be harmful to animals or plants if left outside in a garden. Additionally, if you painted your pumpkin, don’t give it to animals or use it in any recipes, as paint can be toxic if ingested. And for composting, make sure to remove any candles, decorations, and painted areas on the gourd first.
Can you throw pumpkins in the woods?
Since pumpkins are biodegradable and you can dispose of them in your own backyard, you may think tossing your aging pumpkin into the woods is a similarly good idea. However, that largely isn’t the case. In fact, many wildlife and plant experts advise citizens against just throwing their old Halloween and Thanksgiving pumpkins in the woods.
For one, pumpkins are known to smother native plants and create their own microhabitats that might harm anything else growing there, according to horticulture, environment, and energy experts at University of Illinois Extension. Especially if the pumpkin is rotting or was exposed to toxins from paint or candles, you don’t want to leave it out for wildlife to munch on, as it can spread disease and harm the animals. Overall, there isn’t much harm in placing one or two gourds in your yard for wildlife to snack on or incorporating pumpkins into your own garden’s soil, but contributing to a mass disposal of pumpkins into the wild can potentially mess up the local biosystem — and no one wants that. It’s best to play it safe and not just throw all of your Halloween pumpkins away in the woods.
If your pumpkin is in good condition for use outside of composting, here’s a list ideas for how to recycle or reuse your pumpkin — rather than throw it away — after Halloween.
Compost your pumpkin
One of the easiest solutions to figuring out how to dispose of pumpkins after Halloween is finding a local community-based collection organization that will simply take them off your hands. Pumpkins are full of nutrients and water that, when decomposed, are great for soil, and they can be used in parks, gardens, and farms in the form of natural fertilizer. However, if you have a garden, you can also just do this yourself.
Tossing leftover pumpkins into your garden soil is a great way to fertilize your own backyard garden or greenhouse, as well as a fun means to plant some pumpkin seeds that will hopefully grow more future gourds. If you don’t want any rogue pumpkins growing next year, though, make sure your pumpkin is free of seeds before adding it to the garden.
Additionally, if you already have a compost bin, you can just throw the pumpkin in it. And if you don’t have one, maybe your leftover pumpkins can be the catalyst for you to set one up. Make one yourself or use resources such as CompostNow to get started with your own at-home composting bin.
Pumpkin spice, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin bread all have the same origin: pumpkin puree. It’s used in almost every festive pumpkin dish you can make, and while you can buy canned versions, recycling your jack-o’-lantern into a puree is a wonderful way to spice up your Thanksgiving spread and impress everyone at the party.
Plus, did you know pumpkins contain vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc, and plenty of antioxidants? You can also take the homemade pumpkin puree and make simple pumpkin face masks to help nourish your skin as the weather gets colder.
Make veggie stock
Another way to repurpose pumpkin trim and guts is to use them to make pure pumpkin stock or vegetable broth. If you’re new to homemade veggie stock, it’s a great, sustainable way to use up vegetable scraps and save a few bucks you’d normally spend on the ingredient at the supermarket.
Simply throw all the leftover pumpkin trimmings and other veggie scraps — such as onion, garlic, carrots, zucchini, corn, mushrooms, and more — into a pot, cover them with water, and let simmer for at least half an hour. Then strain out the solids from the liquid and let it cool. Now you have a hearty veggie broth to use in so many savory dishes, be it soup, risotto, or anything in between.
Cook with the pumpkins
Yes, you can cook with Halloween pumpkins. As with any gourd or squash, you’ll want to scoop out the seeds first. And this isn’t a good way to dispose of pumpkins that have been carved — save this one for your uncarved pumpkins.
Craft a bird feeder
If your pumpkin is mold-free, you can fill it up with bird seed and set it out in your yard to make a pumpkin feeder for all the local birds and nighttime critters. Wildlife will flock to the pumpkin for the seeds, but they’ll also eat the gourd itself. In no time, your pumpkin will be gone, and the animals will have full bellies heading into winter.
Make pumpkin chips
If your pumpkin's skin is still nice and orange, try making some pumpkin chips. Peel the skin, sprinkle with some spices, and let dry out in a dehydrator or throw in the oven. You can serve the chips at your next get together, or munch on them while you watch your favorite autumn shows and movies this season.
Bury your pumpkin
If you want to enrich your soil, but you don’t necessarily want to stare at an entire rotting squash for weeks, you can always cut it up into smaller pieces and bury your pumpkin in shallow holes in your garden. The pumpkin will break down and enrich the soil with nutrients. You can try this with larger indoor plants, too, but the smell might not be the most pleasant as the material breaks down.
As long as you’re checking for rot and mold on your pumpkin first, it’s totally fine to give the gourd a second life. Minimize waste and have a little fun in the process. Who said a pumpkin’s only role is to sit on the porch?
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