Pumpkin disposal — a positively smashing (and green) idea to consider
While simply throwing the colorful these pumpkins into the trash might seem like a good option, it’s not the best for our planet.
The trick-or-treaters have had their fun and jack-o-lanterns across the Chicago area are getting cleared from stoops.
While throwing these orange orbs into the trash might seem like a good option, it’s not the best for our planet.
When tossed, pumpkins end up in landfills as food waste. Buried under heaps of trash, they rot and release methane — one of the most potent greenhouse gasses. Food waste makes up 37% of Cook County’s landfill material, according to the University of Illinois Extension.
But there is a very cathartic and environmentally friendly way to dispose of Halloween gourds: a pumpkin smash!
These events are exactly what they sound like — a chance for people to smash their beloved jack-o-lanterns into a compostable mess using a baseball bat or other creative methods. Once smashed, the chunks are transferred to composting sites across Illinois. Composting reduces methane creation and transforms the pumpkins into useful, organic nutrients for soil or mulch.
Kathryn Pereira is a local foods systems and small farms educator with the University of Illinois Extension, which is hosting several pumpkin smashes in the Chicago area this weekend.
U of I is partnering with five sites to host smashes on Saturday:
— Gary Comer Youth Center, 7200 S. Ingleside Ave.
— Lake View High School, 4015 N. Ashland Ave.
— Morton School of Excellence, 431 N. Troy St.
— Plant Chicago, 4459 S. Marshfield Ave.
— First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights, 302 N. Dunton Ave., Arlington Heights
“Honestly, I think it is the most fun way to educate people on composting,” she said. “They get into it more than you can possibly imagine.”
Some sites create smashing games — like pumpkin basketball, baseball and cornhole. Pereira said that last year, a group of Chicago high schoolers even built a giant catapult to launch pumpkins across a parking lot into a dumpster.
Beyond the fun and games, she said the smashes are also important public engagement events: “We’re building community … and developing community resilience by reducing the waste in our environment.”
Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation will transport all the smashed pumpkins to compost sites.
“Keeping those pumpkins … out of landfills is going to help reduce greenhouse gasses overall,” said Chris Sauve, deputy commissioner of policy and sustainability for the department. “For us, reducing the amount of refuse, the amount that goes into our garbage system and our garbage carts is really going to help improve what we do on our recycling side.”
Pereira said activities at the U of I smashings will vary from site to site, but will include composting demonstrations, musical performances and games.
A map of all pumpkin smashes in the Chicago area can be found at scarce.org, a recycling and composting organization.
If you go to a smash-up, make sure your pumpkins are free of glitter, candles, stickers, yarn or synthetic decorations. Water-based paint is OK.
Pereira recommends this U of I article to learn more about common myths involving pumpkin disposal.
Indira Khera is a Metro Reporter for WBEZ.