Jennifer Seifert / Pumpkins for Pigs
The United States produces a lot of pumpkins every year – more than 2 billion in 2020 alone. But that year, only a fifth was used for food, which means Americans spend hundreds of millions every year dollars for water bottles, just to throw them in the trash at the end of Halloween.
So they end up in landfills, which were designed to store materials, not allow them to decompose. Lack of oxygen in landfills means organic materials like pumpkins produce methane, a climate-damaging greenhouse gas.
Videos on how to responsibly dispose of your pumpkins have been doing the rounds on TikTok. Marne Titchenell, wildlife program specialist for Ohio State University Extension, noticed the topic’s popularity and even told NPR that her sophomore was sent home with an article about composting pumpkins.
What to do with your pumpkin
You can compost this. Titchenell said it’s a good way to recycle pumpkins and other unused fruits and vegetables back into the ground, which can be used to grow new plants. In New York and elsewhere, neighborhoods even come together to crush pumpkins and then compost them. If you don’t have compost, see if a community garden will take your pumpkins.
You can cook with it. Pumpkin is more nutrient dense than you might think. A cup of cooked pumpkin contains more than 200% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, 20% of the recommended vitamin C and is an excellent source of potassium. Better Home and Gardens has recipes for roasted seeds and fresh pumpkin puree to use in place of canned. This Pumpkin Curry Soup from Epicurious was made for a 2015 NPR article.
You can turn it off for wildlife. Remove any wax, paint or marker from the pumpkin and leave it out for squirrels and birds. To take it a step further, pour birdseed into the bowl of the squash. Cutting the pumpkin into wedges makes it easier for large mammals like deer to eat.
You can donate it. Some farms, zoos and animal sanctuaries accept pumpkins for animal feed. Pumpkins For Pigs connects people who want to donate their unmodified pumpkins with pigs (and other pumpkin-eating animals, the organization says on its site) in their area. Founder Jennifer Seifert started the project after years of guilt throwing away perfectly good pumpkins. She told NPR in an email that Pumpkins For Pigs’ mission is to “reduce food waste by diverting pumpkins, gourds and other food products to farms and animal shelters for food or compost”. She said the process also brings communities together.