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Don't chuck it - pumpkin composting is available around Park City

1.3 billion pounds of pumpkin waste end up in U.S. landfills each year.
Michelle Deininger
1.3 billion pounds of jack-o-lanterns end up in landfills each year.

Now that Halloween is over, those spooky pumpkins on the porch are likely looking a little soggy. Here are some scary reasons not to throw them in the garbage. 

Nothing screams Halloween more than the carved pumpkins that adorn the porches of households this time of year. But something scarier than the jack-o-lantern’s origin story is the havoc these pumpkins inflict on the environment.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, of the nearly 2 billion pounds of pumpkins grown in the United States every year, an estimated 1.3 billion are sent to landfills instead of being eaten or composted.

As Recycle Utah’s Executive Director Carolyn Wawra explains, when pumpkins end up in the landfill they release methane gas, a greenhouse gas that traps 25 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

“Kind of the most dangerous thing in the landfills is anything organic. You know, that could be food waste or even you know...paper or cardboard. Organic materials create methane gas. And the more of that stuff we put in our landfill, the more methane gas we generate," said Wawra. "And methane gas, you know, as part of climate change is kind of like carbon dioxide. The better stuff we could do to keep that out of the landfill, the less methane our landfill will generate.”

It’s why Recycle Utah and others are committed to keeping pumpkins out of the landfill. From now until November 7th, people can drop off their rotting jack-o-lanterns, as long as they don’t have too much glitter or paint on them, at Recycle Utah. They’ll be sent to Spoil to Soil farms to be composted and turned into nutrient-rich soil.

When organic waste is composted rather than landfilled, fewer greenhouse gasses are produced. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, composting lowers emissions two ways. It improves carbon sequestration in the soil and it prevents methane gas emissions through aerobic decomposition. While landfills are anaerobic, meaning free of oxygen, composting is aerobic - that means oxygen is mixed in, which reduces methane-producing microbes.

EATS Park City is also offering residents an environmentally friendly option to dispose of pumpkins. It’s partnered with Momentum Recycling to pick up pumpkin waste at four Park City elementary schools.

Melissa Stock, EATS Park City’s acting executive director, said they’re already composting student lunches at the schools so it made sense to expand for the Halloween season.

“I envision that parents are pulling up at each school, dropping-off at the front and you see a bin or a poster or people, you know, waving signs that say, 'drop off your pumpkin here' for an environmentally friendly way to dispose of it. And I can see that being appealing and very easy,” said Stock.

Thanks to donations from PTAs and PTOs, pumpkin composting bins are set up at Trailside, Parley’s Park, McPolin, and Jeremy Ranch elementary schools.

These pumpkins will be picked up by Momentum Recycling and taken to Wasatch Resource Recovery in Salt Lake City. Wasatch Resource Recovery is Utah’s first and only anaerobic digester. The facility processes organic waste and turns it into energy.

The methane gas is captured, purified and converted into renewable natural gas that’s then fed into the municipal pipeline to supply gas to close to 40,000 people. The remaining byproduct is carbon-based fertilizer that’s used to help farmers grow crops.

Wildlife advocates are also recommending composting leftover pumpkins. Erin Ferguson with Save People, Save Wildlife warns against throwing leftover jack-o-lanterns in the backyard.

“When you’re attracting animals, which is great, giving them something to eat and nutrition, it’s great, but you also have to be cognizant of the fact that other animals can come in too. Racoons, skunks, porcupines, that people might not see as favorable as deer, elk and moose,” said Ferguson. “ Also if you’re drawing stray animals close to you, close to your property, close to your home, the mountain lions and bears are going to think, ‘hey look at all of this potential food source for us lined up.’”

Pumpkins can be dropped off at Recycle Utah until November 7th, and at the elementary schools until November 9th. Park City High School is also collecting pumpkins for composting.