Are Halloween Pumpkins a Problem for the Planet? by Aalia Mauro

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After the trick-or-treaters have gone home, what becomes of the Halloween pumpkins that have outlived their decorative purpose?



You might be tempted just to throw them all away—and that’s certainly what many people do. Every year, more than 1 billion pounds of pumpkin get tossed out and left to rot in America’s landfills. Some are thrown away the day after Halloween, contributing to the 30.3 million tons of annual food waste in the U.S. When left to decompose in a landfill, that food waste produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas that’s far more potent than carbon dioxide. (It’s not just in the U.S.; The Guardian reported that in the U.K., people are expected to throw away a record 8 million pumpkins this year.)

Beyond the sheer wastefulness of it, once they’ve decomposed, these edible crops release methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. In the grand scheme of things, the fumes from rotting squashes make up a tiny fraction of all human emissions, but it’s worth considering – especially given that these pumpkins require a lot of energy and water to grow, and then don’t even get eaten.

Only a third of Halloween pumpkin buyers in the UK bothered to cook any of it, according to the annual #PumpkinRescue campaign.

In fact, slightly more than half the pumpkin buyers failed to eat or compost the food they pulled out of the jack-o-lantern shell, even though another study by the environmental charity Hubbub found most consumers would be interested in recipes for the leftovers. This Halloween, The Guardian reports that Brits are on track to throw out a record number of pumpkins, having apparently learned nothing in the past year.

“It’s all too easy for people to forget that Halloween pumpkins are still food,” Tessa Tricks, the head of food programmes at Hubbubtold the newspaper.

To reduce waste this Halloween, it’s not as if we have to give up our traditions either. There are easy ways to reduce the impact of your jack-o-lantern without losing any of the fun.

Using a yummier type of pumpkin than the traditional Halloween gourd, for instance, makes cooking with leftovers much nicer, and it’s super-easy to cook a delicious salad, soup, or even a classic pie.

Pumpkin seeds are believed to have a range of health benefits – helping with sleep, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol.

Additionally, you can make sure to compost the rest of the vegetable so the biomass can be recycled for nutrients, instead of travelling straight to landfill.

The world is living in an unprecedented time and compromises will need to be made. The Halloween pumpkin is just one small area of waste, but it’s just another example of how easy changes in our lives can add up to a bigger difference.

Pumpkin power

It’s not just food waste that concerns scientists. According to the US Department of Energy, pumpkins that end up in landfill will decompose and eventually emit methane – a greenhouse gas with more than 20 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Instead of creating emissions, pumpkins and other holiday waste could be turned into energy via anaerobic digestion, where microorganisms are used to break down organic waste materials in an air-sealed tank that’s heated up to accelerate processing.

The resulting biogas can be used to generate electricity that powers homes, runs vehicles, and produces heat.

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