How to Keep 1.3 Billion Pounds of Pumpkin Out of Landfill
Plus try these 7 pumpkin recipes
One of the scariest aspects of Halloween might be the number of pumpkins condemned to landfill after the festivities. According to Waste Dive, a leading publication for the waste industry, 1.3 billion pounds of uneaten pumpkins end up in landfills in the US after every Halloween. That wastes not only the pumpkins themselves but all the resources that went into growing those gorgeous gourds—water, energy, land, labor, capital and inputs such as fertilizers.
Hierarchy of Pumpkin Needs
Your pumpkins will last longer if you don’t carve them. If you plan on carving them, consider waiting until the night before Halloween, or even the day of. This can help prevent your pumpkins from turning soft, moldy and furry. While those traits may enhance your ghoulish decor, they will also narrow your pumpkins’ options come November 1st—but they will still have some!
Ideally, eat your pumpkins
Every fall, I look forward to buying sugar pie pumpkins and kabocha squash, otherwise known as Japanese pumpkins. The flesh of either makes delicious pumpkin pie, wonderful quick bread and savory dishes like soup, pasta, dal and more. If I have leftover purée, I often freeze it in wide-mouth glass jars.
The larger jack-o-lantern candidates—the big pumpkins you often find outside of grocery stores in giant cardboard boxes or strewn about makeshift urban pumpkin patches—usually contain too much water and too many strings for baked goods but they can make decent soup.
When you carve a pumpkin, save what you can. Add the stringy parts to your vegetable broth scrap pile and reserve the eyes, noses and toothy smiles you chiseled out of your pumpkin. Peel those chunks and either roast, steam or simmer them until fork tender.
Your jack-o-lantern will start to decompose within a few days of carving (depending on where you live). Do not eat these. We all want to reduce wasted food but please do not eat rotting pumpkins that can make you sick.
And save the seeds
Whether you eat pumpkins or carve jack-o-lanterns, save the seeds to roast. My kids always loved this crunchy fall treat. You can roast all different kinds of squash seeds. The small seeds of delicata squash—yellow-orange, cylindrical-shaped squash with green stripes—become crunchy quite quickly when roasted in a bit of olive oil.
I roast my seeds in cast iron—glass or metal will also work. But cleaning cast iron requires only a swish of a brush and a couple of minutes of my time.
This year, before I cooked a dense and lovely sugar pie pumpkin, I saved some of its seeds to plant next year.
If you can’t eat the pumpkins, feed them to animals
Some farms and zoos near you may want your pumpkins to feed their animals. You could also leave pumpkins outside for wildlife to eat if squirrels, deer and other critters visit your home. Someone from my Instagram audience told me that she roasts carved pumpkins after Halloween for her dogs to eat. Her dogs go crazy for them!
If animals can’t eat the pumpkins, compost the gourds
If you don’t compost at home but would like to, and you have carved a pumpkin or two, consider starting your compost system now. You don’t need a fancy setup—you can't stop food scraps from composting—and pumpkins break down quickly. As a bonus, volunteer pumpkin plants may later honor your bin with their presence.
If you don’t want to set up a bin, either simply leave your pumpkins in the yard or dig a hole in the ground and bury them. They will decompose, nourish your soil and possibly reward you with a few pumpkin plants next year. Indoors, you can start a vermicompost bin and feed your pumpkins to the worms.
Our city picks up food scraps, such as pumpkins, in order to divert them from landfill. If your city doesn’t collect food scraps, a community garden near you might accept them.
You could also ask on Nextdoor if anyone wants your pumpkin for their compost bin. I would jump at the chance to score some partially decomposing giant pumpkins on Nextdoor! I’m building raised hugelkultur beds at the moment and need all the food scraps I can get for my soil. In fact, I should post a request on Nextdoor for carved, sad, soft pumpkins. Maybe I can walk around the neighborhood with a wagon, ringing a bell…
Look for a community pumpkin smash if you can’t compost at home
Each year after Halloween in Illinois, Scarce, an environmental and educational non-profit, organizes pumpkin smash events (aka pumpkin dropoff parties). Forty-five cities participate and last year’s pumpkin smash diverted 150 tons of pumpkins from landfill via composting! Find out more here.
Your city may host a similar pumpkin smash. Search “pumpkin disposal near me” to look for one.
The pumpkin recipes
But first, how to cook a whole pumpkin (or squash). A sugar pie pumpkin will cook in a pressure cooker in minutes. Roasting in the oven takes longer but renders a richer flavor. Run the cooked flesh through a food mill or food processor.
The Freshest Pumpkin Pie
Fresh pumpkin and fresh ginger make a very fresh pie. Use all the little scraps of pastry to decorate your dessert. Go here for the recipe, excerpted from my cookbook.
Pumpkin and Spice Sourdough Discard Quick Bread
This tastes like pumpkin pie in bread form and it makes a dent in your jar of sourdough discard. What’s not to like? Make it with pumpkin or kabocha squash. Go here for the recipe.
Sourdough Discard Vegan Pumpkin (or Squash) Cake
I based this vegan pumpkin-ginger cake on a Depression-era wacky cake. Go here for the recipe.
Roasted Pumpkin (or Squash) Seeds
Toss the seeds in a bit of olive oil, sprinkle on salt and spices if desired (chili powder, a bit of cayenne or garlic, for example), roast and enjoy. Find the recipe here.
You can’t beat homemade pasta. Go here for the recipe.
This dish came about from a what’s-on-hand-I-need-to-make-dinner-now moment. I always have red lentils in the pantry for dal, I had fresh tomatoes on the counter and I had a cup of homemade pumpkin purée left over from making pie. Go here for the recipe.
When in doubt, make soup. Use your pumpkin and add random vegetables from the crisper. No two pots are the same (unless you jot down the ingredients you choose and recreate the dish). Go here for the infinitely versatile soup recipe.