Ask Eartha: How to compost a pumpkin after Halloween
What can I do with my pumpkin after Halloween? Is there another option other than throwing it in the trash?
— Jolene, Summit Cove
Jolene, have I got the ultimate option for you. Free composting is being offered at the Frisco and Breckenridge recycling centers. This offering is a partnership between High Country Conservation Center, Summit County Government and Curb to Compost (a new local composting operation out of Silverthorne). Composting your Halloween pumpkins is a great opportunity to divert a large amount of organic waste away from the landfill.
Why compost your pumpkins? Food and organic waste, pumpkins in this case, does not break down properly in a landfill due to a lack of oxygen. Once trash is dumped at a landfill, a bulldozer-like machine runs over the top of it to ensure it is compacted as much as possible. The trash and waste below the surface of the landfill is devoid of oxygen, causing food in the landfill to rot, rather than break down, creating methane gas. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than CO2, adding to the problem of human caused climate change.
This time of year, millions of pounds of pumpkins are discarded and destined for landfills, adding to more than 254 million tons of municipal solid waste produced annually in the U.S. Pumpkins are not the only problem, however. In 2013, according to the EPA, Americans threw away an estimated 37 million tons of food waste, and only about 5 percent of that was either composted or used for energy from methane production. Worldwide, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that nearly one third of all food produced is either wasted or lost. This fact is spurring action against food waste, encouraging folks to either divert uneaten food to food banks and those in need, or compost the inedible food (see the EPA’s food waste hierarchy for more info).
There are two primary ways that you can reduce your amount of food waste: reduce fresh food purchased and compost leftover or expired foods. First, plan your meals based on what you already have in your refrigerator, only buy what you need on your list, and be realistic about what you can use in a timely manner. Also, figure out how to store fruits and vegetables so that they last longer. You can freeze some items so that they may be used at a later date. Secondly, compost the food scraps that you do throw out. The High Country Conservation Center offers a membership-based Food Scrap Recycling Program that accepts all food scraps, not just pumpkins. Members may bring up to 10 gallons a week of food scraps to either the Breckenridge or Frisco recycling drop centers for a small fee.
Reducing the amount of food waste and organics that you and your family sends to the landfill has many benefits. Buying only the food that you will eat immediately will save you money. In addition, by not purchasing excess food you will be saving the energy and resources needed to produce the food in the first place. And finally, you can support your community by sending excess untouched food to those that do not have a regular healthy food supply.
So, back to the pumpkins: you may bring your Halloween jack-o’-lanterns to either the Frisco or Breckenridge recycling drop centers. The receptacles for the pumpkins are available now until Nov. 13. The recycling centers are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The pumpkins are then taken to Curb to Compost’s facility in Silverthorne, where they use the help of worms to break down the discarded pumpkin waste, turning it into nutrient rich soil. The finished product may then be used for gardening or landscape applications.
I encourage all of you reading this to compost your leftover pumpkins from Halloween. After all, it is free. In Summit County, we are lucky to have the option to compost, so let’s do our best to ensure that our pumpkins do not become a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. If you want to do more, contact the High Country Conservation Center for information about composting food scraps year-round.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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