Ask Eartha: Send those jack-o’-lanterns to the compost |

Ask Eartha: Send those jack-o’-lanterns to the compost

Hayden van Andel
High Country Conservation Center
Instead of tossing those pumpkins in the trash, you can compost them so they turn into healthy soil that is used to grow more food.
Courtesy photo

Dear Eartha,

My family always carves pumpkins for Halloween, but when the trick-or-treating is over, our pumpkins end up in the trash. Is there any other option for disposing of our spooky squash, so we can make Halloween less wasteful?

— Bridget, Breckenridge

With Halloween right around the corner, families across the U.S. will be carving out jack-o’-lanterns to set out on their doorsteps. With an estimated 145 million Americans participating in this festive tradition, you can imagine the number of spoiled pumpkins. Here are a few ways to maximize the use of your pumpkins and reduce your impact during the holiday season.

How to pick out a pumpkin

Visiting a local pumpkin patch will not only reduce the overall carbon footprint of your pumpkin, but it will also support local farmers. If you don’t have a pumpkin patch nearby, visit your neighborhood grocer to find that perfect pumpkin, and don’t forget to look for the Colorado Proud sticker. When searching for a pumpkin, look for one with green in the stem. The greener the stem, the fresher the pumpkin, which means it will last longer on your stoop. Next, knock on the side of the pumpkin to determine how hollow it is. The more hollow-sounding, the more room you will have to put a candle inside. Once you have selected your ghoulish gourds, you are ready to start carving.

Get ready to carve

If you can resist temptation, don’t carve your pumpkins until a day or two before Halloween. This limits the amount of time the pumpkin’s innards are exposed to oxygen, keeping it fresh for Halloween night. As you begin carving your pumpkin, there will be lots of seeds and goop on the inside. Scoop this mush into a bowl and get slimy by separating the seeds. Give them a quick rinse in a strainer, spread them on a baking pan, drizzle with olive oil and salt, and pop ‘em into the oven for a tasty and nutritious snack.

What to do with the rest of the pumpkin guts? Put them in your food scrap recycling bucket, of course! As a reminder, food scrap recycling is now free in Summit County. That means you can collect your food scraps and drop off up to 10 gallons each week at the Breckenridge and Frisco recycling centers. Your food scraps will be turned into compost right here in Summit County. The High Country Conservation Center still has free food scrap buckets available, so head to their office in Frisco if you haven’t gotten yours yet.  

Compost those pumpkins

Once trick-or-treaters have gobbled up all your candy and the yard has been cleared of all ghoulish decorations, there remains your jack-o’-lantern. Sitting stoically, it now expresses a slight slump in its demeanor, knowing full well its time has come. Instead of tossing those pumpkins in the trash, you can compost them so they turn into healthy soil that is used to grow more food.

Designated pumpkin collection containers will be available Friday, Oct. 25, through Monday, Nov. 11, at the Breckenridge and Frisco recycling centers. The bins will be clearly marked with pumpkin composting signs, and they will be next to the normal food scrap recycling containers. Remove candles and any non-food items from the pumpkin and place it in the dumpster. The pumpkins will be taken to the Summit County Resource Allocation Park, where they will be mixed with food waste and other material for composting.

DIY costumes and decorations

Along with the pumpkin, costumes and decorations are important Halloween traditions, but depending on where or how they are made, they can have a significant environmental impact. Minimize excess waste by fashioning costumes and decorations with materials you have around the house, or peruse your local thrift store for treasures. If you’re having a party, use cloth napkins and reusable plates and silverware. And if you’re not planning to reuse your costume, donate it to a neighbor or a thrift store rather than throwing it away.

Remember, the beauty of composting is the nutrients in our food can be recycled over and over again. Forget zombies — pumpkins and food scraps are the real undead!

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

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