Every year on Halloween, the country gets littered with pumpkins. Carved into Jack O’Lanterns or used as ornaments in the living room, this humble squash is suddenly the most popular vegetable purchased through October. But the problem is that as beautiful as an ornate display of seasonal squashes are, they will most likely never get eaten. Similarly, carving pumpkins is fun for the whole family, that is, until vast amounts of pumpkin end up in the dumpster.
Because it’s true, a baffling 1.3 billion pounds of uneaten pumpkin spews methane into the environment in the United States alone. Add an additional 40 million from the Brits, and you have an obscene amount of pumpkin waste. In fact, scientists in Germany calculated the carbon footprint of pumpkins to range from 139 grams to 448 grams CO2 equivalent per kilo. Funnily, the lowest figure came from a sizeable specialized pumpkin farm that used potassium-based fertilizers. The next best came from an organic farm, and the worst was a small conventional farm that used nitrogen-based fertilizers. This finding goes against the widespread assumption that buying locally produced products is always the best choice.
Another massive issue with pumpkins has to do with patches. People like to see a completely filled pumpkin patch even come November 1st, so it’s impossible to have a blowout sale for fear of losing business. This is all fine and well, but come November 2nd when it’s time to wrap it up, thousands of pumpkins end up in dumpsters instead of on people’s tables. Because running a pumpkin patch is an extremely seasonal job, every sale counts, and wasting the pumpkins, that are quite cheap to begin with, is a small price to pay.
Also, pumpkins attract quite a bit of insects and waste during the farming process. As a result, they catch lots of diseases like bacterial wilt and mildew. Farmers choose to combat this issue by applying liberal doses of pesticides and fungicides. To add to insult, pumpkins are so efficient at absorbing poisons from the soil that they can be used to filter out toxins like Dioxins, DDT, and PCBs. Oddly enough, the latest EWG report doesn’t rate them as being particularly dirty, being listed at number 34 in the list of the dirtiest fruit and vegetables out of 49.
Pumpkin should not be wasted or disposed of in the way that it is. Instead, whole pumpkins can be cut up and roasted, with the flesh being blended down to make a fresh pumpkin pie. The blended pumpkin freezes pretty well, so you break it out on Thanksgiving for major bragging rights. You should never try to eat a pumpkin after it’s been carved. It will have been exposed to elements such as bacteria, impurities, candle wax, and smoke, making it quite dangerous to eat. You can and should, however, roast the seeds as soon as you collect them for a great snack during your horror movie. Break down any carved pumpkins and toss them in the compost bins.
There is a solution for all this pumpkin wastage, but it has yet to be put into play. Municipal solid waste can be used to harness bioenergy, the Energy Department says, which can help the U.S. become less dependent on carbon-based fuels while limiting stress on landfills by reducing waste. The agency has partnered with industry to develop and test two biorefineries. Unfortunately, these facilities aren’t operational yet, but one day the squash will be turned into clean energy.