Pumpkin Predicament... How Should You Properly Dispose Of Them?
Written by: Cary Sims County Extension Agent
Pumpkins – the decoration that remains a vegetable and doesn’t have to be a methane contributor
There has been a recent wave of news articles complaining that pumpkins will cause methane in the landfill. The claim is that all the pumpkins used as fall decorations will take up space in the landfill and result in a terrible build up of methane gas.
Well, that’s true, sort of.
All food sources are organic matter and anytime an organic item decomposes in an anaerobic (absent of oxygen) environment such as a landfill, it will release methane. But any other organic food waste, from coffee grinds to banana peels, are also contributing to the production of methane at landfills.
And let us not forget that pumpkins are an edible vegetable. They are one of the many “winter squash” vegetables such as Acorn, Spaghetti, Butternut, Kabocha, and other squash types. The name “winter squash is a misnomer. Winter squash are planted in the summer and harvested in the fall. Because of their wonderful firm rind, we can store them and consume them throughout the winter.
Your yellow crookneck squash is called a summer squash because its thin skin doesn’t allow it to be stored nearly as long. Both winter and summer squashes are grown during the warmer months, but only winter squashes will store for months into the winter.
Add to this squash conundrum that all squash, melons, gourds, and even cucumbers are in the Cucurbit plant family. If you take a moment to consider how each of these looks when cut open, you’ll see why they are in the same family. All are vining summer annual plants. Each has a fruit that have an exterior rind, followed by pulpy flesh, and then have flattened seeds in the middle of each fruit.
But getting back to the misaligning of pumpkins as huge producers of methane, no other vegetable or fruit is purchased as décor and then thrown away. Imagine buying watermelons and displaying then on your front porch in June to celebrate the coming summer and then simply tossing them in the garbage. Or what if you made a table arrangement of cucumbers and yellow summer squash for a summer meal, and never ate them. That would be strange indeed.
Yet pumpkins, some larger than a basketball, are used for decorations and then tossed away without any thought. So, what can we do?
Below are three options.
First, eat them. This option only works for intact pumpkins that have not been carved or have any other problems (such as rots or signs of animals feeding on them). Toasted pumpkin seeds are a great, nutritious snack. A quick search on the internet for recipes using pumpkin will yield a huge number of options. And yes, there is more than pumpkin pie. Be sure to use the words ‘fresh pumpkin’ so that you can skip the canned pumpkin recipes.
Second is feed the pumpkin to wildlife. Both the seeds and the flesh will be enjoyed by birds and several small animals. Wildlife experts suggest you cut up the pumpkin into smaller pieces and place away from your home so that you don’t encourage wildlife to feed too close.
Finally, while the landfill, by necessity, is an anaerobic site prone to the production of methane, you can aerobically compost your pumpkin and use the finished compost in your landscape in the spring. Composting is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to recycle. Done correctly, compost piles are meant to be turned regularly and full of air. This aerobic process eliminates most of any methane gas that could be formed.
There is no need to feel guilty of contributing to buildup of methane gasses in the environment. Kudos to everyone that recycles their fall ornaments and repurposes the humble pumpkin for a second (and perhaps third) additional use.
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Educational programs of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, national origin, genetic information or veteran status. The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.