CHICAGO — If that Halloween hangover has left you bleary and bloated, one gesture might lift your spirits: properly disposing of your pumpkins on Saturday, Nov. 3, National Pumpkin Destruction Day.
Many communities, from Chicago to Romeoville and Naperville to Gurnee, have begun offering post-Halloween pumpkin collections — even in some cases pumpkin catapulting — as a whimsical way to encourage people to address a serious concern: methane gas in landfills, considered one of the top causes of climate change.
Methane is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere, and it’s produced by the decaying of food scraps in landfills. So drop-off events ensure that pumpkins and gourds get composted instead of ending up in the trash heap.
Will County, in Illinois, and Lewis University are co-hosting a jack-o’-lantern recycling event from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Nov. 3, on the Romeoville campus that will include pumpkin pitching with prizes, and a catapult run by physics students.
“The pumpkin catapult was seen as a way to alert people, to bring about awareness, (to say), ‘You could be doing more,’ ” said Marta Keane, recycling program specialist for Will County.
Most pumpkin collection sites begin accepting the gourds in early November.
One of the first-time participants is City Farm Chicago, a nearly 40-year-old enterprise that turns vacant land into organic farms. Farm manager Brecken Sahs said the organization noticed that Chicago lacked a single pumpkin composting drop-off site and decided “to step up and fill the gap. It’s a natural step for our mission.”
Saturday, Nov. 3, City Farm is coordinating pumpkin drop-offs at four locations: North Park Village Recycling Station, Rail Yard Recycling Center, 93rd and Drexel Sorting Station and City Farm’s main site at 550 W. Division St.
“It’s really just a direct appeal to the people of Chicago to keep their pumpkins out of the landfill,” Sahs said. “There are always a lot of pumpkins — everybody has five or so on their front porches — and can you imagine all those going to the landfill?”
Pumpkins are more than 90 percent water and have an array of nutrients helpful to the soil when they’re composted, said Merleanne Rampale, education director for the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County, which is coordinating pumpkin drop-offs on Saturday in Gurnee and Sunday in Mundelein.
She hopes that such events might inspire people to start their own backyard composting of food scraps such as vegetables, fruit, coffee grinds and eggshells.
“I always tell people that composting is nature’s oldest form of recycling,” Rampale said. “If you’re back-yard recycling, you’re kind of a climate change warrior.”
A Glen Ellyn-based organization, School and Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education, or SCARCE, is considered one of the founders of the pumpkin-composting movement in Illinois.
“You drive by people’s houses on the days after Halloween, and you see they’ve got pumpkins sticking out of their garbage, and it’s frustrating,” SCARCE Executive Director Kay McKeen said.
SCARCE orchestrated its first Pumpkin Smash in 2014, teaming with the cities of Elmhurst and Wheaton, McKeen said. That year, about 9.3 million tons of pumpkins were collected.
Today, more than 31 sites across Illinois host Pumpkin Smash events through SCARCE, McKeen said. More than 163 tons of pumpkins have been diverted from landfills in conventional and unconventional ways as part of the Pumpkin Smash, she added.
She recalled that at one past event, Barrington High School students built a catapult and fired the pumpkins into a dumpster adorned with a bull’s-eye. They also made a game out of throwing the pumpkins, she said.
“It’s kind of messy,” McKeen said, “but it’s a lot of fun.”
Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in Schaumburg is offering a “discount for discarded Jack O’ Lanterns” to be used in its “knights’ combat training,” the entertainment venue stated in a release.
“For every past-peak pumpkin turned in at the Schaumburg Castle between Thursday and Sunday (National Pumpkin Destruction Day),” the themed entertainment venue will offer a 40 percent discount voucher for an adult ticket, according to its website.
Illinois happens to be the U.S.’ top pumpkin-producing state, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, last year harvesting three to five times as many pumpkin acres as any of the other top states.
On average, Illinois grows about 30,000 pounds per acre, the USDA reported, or more than 600 million pounds a year. Almost 80 percent of that goes toward pie filling or other processing, the agency stated.
Despite the enthusiasm of organizers, Will County’s Keane said it’s sometimes difficult to get people to participate in the pumpkin drop-offs.
Many backyard composting enthusiasts already place their Halloween pumpkins in the compost mix on their property, she said. And noncomposters may lack sufficient enthusiasm for a catapulting pumpkin event to haul their pumpkins to the campus, she said. To sweeten the enticement, Keane and Lewis will be offering free document shredding.
Pumpkins dropped off at Lewis University will be taken to Christensen Farms in Peotone. City Farm will use the material on its site, Sahs said.
SCARCE collections will be taken to a composting facility, mixed with leaves, twigs and branches and then allowed to cure for about three months before being sold as soil amendment, McKeen said.
Before being provided for composting, jack-o’-lanterns must be stripped of candles, plastic and other artificial decorations.
Without composting, “millions and millions and millions of pumpkins are going to go into landfills in the next week,” McKeen said.
She even made an appeal to those mischief-makers who make smashing pumpkins part of their Halloween celebration.
“This,” McKeen said of pumpkin smashing as a composting mechanism, “is like an OK way to smash all the pumpkins you want.”