IFSC is grateful for the support and active participation of SCARCE, a Gold Sustaining Partner. SCARCE initiated its first Pumpkin Smash composting event in 2014. The following post describes these efforts and will hopefully inspire you to compost your seasonal decorations or perhaps start a collection event in your community.
Each year as Halloween rolls around, hundreds of thousands of jack-o-lanterns grace the front steps of homes around the country. After the holiday is over and their smiles wither, most of those once-jolly pumpkins make their way to a garbage can and, ultimately, a landfill. That didn’t sit well with Kay McKeen, Executive Director of SCARCE, an environmental education non-profit in Addison.
“Pumpkins are full of nutrients and water for our soil. It is such a waste for them to go to a landfill – and bad for our planet in so many ways. So I saw an opportunity to take action and spread awareness about composting,” says McKeen.
In 2014 the Pumpkin Smash offered residents in the western suburbs of Chicago three drop-off sites to compost their pumpkins. After that first year, SCARCE worked with Jen Walling of the Illinois Environmental Council to shape legislation to facilitate one-day compost collection events like the Pumpkin Smash. Since then, it has grown to dozens of participating sites across Illinois and beyond. In total, the Pumpkin Smash has diverted over 377 tons of pumpkins from landfills.
Instead of landfilling pumpkins, composting them at home or a drop-off site such as the Pumpkin Smash is a sustainable alternative. Composting is nature’s method of recycling organic materials, such as food scraps and yard waste, into a high-quality material that restores soil health, reduces methane emissions, and protects clean water.
The Pumpkin Smash also spreads awareness about proper composting and avoiding contamination. Hosts and volunteers ask attendees to inspect their pumpkins for contaminants such as candles, yarn, or stickers, which must be removed before the pumpkins go in the bin.
Each year SCARCE provides support to new and returning host communities. Hosts include churches, local government, scout troops, schools, colleges, park districts, and non-profit organizations. Free resources are available to guide communities to host their own Pumpkin Smash event.
Some hosts keep the event simple: attendees drive up with their pumpkins and toss them into a large roll-off container. A hauler later picks up the container and brings it to a compost facility.
Many add their own unique twist to the event. Hosts at Elmwood School in Naperville use it as a learning opportunity: students made a display that explains the benefits of composting to educate attendees and record pumpkin weights as they arrive. At locations in Wheaton and SCARCE’s facility in Addison attendees are shown a sample of finished compost and learn what a great material it is to use in the garden.
At many locations, the activities are more striking. Attendees are offered mallets or bats to smash their squash. People of all ages enjoy the opportunity to let loose on their pumpkin, especially in the name of sustainability. Hinsdale South High School’s ECO Club in Darien uses a sledgehammer to pulverize their pumpkins. In Cary, the park district set up smashing stations. Not only is it fun, but it’s also practical: at some sites, the pumpkins would not fit in the provided bin if they weren’t smashed.
Some hosts make it a spectacle with public works departments dropping pumpkins from two stories up in a bucket truck. Others launch pumpkins from a catapult such as in Will County, where students from Lewis University’s physics club constructed two for their event. In Newton, Massachusetts attendees could chuck their jack-o-lantern at a spiky target custom built by a handy parks employee.
Others add a playful element. At locations in southern Illinois, Madison County Planning & Development sets up pumpkin tic-tac-toe and bowling with ghostly toilet-paper rolls stacked up in place of pins.
Young people can get involved, too. Scout troops have collected pumpkins from their neighbors and brought them in one big load to their local drop off as an environmental service project. A great option to get involved by piggy-backing on your local event.
The Pumpkin Smash is a fun, eco-friendly wrap-up to Halloween festivities that is adaptable in many ways. No matter how you smash it, it’s a win for the environment.
The 2020 Pumpkin Smash is on Saturday, November 7th. To learn more, download a guide to hosting a pumpkin smash, or to find a location near you visit www.scarce.org/pumpkins.