SCARCE Pumpkin Smash event logoAs highlighted in a previous post, following Halloween each year, several communities in Illinois host pumpkin collection events to ensure holiday decorations are composted rather than being sent to landfill. Collectively these events are known as the Pumpkin Smash and are organized by SCARCE and hosted by local governments, schools, and community organizations. The events often involve fun activities, such as the literal smashing of pumpkins, launching pumpkins via catapult, family-friendly games, etc. They also provide an opportunity for educating the public on proper composting methods, contamination, composting sites and services, uses and benefits of compost, etc.

High Turnout for Safe Socialization

While the need for social distancing and other safety precautions meant organizers had to adapt some of their practices, the COVID-19 pandemic did not put a damper on these events. In fact, SCARCE reports that a total of 49 locations participated this year, all in Illinois. That is an increase in Illinois locations participating as compared to last year’s 47, but a slight decrease in the total number of locations involved (in 2019, 47 IL communities and 4 outside IL participated for a total of 51 sites). Many locations saw an increase in attendees this year, possibly because of good weather, increased advertising, and an eagerness to be part of outdoor activities that would allow for safer social interaction. Marta Keane, Will County Recycling Specialist, noted that the pumpkin catapult event in partnership with the physics students from Lewis University had approximately double the number of participants as in past years. Due to COVID, staff from Lewis recorded names and contact information from attendees watching in a socially distanced manner on the lawn viewing area. “We’ve never had so many families watching for so long; the weather and safety precautions seemed to make everyone comfortable. Many took information on starting a backyard compost when giving the Lewis staff their contact info.”

Images from 2020 Pumpkin Smash events

Impressive Impacts

All told, this year’s participating communities diverted a total of 159.17 tons of pumpkins from landfills. So, although a few less communities participated, this year the diversion was much greater than the “over 123 tons of pumpkins” reported in 2019! Despite the circumstances, the 2020 Pumpkin Smash could be called a smashing success!

Because pumpkins are around 90% water, we can calculate that the 159.17 tons pumpkins diverted kept 34,230.11 gallons of water out of landfills, where it would have to be managed as leachate. The folks at SCARCE point out that this is equivalent to 11,410 toilet flushes (or more if you have a low-flow toilet) or 1,369 loads of laundry (enough to last a person over 13 years if they did 2 loads per week). Because organic materials like pumpkins release methane—a powerful greenhouse gas—when decomposing in a landfill, composting this amount of pumpkins also meant our communities avoided emitting 114.31 metric tons of CO2 equivalent. That’s roughly equal to taking 24 passenger vehicles off the road for a full year or the emissions from 19.4 homes’ worth of electricity use for one year.

Since SCARCE began these efforts in 2014, over 536 tons of pumpkins have been collectively composted.

And of course, we at IFSC know that sometime in the near future, all those composted pumpkins will become a rich soil amendment that can promote soil fertility and biodiversity, reduce erosion, improve water retention, and a host of other benefits.

Congratulations to SCARCE and all the governments, organizations, haulers, compost processors, volunteers, and community participants who contributed to these amazingly positive environmental impacts while providing a bit of fun in a challenging year! Visit the SCARCE web site to read their full report on the 2020 Pumpkin Smash, see the complete list of participating locations and photos, and learn how to host a pumpkin collection in your community next year. Let’s plan to make the 2021 Pumpkin Smash an even greater success!

photo from Lewis University's 2020 pumpkin smash event

Photo from Lewis University Sustainability Club of Nov 7, 2020, Socially Distanced Spectators