Here's what to do with your old pumpkins (Hint: it's not garbage)

Putting them into the trash and hauling them off to the landfill creates more waste in the stream plus an added expense of trucking

OLATHE, Kan. – If you are ready to discard all those pumpkins, gourds and squash once used for Halloween decorations, put the trash bag down and continue reading.

As fall begins to pass, a commonly asked question is what to do with those leftover jack-o'-lanterns or pumpkins still in the garden that didn't make the cut this year.

Putting them into the trash and hauling them off to the landfill creates more waste in the stream plus an added expense of trucking, said horticulture agent Dennis Patton with the Johnson County K-State Research and Extension.

"Once in the landfill, they do not break down. Instead, (the pumpkins) generate methane gas," Patton said.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Climate researchers report methane is over 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 20-year period.

While your kids' pumpkins might not take up too much space, if you combine all those on your neighbors' front porches, it adds up in the waste stream.

Here are some alternatives to consider

Patton suggests placing them in an out-of-the-way location in the landscape, like under a bush.

"Freezing and thawing will turn (it) into mush," he said. "Nature will naturally compost and break down. Wildlife can also feed on the decomposing pumpkin."

You could also dig a hole and bury them, letting them compost naturally in the ground. However, watch for sowing any seeds, or you may have pumpkin plants next year.

Patton said you could also add them to a compost pile.

"Composted pumpkins are a good material to add," he said. "(They are quickly) breaking down, creating more compost for the garden."

If you have any un-carved and untreated pumpkins, Patton said you could donate them to local zoos and wildlife areas, but make sure to call first before dropping them off. 

"Many zoos will take the donation to help feed the animals," he said. "Pumpkins, being orange, are full of nutrients."

Livestock and chickens love pumpkins, too. However, you may need to cut up or break them into pieces for smaller animals.

While the pumpkins may be okay for your livestock, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife says to not leave your leftover pumpkins out intentionally for wildlife to eat. 

"Intentionally feeding wildlife in Colorado is illegal and can lead to a rise in human-wildlife-related conflict. Feeding wildlife also habituates wildlife to human forces and causes them to congregate which can lead to the spread of disease," CPW says. "It can also attract predators to a neighborhood."

Carved pumpkins should not be donated because they can be contaminated with wax or paint. They may also be treated with bleach and other materials to prolong life when displaying.

Lastly, if the Christmas decorations are starting to make their appearance in your home, there are suggestions for those pumpkins still displayed. In that case, Patton said you could cook them and turn the meat into a pie, muffins or another tasty treat.

It's advised not to use any pumpkins sitting on your doorstep over Halloween for cooking, experts said.
 

Editor's note: A previous version of this story did not include the fact that it is illegal in some states to feed wildlife. Check with your local wildlife offices on best practices for discarding pumpkins within your state.

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