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Have a smashing good time composting pumpkins

Community groups plan new event for Nov. 3 in Aurora

AURORA, Ill. – Jack-o'-lanterns live a short, scary life. That is unless they are catapulted, hurled, or whacked into a compost pile after the spooky season is over!

"Green your Halloween" by recycling pumpkins after the holiday at one of more than a dozen University of Illinois Extension Pumpkin Smash community composting events in early November, including Friday afternoon, Nov. 3, in Kane County at McCleery Elementary School in Aurora.

Why smash and not trash?

Illinois is one of the top producers of pumpkins in the U.S., but when gourds are past their prime, many end up in the same old haunts – landfills. Organic food waste, like pumpkins, produce the potent greenhouse gas methane as they decompose without oxygen in landfills. They also leach water that filters through the trash and pollutes surrounding waterways.

"With twice as many smashes in 2023, we can potentially double the number of pumpkins kept out of landfills," said one of the event coordinators Kathryn Pereira, Illinois Extension local foods and small farms educator.

The Extension events are done in collaboration with SCARCE, an Illinois environmental non-profit that started Pumpkin Smashes in 2014. Illinois Extension joined the effort in 2019. Over the past nine years, Illinois Pumpkin Smashes have composted more than 1,000 tons of pumpkins, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 751 tons.

Community coming together in Aurora

These "don't trash it, smash it" family-friendly events also are an opportunity for communities to connect and learn. Participants can collect pumpkins for their neighborhood, school, or workplace and drop them off for free at one of the outdoor events.

Candles, ribbons, and any other non-organic materials or decorations should be removed. They deposit their pumpkins – through the method of their choosing – into a dumpster which is then transported to a composting facility.

The Aurora event features not just fun ways to smash pumpkins, but also games and face painting with 4-H, fall-inspired food tastings with SNAP-Education, and a composting demo from Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists. It will be 3 to 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3 at McCleery Elementary School in Aurora, and no registration is required.

For more information, visit go.illinois.edu/PumpkinSmashAurora. It is hosted by University of Illinois Extension with support from McCleery Elementary School, Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry, Ron Woerman - City of Aurora, and U.S. Rep. Barbara Hernandez.

Find other events in Chicagoland

Smashes are available at 12 locations in Cook County, as well as in Lake, McHenry, Macomb, Kane, and McLean counties on November 3 or 4. Find an Extension Pumpkin Smash in your area and more information at go.illinois.edu/PumpkinSmash. Find a full map of Pumpkin Smashes on their website at SCARCE.org/Pumpkins.

Dos and Don'ts for pumpkins

Those who cannot attend a Smash event may still be able to compost through their local trash provider, private service, or by starting a compost pile. Long after the pumpkins are forgotten they will be absorbed into the earth below contributing to soil health. Learn how to get started composting at extension.illinois.edu/compost.

"Composting can be done on a community level through events or municipal waste collection, but it can also be done on a small scale," Pereira says. "You can compost in your own backyard using a compost bin or even in your apartment with a worm bin."

Do not dump pumpkins on private property or nature preserves. It is littering and illegal and can harm wildlife. Natural areas often become a dumping spot for yard waste, pumpkins, straw, and other organic decorations in fall. If dropped off in ditches or near roadsides, animals will be drawn in close to traffic where they may get hit.

The thought is that these items will compost, but Peggy Doty, Illinois Extension energy and environment stewardship educator, says it has a negative impact.

"Straw and pumpkins smother native plants and create odd little microhabitats that are not healthy and full of molds," Doty says. "Pumpkins can now be found growing in preserves, probably from last year's pumpkin dumping."

For questions about the Aurora event, visit go.illinois.edu/PumpkinSmashAurora, or contact Danielle Stojan, program coordinator, at 630-584-6166 or email [email protected]. If you need reasonable accommodation to participate, please contact the event coordinator. Early requests are strongly encouraged to allow sufficient time for meeting access needs.


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