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Where to Sustainably Recycle Your Pumpkins in L.A. After Halloween

Did you know that simply tossing your decomposing Jack-O-Lantern in the trash is bad for the planet? Yep, they decompose quickly and emit methane. Here are a handful of places to sustainably get rid of it and not be responsible for adding to the earth's greenhouse gasses, including an earth-friendly 'Pumpkin Bash' to smash it up.

photo: Shaun Holloway/Unsplash

Your pumpkins were prized last night, smiling their snaggle-toothed grins at trick-or-treaters and defying all the aggressive smashing instincts of your neighborhood toughs.

And today, they’re slimy, rotting gourds under L.A.'s beautiful nearly 90-degree fall days, their days numbered and their charms fast fading as the mold spots spread. You’re not alone. Over 3 billion (!) tons of pumpkins are thrown in the trash annually, making their way into landfills. The majority of that trash is produced this week for the understandable reason that no one buys pumpkins in June.

Traditional methods of jack-o-lantern disposal are now obsolete, though. You can no longer smash it with glee on the inner side of your building’s dumpster, take a Louisville Slugger to its dome, or plop it in the trash. And here’s why.

Old jack-o-lanterns are terrible for the environment, both locally and globally.

In terms of the former, pumpkins thrown into dumpsters bring bugs and possibly small, sharp-teethed animals to your general area. In addition, they can cause molds to flourish, quickly turning your big steel petri dish of a dumpster into a prequel of The Last of Us. The mold can be harmful to critters and even humans.

As far as your jack-o-lantern causing more widespread distress to the world, pumpkins that make the journey to a landfill sit there in a massive crush of junk where, starved of oxygen, they decompose and emit methane, the greenhouse gas responsible for eating away the ozone layer protecting our world and thus our fragile lives. Methane is said to trap heat and produce 20 times the warming as carbon dioxide does on the planet.

So, what to do with your obsolete jack-o-lanterns?

If you have a compost bin or compost program, it’s as easy as taking out all the candles and shit and placing them in there to compost. If your pumpkins are painted, however, don’t do this, as the paints can be toxic to your compost.

If you’re skilled in the kitchen, you may want to eat your pumpkin meat instead of throwing it away. Simply chop the pumpkin into clean, suitable pieces and braise them in your favorite curry recipe or make a soup or something. Freeze them and save them for that pumpkin pie you're planning. Or consult with a great recipe. Afghan food, in particular, is well-known for its embrace of the edible pumpkin, which is super good for you, packed with vitamins C and A.

In addition, you may find some local animal organizations willing to take your pumpkins as a donation, so they can feed the animals. Websites like Pumpkins For Pigs can point you to California-based animal care facilities that might be game to take your gourds. As always, check with the organizations first.

If you’re not about to eat your discarded pumpkin or lack the means to compost it, there’s another way you can save our world from the environmental slaughter your 3-4 days of Halloween fun could spread.

LA Council District 5 and the Bureau of Public Works are throwing the Great Pumpkin Bash at Grove-adjacent Pan Pacific Park this Sunday, November 5.

The Earth-friendly event will have a pumpkin-smashing zone sponsored by the Dodgers (the fruits are composted after being bashed), as well as a strike-out zone, a raffle, giveaways, and over 30 educational exhibits and workshops meant to teach us all how to live and sustain greener lives. During the event, Homeboy Industries is also accepting your e-waste, the unwanted electronic devices currently making your junk drawer impossible to open.

Costumes are encouraged so your little one can wear theirs one more time before meeting its fate, which hopefully involves a company that might be able to recycle it. A service like Ridwell, which recycles that which cannot usually be recycled, including the multi-plastic candy wrappers that may now be littering your trash can.

In addition, the event will be giving out shade trees, compost cans, mulch, and pumpkin snacks.

And just in case mulch doesn’t do it for you, there are promises of pumpkin spice lattes, too. Something the U.S. seems to love almost as much as buying hard-to-recycle Halloween crap for people and animals.

And still repentance is possible. The Great Pumpkin Bash starts at 10 a.m. and is free to join.

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