Here’s an ugly truth: it can take years for food to decompose in a landfill.
Yes, you read that right: years. Under natural conditions, food is biodegradable and decomposes within a few weeks. But under the dense, dark, and oxygen-scarce conditions of a landfill, this regular process is slowed down to a fraction of its normal rate.
And at no time is our shameless food disposal more apparent than the Halloween season, when so many of us buy food products that we have zero intention of eating.
Know what I’m talking about?
You’ve seen them around: stores regularly advertise pumpkins and their edible (nay, delicious) cousins as “decorative gourds.” No other vegetable must endure being grown, harvested and sold for the sole sake of decoration. And they’re a part of the food waste problem, like any other food you buy and don’t eat.
Here are 3 other creepy facts you may not know about food waste:
1. Americans waste a lot of food
Americans waste a whopping 36 million tons of food per year—that’s especially disconcerting, in light of #2…
2. Degrading food… emits methane?!
On top of its tedious decomposition time, degrading food deprived of oxygen emits methane—a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than the pesky CO2 that everyone’s complaining about.
3. Pumpkins are a big part of the waste problem
Every year, we produce 1.4 billion pounds of pumpkins in the United States, largely in the name of festivity. Though there’s no data on the exact percentage tossed to the landfill, I think we can safely assume that it’s greater than 40 percent.
By that (under)estimate, that means that every Halloween, at least 560 million pounds of pumpkin are left to (very slowly) rot in the landfill.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we need to deny ourselves Halloween altogether. (And no one’s saying that you shouldn’t make a Jack-o’-lantern!) Halloween is a fantastic time to rethink and revise our everyday assumptions about waste, and to work to make small changes—and when life gives you pumpkins, why not make pumpkin pie?
Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
1. Eat your decorations!
With the widespread annual pumpkin spice trend, you won’t have to look far for a good pumpkin recipe. Whole, uncut pumpkins will stay good for two to three months, while carved fruit will last for a shorter two to three days.
So yes, that means that it’s even possible to eat your carved Jack-o’-lantern. But be careful, a carved pumpkin that has been sitting out is usually unsafe to eat past the 24-hour mark.
If eating your carved gourds appeals to you, plan ahead: lengthen your pumpkin’s life by storing it in the fridge when it’s not on display. Also, leave the stem—it provides valuable nutrients that keep your pumpkin orange longer.
And consider hosting a post-Halloween pumpkin pie party. That way, not only will you be the artsiest one on the block, but also the most popular.
2. Let others enjoy your pumpkin, too.
You can feed your pumpkin to wildlife or repurpose it in your garden as a bird feeder or a planter.
And instead of throwing your pumpkin seeds out, roast them up for a tasty and nutritious snack for you and family or friends.
3. Compost your leftovers.
Not only does composting benefit the earth by keeping your pumpkin’s remains out of the landfill, but it’s also good for your garden—pumpkins make great fertilizer.
However, you’re a city dweller without a proper garden, many local farmer’s markets have composting programs and some even have a pumpkin drop off.
How do you plan on cutting back with your waste this Halloween? Let us know in the comments!
Molly Cornfield is a freelance writer, UCLA environmental science graduate, and aspiring environmental health advocate living in DC. In the past eight years, she’s lived in five different cities in three states and on two continents. Her love for chocolate is second to none.