Carving pumpkins is a long-standing tradition that brings joy and creativity to many families’ fall traditions. Why not make sustainably disposing of them part of the tradition as well?  But before disposing of the pumpkins, try to think of using as much of them as possible before they head to the compost heap.

First Things, First - Pumpkins are Food


It is estimated that the U.S. produced 1.5 billion pounds of usable pumpkins in 2020. Only about a fifth of the pumpkins grown are used for actual food production, leaving a vast majority of them serving only the purpose of Halloween decorations. That is a lot of food that never gets eaten.

Once fall rolls around, pumpkin spice is all the rage.  While we eat and drink pumpkin flavored goodies, rarely do we cook with actual pumpkin, with the obvious exception of pumpkin pie.

However, the flesh of a pumpkin is rich with nutrients and high in fiber.  Pumpkin is easy to incorporate into soups, baked goods, and more.  And don’t forget about baking the pumpkin seeds after scooping out the inside of the pumpkin.  

From Waste to Want

After you’ve utilized the edible parts, you can have an even bigger impact by expanding your new tradition to include composting the left-over pumpkin waste. Look into your local farms and composting programs to see if they have any special Halloween activities surrounding the practice of composting pumpkins.

Having a Smashing Good Time!


To really ramp up your efforts consider hosting a neighborhood pumpkin smash event. Think of any way you might want to smash a pumpkin then turn it into a game for kids (and adults!) to enjoy the festivities. Just make sure there is cleanup at the end and that you know where those smashed pumpkins will end up!  The last thing you want is to have your neighborhood filled with a large pile of pumpkin carcasses. Check with community gardens, have everyone take a bucket worth home to place in their own composter, or see if there is a composting location or wildlife organization that will partner with your neighborhood to take some of the waste.

Lets Start Smashing!


  1. Remove any candles and wax from the pumpkins. Make sure not to include any pumpkins with glitter or paint – everything must be organic.
  2. Bring your pumpkins to an open field or wooded area.  Sunny areas will help speed up the composting process.  
  3. Pick out some hammers or baseball bats or even a strong stick. Have the kids decorate their smashing stick with ribbons, string, or whatever they’d like.
  4. Make sure to use protective goggles and wear clothes that can get messy in case of any splash back.
  5. Now just have fun and smash those pumpkins!!!  But be careful and make sure the fun does not get out of hand – playing with hammers and bats can be dangerous. 
  6. If the waste is not to be hauled away, once the pieces are broken down and spread out, cover them with a layer or two of leaves.
  7. Wait for the pumpkins to decompose.

The fun does not stop with smashing.  It’s important to teach children the value in recycling and composting. Having traditions such as this that emphasize how to reduce food waste and how to help the environment can have a lasting impact on our society. Children who see the issues surrounding food waste early on are in the position to innovate and help solve these types of environmental problems when they grow up.


Learning about nature and how things work is just as important of an outdoor activity for young children as playing on the playground. Understanding how a pumpkin decomposes can enrich your child’s understanding of the lifecycle of plants. Make weekly visits to the pumpkin(s) to observe the decomposition process through note taking, drawing, or taking photos. The kids will be excited to see how the remains of their beloved jack-o-lanterns change over time or to see that their creation helped to feed wildlife. This could even be a Show-and-Tell or science project for school.

Sustainably disposing of pumpkins could be a great family tradition to add to your Halloween with significant benefits for the environment. So, carve those jack-o-lanterns, make some great meals with those pumpkin parts, then smash your pumpkins for the environment.