Back up, Jack-o-lantern! Recycling website discourages pumpkin carving


Zoe Haworth

Back up, Jack-o-lantern! Recycling website discourages pumpkin carving

By Arts & Culture Reporter

Pumpkin carving is a favorite family pastime dating back hundreds of years, but it could be wasteful, according to Recycle by City Chicago, an organization that spreads recycling awareness.

An Oct. 14 post on the organization’s website the beloved activity wastes what could be used as food. 

Tracy Bugh, founder and creative director of Recycle by City, said the post was not made to pass judgment on pumpkin carvers but to encourage people to think about the waste created by using a pumpkin as decoration instead of food. 

“[Refraining from carving pumpkins is] not going to be for everyone,” Bugh said. “Having people think about food waste is a good thing, even if they go out and carve their pumpkin.” 

Carving has been a Halloween staple since the 1840s, according to an Oct. 31, 2005, BBC News article. Pumpkins and other gourds were also used as lanterns and containers by the Maori people of New Zealand about 700 years ago, according to an Oct. 20, 2015, Irish Central article. 

Because pumpkin carving has such a rich history, it holds broad-based significance. From contests to BuzzFeed posts dedicated to creative pumpkin designs, the interest has become a mainstay of the fall season experience.

Freshman cinema art + science major Vicente Gallegos said he carves pumpkins every year as a way of creative expression.

“I’m not the greatest artist,” Gallegos said. “Carving pumpkins gives me the freedom to draw terribly without people [judging me] too much.”

The pumpkin business is also a huge industry, with more than $7 billion worth of pumpkins produced in 2013. Tom Seltes, co-owner of Sonny Acres Farm in West Chicago, said he generally sells out of pumpkins every year and even has to buy outside pumpkins to continue selling.

But even carved pumpkins do not have to go to waste because they can be composted or fed to wildlife after they have served their holiday purpose, Seltes said. 

“Pumpkins are the ultimate recycler,” he said. “They go right back to the earth.” 

About 40 percent of food grown in the U.S. is wasted annually, according to Recycle by City. However, Seltes said an “overwhelming majority” of pumpkins are not grown for use as jack-o-lanterns but are instead processed as food.

Composting pumpkins is a better alternative to simply throwing them out, Bugh said, but ideally, people should not carve them. Recycle by City offered alternatives including making designs with tape or yarn to allow later use. When properly handled, pumpkins stay good up to three months.

Bugh said she does not expect to change anyone’s minds instantly with her post, but she is constantly working toward improving her own carbon footprint.

“[Being eco-friendly is] always a growing thing,” she said. “It’s not like I’ve suddenly flipped a switch.”

Gallegos said he minimizes waste by cooking the seeds of his pumpkins and had considered making pumpkin pie from the remaining flesh.

“You can definitely use all the parts of [a pumpkin] as either food or decoration,” Gallegos said.

Bugh said helping the environment is an effort that individuals must make and if people stop buying pumpkins, farmers will stop growing them.

“I won’t be carving my pumpkin,” Bugh said. “We vote with our dollars. Be the change you want to see.”