You’ve done the Monster Mash, now it’s time for the pumpkin smash.
This weekend, nearly 80 sites across the greater Chicago region will be collecting pumpkins for composting, part of a nationwide push to keep food waste out of landfills.
The Department of Energy estimates that of the 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkin produced in the U.S. — the vast majority grown right here in Illinois — only one fifth is processed for pumpkin puree. The rest is used for seasonal decoration, and then tossed in the trash. Mountains of cast-off jack-o’-lanterns wind up in landfills every year, where they release methane gas as they decompose.
The Addison-based nonprofit SCARCE has been leading the pumpkin smash charge locally since 2014, starting with just two sites and growing exponentially.
To date, participants in the annual SCARCE event have collectively composted more than 1,000 tons of pumpkins and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 750 tons of carbon dioxide.
Most sites will be open Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon, but hours vary. A handful of events are set for Friday and Sunday.
Before handing over your pumpkin, make sure to remove any candles and wax, as well as any non-organic detachable embellishments. If you painted your pumpkin, it can’t be composted, unless you used food-based dyes.
While most pumpkin smash sites are simply serving as drop-off points, some are hosting full-blown events.
— The Forest Preserve District of Will County is going all-in on pumpkin smashing at the Plum Creek Nature Center, Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pumpkins will be dropped from an overlook to the ground 40 feet below, or people can pulverize their jack-o’-lanterns with hammers, mallets or other provided tools. The day winds down with s’mores and hot dogs roasted over an open fire. Last year, Plum Creek collected 988 pounds of pumpkins.
— Plant Chicago’s pumpkin smash is taking place in conjunction with the last outdoor farmer’s market of the season in Davis Square Park, Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
— The Gary Comer Youth Center will have music, food for sale and smashing games, and offer tours of its neighboring urban farm, which is where composted pumpkins will wind up as soil amendment. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
To find the pumpkin smash site nearest you, search the maps below.