Here's what to do with your old pumpkins

A dried-up pumpkin, in which a face was carved, stands on a bench. (Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)

If you're ready to discard all of your old pumpkins, jack-o'-lanterns, gourds and squash that you've been using for Halloween and fall decorations, put down the trash bag and keep reading.

Putting them into the trash and hauling them off to the landfill creates more waste in the stream, plus an added expense of trucking, said horticulture agent Dennis Patton with the Johnson County K-State Research and Extension.

"Once in the landfill, they do not break down. Instead, (the pumpkins) generate methane gas," Patton said.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Climate researchers report methane is more than 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 20-year period.

While your kids' pumpkins might not take up too much space, if you combine it with all those on your neighbors' front porches, it adds up in the waste stream.

What should I do with my old pumpkins?

Patton suggested placing your old pumpkins and jack-o'-lanterns in the landscape, like under a bush.

"Freezing and thawing will turn (it) into mush," he said. "Nature will naturally compost and break down. Wildlife can also feed on the decomposing pumpkin."

You could also dig a hole and bury them, letting them compost naturally in the ground. However, watch for sowing any seeds, or you may have pumpkin plants next year.

Patton said you could also add them to a compost pile.

"Composted pumpkins are a good material to add," he said. "(They are quickly) breaking down, creating more compost for the garden."


Can I feed my old pumpkins to animals?

If you have un-carved and untreated pumpkins, Patton said you could donate them to local zoos and wildlife areas, but make sure to call first before dropping them off. 

"Many zoos will take the donation to help feed the animals," he said. "Pumpkins, being orange, are full of nutrients."

Livestock and chickens love pumpkins, too. However, you may need to cut up or break them into pieces for smaller animals.

While the pumpkins may be okay for your livestock, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife does not advise leaving your leftover pumpkins out intentionally for wildlife to eat. 

"Intentionally feeding wildlife in Colorado is illegal and can lead to a rise in human-wildlife-related conflict," CPW officials said. "Feeding wildlife also habituates wildlife to human forces and causes them to congregate, which can lead to the spread of disease. It can also attract predators to a neighborhood."

Carved pumpkins should not be donated because they can be contaminated with wax or paint. They may also be treated with bleach and other materials to prolong life when displayed.

Can I eat my old pumpkins?

Lastly, if the Christmas decorations are starting to appear in your home, there are suggestions for those pumpkins still displayed. Patton said you could cook them and turn the meat into a pie, muffins or another tasty treat.

Experts said you should not cook any pumpkins that have been sitting on your doorstep over Halloween. 

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Editor's note: A previous version of this story did not include the fact that it is illegal in some states to feed wildlife. Check with your local wildlife offices on best practices for discarding pumpkins within your state.