Halloween: The Festival of Food Waste

It is estimated that in the UK  up to four million pumpkins are brought to  carve and display over  Halloween with the  edible flesh of these pumpkins being discarded as waste and ending up with  most of the lanterns in landfill. This produces  an additional  18,000 tons of landfill waste directly attributable to  the Halloween festivities. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture 1.91 billion pounds of pumpkins where grown in the U.S. in 2014 most of which, as in the UK, where used for carving and then thrown away ,

 Much of this waste is due to people being unaware of the versatility of pumpkin flesh as a food or not realising that the fresh discarded when carving the pumpkin can be eaten. On this basis, farmers are growing acres of food just for it to be thrown away

While the most common variety for pumpkin grown for Halloween carving in the USA  (the Howden) may not provide as much flavour as varieties grown specifically for eating but still make tasty soups and pies. There are a large number of very tasty squashes and pumpkins suitable for home and allotment growing that can be used to carve different shaped lanterns these  all have flesh high in fibre and beta-carotene that should not be wasted.

To help reduce this waste and  save money Love Food Hate Waste (http://ni.lovefoodhatewaste.com/node/4172)  publishes  a range of pumpkin recipes such as   Gnocchi in Pumpkin and Chilli Sauce, Pumpkin & Butter Bean Broth, Pumpkin ravioli, Pumpkin Tart, Roasted Pumpkin, Roast Pumpkin Lasagne  and Coriander Soup.  Pumpkin  seeds,  when toasted or baked,  can be rich in potassium and protein.  The fresh  of giant pumpkins grown for Biggest Pumpkin Competitions is  also edible but tends to be  coarser and have less flavour than pumpkins grown specifically to eat but they can still be in pies, soups, and used in recipes as an alternative for squash.


In recent years, the environmental charity, Hubbub, has organised Pumpkin rescue events increase awareness of pumpkins as a food and a composting resources rather than just Halloween decorations. . The Pumpkin Rescue may include:

Pumpkin Parties, Cookery sessions, Composting sessions:  Compost drop-off and collection points

For more information go to:

http://www.wiseuptowaste.org.uk/waste-less/food-waste/pumpkin-rescue-festival,    http://www.hubbub.org.uk/





Composting Pumpkins

As composters, we can at least deal with the remains of lanterns at home or in schools, and pumpkins grown for allotment and village Biggest Pumpkin competitions, as part of our efforts to reduce waste sent to landfill.  In composting terms, Pumpkins are classified as Greens, being high in nitrogen, and will rot down to produce compost in six to nine months

Before starting to compost pumpkins used as lanterns all items used decorate the lantern should be removed e.g. candles, wax, aluminium foil etc.  If a cold composting technique is to be used remove any remaining seeds from the pumpkin otherwise they may germinate in the bin or when the compost is used.  If  the  Pumpkin has been  treated  with a preservative  to prolong its use as  a lantern those parts that have been treated should  not be composted..

 The larger the surface area exposed during composting to the composting microorganisms the more quickly it will be composted so the normal advice is to smash or cut the pumpkin into small pieces. Some sources suggest that smashing a pumpkin with a hammer is part of the fun for children   http://earth911.com/home-garden/putting-jack-to-work-how-to-wickedly-compost-pumpkins/  and it is true that this can be a way to encourage children to participate.  I prefer to use the back of a spade to a hammer as it is quicker, easier and produces more of an easily composted “mush”.

The remains of the pumpkin are added to the compost bin. One suggestion is that  pumpkin is mixed with dried coffee grounds before being added to the bin. The pumpkin should be covered with a layer of browns, such as shredded paper or cardboard, to maintain the Greens/Browns balance and to discourage flies and other pests.


  • Giant pumpkins can be smashed and froozen for composting as required

    Giant pumpkin

  • Carved pumpkins and those that rot before harvesting can still be composted.
    Candles and decorations should be removed

  • Let the smashing begin.
    It is easier if they have been kept in the warm and started to rot

Composting Pumpkins in a Wormery

 Pumpkins can also be composted in a wormery and are given by some sources as one of the favourite worm foods. The worms prefer their pumpkin soft and in small pieces. Therefore, after smashing the pumpkin if any large pieces have survived the smashing should be   chopped using a kitchen knife.

 As one of the main causes of worm death in a wormery is overfeeding, the amount of pumpkin given to the worms should be rationed, with the pumpkin being divided between that which will be used immediately, that being used within a week, which can be stored in   the fridge while the rest is frozen. Freezing not only helps avoiding overfeeding the worms, provides a stock of suitable food for the winter months it also softens the pumpkin making it easier for the worms to eat. I


Rotting pumpkins from the garden can also be composted in bin or wormery. Smashing these would cause a mess so I would suggest that they are cut into segments, using a spade, and added to the bin. These will take longer to decompose than smashed pumpkin. In a wormery, the worms will take longer to eat them but if you check after a day or two you will find the worms busy snacking away underneath the pieces

After adding pumpkin to the wormery cover with a layer of bedding, shredded paper or cardboard. 

  • This size is fine for the compost bin a little smaller is better for wormeries

  • Pumpkin shared between three wormeries

  • Paper added to cover the pumpkin in the wormeries

Bokashi Composting Pumpkin

 For general information on Bokashi Bokashi bins

Waste pumpkins can be fermented in a Bokashi kitchen composter.

 Bokashi  composting can deal with all including cooked and raw  meat scraps, cooked pasta vegetables and  other leftovers  including pumpkins. However if dealing with a whole pumpkin the technique imay be best completed succesfully if the Bokashi bran is measured using a spoon.


After smashing the pumpkin, the pieces/pump are added to the Bokashi bin in the normal way with a tablespoon of Bokashi Bran per inch layer of pumpkin. Squash down the pumpkin waste as with any other food to remove any pockets of air.  Replacing the lid to seal the container. Once the  bucket is full, ensure that the lid is fitted correctly and leave it for ten to fourteen  days. Drain off the liquid every other day.  

It will normally take two people about a 30 - 45 days to fill a  bin. However at Halloween a good size pumpkin can fill a normal Bokashi bin.

Garden Mini-Windrows

 If you do not have a wormery, Boskashi, a compost bin or heap but do have a garden, it is still possible to compost pumpkin. Dig a shallow pumpkin grave in a shady part or the garden, make a bed of vegetable leaves, peelings and other compostable materials,  place the smashed pumpkin on this bed. Cover it with soil or compostable materials such wood chip, sawdust or leaves.  This is a variation on the traditional trench composting technique. Some sources suggest including fallen autumn leaves in the bed upon which the remains of the pumpkin are tipped. However if  the covered  compost trench  is to used next year to grow more pumpkins or other vegetables this can be counterproductive as some leaves contain  growth inhibitors that will that will inhibit the growth of pumpkins and other plants or be of the wrong pH. I would avoid using leaves if possible turn them to leaf mould.

 A variation on this technique is to put the pumpkins in an old dustbin, smash it using a shovel, and then add leaves to the container mixing well before spreading in a depression in the ground. Using this technique, you can build a garden mini-windrow adding alternate layers of hay, leaves and uncooked vegetable food waste together with cardboard and other compostable material. The pile is then   soaked with water. The windrow is then covered with a black polythene sheet or tarpaulin and left to decompose. More information on this technique at http://www.redwormcomposting.com/winter-composting/winter-worm-windrow-11-29-10/


Collection by Councils and charities.


Some Councils will collect pumpkins as part of the normal “yard waste” or food waste collection others will make special arrangements such as  providing drop off sites for pumpkin disposal  after Halloween.  If you cannot eat and compost your pumpkin check the situation in your area.

As for home composting the decorations should be removed. If a drop off point is being used the whole (not smashed)  pumpkin or lantern should taken for collection