6 Clever Ways to Recycle Your Halloween Pumpkins

Wondering what to do with pumpkins after October? Don't let your jack-o'-lanterns go to waste. Try these recycling ideas.

Once all the parties and trick-or-treating festivities are over, and it's time to change your decor for the next holiday, you may be wondering what to do with all your Halloween pumpkins. Every year, thousands of pumpkins get tossed in the trash and end up in landfills.

But there are plenty of ways to recycle your Halloween pumpkins. Instead of piling them up for trash day, try our eco-friendly ideas for repurposing, reusing, or recycling your gourds post-October. Even those jack-o'-lanterns that are looking a little shriveled and sunken can be useful—here are our editor-approved ways to recycle your Halloween pumpkins.

Sara's Silky Pumpkin Pie
Peter Frank Edwards

1. You Can Eat Most Pumpkins

Of course, you can always bring any clean, uncarved pumpkins to the kitchen to eat yourself! Toasted pumpkin seeds make a healthy snack, and you can use fresh pumpkin puree in any recipe that calls for the canned version. You'll need to do a little conversion to use fresh pumpkin: A six-pound carving pumpkin will give you approximately 2 ¾ cups of puree—a little more than the standard 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree. Some varieties like Jarrahdale, Hubbard, and Pie pumpkins are grown specifically for eating, so they have naturally sweet, smooth flesh and may give you more puree per pound of pumpkin. But you can also doctor up other pumpkin varieties to use in sweet or savory pumpkin recipes. We'd recommend only eating the ones you've kept inside your house, though, where they've been safe from insects and other critters.

2. Pass Along Your Pumpkins

Don't want to deal with the pumpkins yourself? No worries—there are plenty of places that may take them off your hands. See if you can donate them to zoos, animal shelters, farms, or community gardens. They'll be grateful for the compost material or animal snacks. Look local; some towns do a pumpkin collection drive after Halloween, and some farms put out calls for local pumpkin donations. Organizations like SCARCE and Pumpkins for the People also have drop-off sites where you can take your old pumpkins, and they'll compost them to keep them out of landfills.

3. Feed the Birds

Attract feathered friends to your yard by turning your Halloween pumpkin into a bird feeder. Just cut a pumpkin in half horizontally, empty the cavity, and fill it with birdseed. Either leave it out, as is, or hang it from a tree with several lengths of thick twine or rope wrapped under the base.

You can also add the pumpkin seeds to your regular birdseed. Rinse and dry the seeds before mixing them in. Don't flavor or salt the seeds; the birds will eat them as is.

4. Create Compost

Pumpkins make a great addition to your compost pile! Because they're mostly water, they decompose quickly, but it'll go even faster if you break them apart first. Turn pumpkin smashing into a fun family activity—you probably won't have to look far to find willing participants.

Pumpkin composting is pretty simple. Just remember to remove the seeds first, so your gourds don't root in the pile. If you'd like, you can save the seeds to try your hand at growing your own pumpkins next year. Just rinse the pulp away from the seeds and allow them to dry. Store them in an envelope in a cool, dry place until you're ready to plant.

Pile of pumpkins in pumpkin patch
Matthew Benson

5. Play With Your Pumpkins

Even when Halloween's over, you can keep the festivities going strong with fun activities using your leftover pumpkins. Try pumpkin bowling by filling plastic bottles with water and setting them up in a 10-pin triangle. Take turns rolling your pumpkin bowling-ball-style to see who can knock down the most bottles. Or, look for a pumpkin chucking catapult event in your area for a chance to send yours flying through the air.

6. Feed the Wildlife

Your old Halloween pumpkin also makes the perfect snack for neighborhood wildlife, which you may have already noticed, especially if you have resident squirrels. Once you're done displaying your pumpkins, cut them up into fourths and place pieces around your yard. Deer, rabbits, and other creatures will make short work of them.

Editor's Tip: Don't give animals any painted pumpkins (and skip them for your pumpkin recipes), as the paint can be toxic if ingested.

With so many different ways to use leftover pumpkins, you can keep your decorations from ending up in the trash. Of course, if you want Halloween decorations you can reuse each year, you can always embellish or carve a craft pumpkin that you can store and put on display each year. Then, instead of composting or donating them, you can tuck them away until Halloween rolls around again.

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