How to make Halloween more sustainable and environmentally-friendly

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Spooky season now rivals Christmas in the United States when it comes to money, time spent on decorations and waste.

Per Investopedia, Americans spent around $10.14 billion on Halloween in 2021 and are expected to spend $10.6 billion this year. The average person celebrating will spend $100 on decorations, candy and a costume.

In 2020, the United States harvested nearly 66,200 acres worth of pumpkins, producing more than 1.5 billion pounds of usable pumpkins with more than 2 billion produced overall, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

Landfills brimming with pumpkins ‘major issue’ for climate

Aaron Hiday, the compost program coordinator with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) said that while pumpkin waste is a temporary issue that comes when it’s time to dispose of them, Halloween overall is a major issue.

“The climate impact of Halloween goes beyond your organics waste side of it,” Hiday said.

On top of excessive pumpkin, costume packaging and candy wrapper waste, most consumers buy a new costume, or a new pail, versus just recycling items from the previous year, Hiday added.

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America has a food waste problem

Halloween waste is just the tip of the iceberg compared to the amount of food Americans send to landfills on a weekly basis, Hiday said.

Roughly 30% of all landfill waste includes food intended for humans and 40% of all generated food ends up in a landfill. Overcrowded landfills worry experts because food and organic waste increases methane production, which is more potent at warming than carbon dioxide, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

“That’s the higher concern for us,” Hiday said.

Which states grow the most pumpkins?

When it comes to pumpkins, Illinois led the nation with 652 million pounds of pumpkins last year, followed by Indiana with 181 million, and California at 157 million. Michigan ranks fourth in the nation, according to the Michigan Ag Council. The state produced $146 million in pumpkins and squash.

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How to be less wasteful on Halloween and safely preserve pumpkins

This year, consider doing a DIY to an old costume into something new, versus buying a new one. Purchase decorations that are recyclable and not made of cheap materials.

Food safety educator Wade Syers with Michigan State University provided tips for the easiest and safest ways to preserve a pumpkin.

“I recommend freezing pumpkins,” Syers said. “It’s not safe to can pureed pumpkin in any form, so no pumpkin butter, no mashed pumpkin, and of course, no pureed pumpkin.”

The National Center for Home Food Preservation also shares ways how to preserve pumpkins.

Pie pumpkins are typically easier to preserve since jack-o-lantern pumpkins are typically more watery and have a stringy texture.

Pumpkins can be are composted and can be used in the garden or lawn after enough decomposition.

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