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Halloween is a time for playful frights. But a few days later, there’s another chilling sight: people’s garbage bins overflowing with pumpkins.

Kay McKeen directs SCARCE, an environmental nonprofit based near Chicago. She says when a pumpkin, or any food, rots in a landfill, it releases a potent global warming gas called methane.

So she wants to help people compost their jack-o’-lanterns instead.

In 2014, her group held its first pumpkin smash, an event where people hurl their old pumpkins into a dumpster, which is then hauled to a composting facility. 

“People loved throwing their pumpkins in. They loved smashing them,” she says. “Who doesn’t like to smash a pumpkin?”

The idea spread. McKeen’s group now tracks about 50 pumpkin smashes in Illinois and beyond.

Many have gotten creative. At some events, people smash the pumpkins with baseball bats. At others, they shoot the pumpkins out of a catapult.

In 2020, those events helped keep more than 150 tons of pumpkins out of landfills.

McKeen says they’re a fun way for people to learn about composting and reducing waste.

“And I think then people say to themselves, ‘Wow, that wasn’t hard. … What else can I do to reduce my carbon footprint?’”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media