Pumpkins have become a staple symbol of Halloween in Western society. According to finder.com, in 2021, Brits will spend a massive £25.1 million on pumpkins. Although this seems like a exorbitant amount, it is estimated that this is still 15% less than in 2020, when over £29 million was spent.
Jack-o’-lanterns, and decorative pumpkins can be seen everywhere we go at this time of year, with ‘pumpkin picking’ becoming a popular family pursuit, and carving being a creative outlet for many.
10-15 million pumpkins are grown in the UK every year, but as with any product, massive consumption can mean massive amounts of waste left over after pumpkins serve their purpose.
SEPA Waste and Recycling Figures
According to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Scottish household waste in the 2019 calendar year was 2.4 million tonnes – an increase of 17,000 tonnes (1%) from the previous year (total waste, not just pumpkins)*.
In the same year, the Scottish household waste recycling rate was 44.7% (an increase in the amount of household waste being recycled between 2018 and 2019 of 12,000 tonnes). The waste recycled includes waste reused, recycled, or composted.
SEPA indicate that recycling figures appear to have plateaued since 2016.
Halloween Seasonal Waste
In a study conducted in 2020 by environmental charity Hubbub, alongside the Fairyland Trust, it was found that 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste (equivalent of 83m plastic bottles) was created by seasonal outfits at Halloween alone.
In recent years, it has been estimated that more than 8 million pumpkins (the equivalent of 18,000 tonnes of edible pumpkin flesh) will end up in the bin, as many will not eat it.
Research by the stock cube brand Knorr and Hubbub highlighted that about 40% of consumers purchase fresh pumpkins to hollow out and carve, but 60% of them admit they do not use all the pumpkin.
Pumpkin Carving Traditions
According to Countryfile Magazine, the tradition of carving pumpkins started in Ireland in response to a popular folk story about a man who carried a carved-out turnip filled with glowing coal with him in the afterlife.
The custom was taken to America by Irish immigrants, where the idea of the ‘Jack-o’-lantern’ developed and increased in popularity over the years.
The Versatility of Pumpkins
The different parts of pumpkins have various uses that can help to reduce the amount of waste we are creating.
The flesh of the pumpkin (the bit that you scoop out, but not the seeds) can be used for a variety of things –
- Compost – the flesh decomposes quickly.
- Soup – Use the flesh to make a tasty soup (hint – recipe below).
The seeds also have several inventive uses –
- Eat them as a snack – Bake dry seeds with some olive oil and seasoning and they can be eaten as a snack.
- Bird Feed – Bake the dry seeds on their own, and they can be fed to the birds.
The pumpkin leftovers (the outer shell)
Once Halloween festivities are over, the outer shell of the pumpkin can be used in several inventive ways –
- Compost – You can compost the main part of the pumpkin too, as long as you remove any non-biodegradable elements (candles, t-light remnants etc).
- Food for wild animals – Many wild animals appreciate some pumpkin chopped up.
- Bird Feeders – You can use the outer part of the pumpkin as a bird feeder by hanging it up for the birds to eat from (be careful it’s not too heavy).
The true message to take away from this isn’t just about pumpkins. It’s about considering the items that we consume daily and potentially breaking them down into components that we can reuse, recycle, or give a second life to.
Next time you find yourself in a recycling predicament, think of the pumpkins, and whether you can apply the same principles to a different situation.
Advice Direct Scotland ‘s Safety and Sustainability campaign is taking place between the 27th of October and 12th of November 2021.
The campaign aims to demonstrate the small changes and considerations Scottish consumers can make to help climate change, whilst saving money, and making our lives a little bit easier. For more information visit our campaign page.
*Source: SEPA – ‘Scottish Household waste – summary data 2019’ (Available at 2019-household-waste-commentary.pdf (sepa.org.uk))