Getting rid of the Jack-O’-Lantern rotting on your stoop after Halloween may be a more complex task than simply stuffing your costumes and plastic skeletons back into the attic. Instead of chucking it in the garbage can with the rest of your trash, consider recycling, upcycling, or responsibly disposing of old Halloween pumpkins and helping the environment while doing so.
1. Leave old pumpkins for local wildlife.
You may have been using it as decoration for the past few weeks, but a Jack-O’-Lantern is still a fruit. Instead of letting it go to waste, set it out for the wildlife in your ecosystem to enjoy. Animals like porcupines, deer, and squirrels all enjoy munching on pumpkins. Just make sure you cut the squash into bite-sized pieces and don’t scatter them too close to your house if you want to avoid attracting hungry animals to your garden.
You can also get crafty and turn the Jack-O’-Lantern into a temporary bird feeder: Just cut the top off the pumpkin, let it dry out, and fill it with seed. Make sure you save and dry the pumpkin seeds, too, as your neighborhood wildlife will enjoy snacking on those as well. No matter how you feed the old pumpkin to your local wildlife, be sure to first check it for mold. Any moldy squash should be tossed in the compost rather than fed to an animal.
2. Donate pumpkins to your local zoo.
Don’t have much wildlife in your backyard? Many zoos, farms, and animal sanctuaries accept pumpkin donations after Halloween. Whole pumpkins are not only a nutritious snack, but they can also be enriching toys for large animals like big cats and bears.
3. Compost pumpkins in your garden.
Pumpkins are biodegradable, which makes them great candidates for composting. Even if you don’t have a dedicated compost pile, you can still dispose of old pumpkins naturally in your home garden. Just dig out space in the soil, add the pumpkin (either whole or chopped into piece to expedite decomposition), and bury it. Unless you want to see pumpkins growing in your garden next year, remove any extra seeds clinging to the inside before sticking it in the ground.
4. Smash it (and let someone else clean it up).
One of the most entertaining ways to dispose of pumpkins also happens to be eco-friendly. If your city or town hosts annual pumpkin smashes, you can get together with people in your community and smash your old Jack-O’-Lanterns into oblivion. When the mayhem winds down, all the pumpkin scraps are collected and composted.
A version of this story originally ran in 2019; it has been updated for 2023.