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Composting your jack-o’-lantern keeps waste out of landfills, nourishes soil

The days after Halloween are when carved pumpkins really get scary, rotting on your porch and begging to be disposed of.

But instead of tossing them in the trash, consider composting – either in your own pile or by dropping it off at a collection site.

Pumpkin dump collected for composting at Michigan State University in 2019.

Pumpkin dump collected for composting at Michigan State University in 2019. (Courtesy of MSU.)

Michigan produces 79 million pounds of pumpkins each year, ranking fourth in the nation. A lot of these pumpkins are carved to become jack-o’- lanterns as part of Halloween celebrations. Composing them helps reduce the amount of waste in landfills and helps nourish soil, notes Aaron Hiday, statewide composting coordinator in the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

Michigan State University’s Surplus Store and Recycling Center has served as a pumpkin collection site since 2019, says Sean Barton, its operations supervisor. Last year, the “Pumpkin Plop” operation collected 9,700 pounds of pumpkins. The pumpkins are then hot composted and used in MSU’s raised bed project at its vermicomposting (worm-assisted composting) operation. Plans this year call for composting the pumpkins and the selling the compost back to customers of the Surplus Store to grow their own pumpkins. “Pumpkin-cycling,” Barton calls it.

MSU’s Pumpkin Plop will be held this year through Nov. 13. Look for specially marked containers at the recycling drop-off center, where they are accepting whole or carved jack-o’-lanterns.

Far from MSU or don't have a compost bin? Check with your local recycler or municipality for drop-off locations for yard waste to see if they accept pumpkins. The Michigan Recycling Directory website lists locations that take food scraps. (Just type " food scraps" into the field where it says, "What are you looking to recycle?" Before taking your jack-o'-lantern there, be sure to verify with the location that they accept food scraps.)

The handy Home Composting: Reap a Heap of Benefits info sheet provides more information. 

Hiday provides more tips on how to compost in this EGLE video.

To learn more about composting, visit To learn more about food recovery, visit