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Conservationists: Don't Make the Trash Your Pumpkin's Graveyard

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Friday, November 5, 2021   

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Halloween decorations are coming down, but that does not mean your jack-o'-lantern has to be sent to the trash. To help the environment, a conservation group is encouraging Iowans to recycle them instead.

David Mizejewski, naturalist at the National Wildlife Federation, said carved pumpkins usually last a few days before they start to go bad. But you can help wildlife before then by cutting them open and leaving them in your yard for birds and squirrels.

He explained his group usually discourages folks from feeding wild animals, especially mammals, but this is a once-a-year treat.

"It's an OK thing to do, as long as you're not overdoing it or putting out 50 pumpkins in your backyard or bringing them to natural areas and dumping them," Mizejewski explained. "Don't do that; that's actually littering."

In Iowa City, officials say another option is to place the pumpkins into your yellow organics bin before the next pick-up day. For residents not enrolled in curbside service, they can bring their pumpkins, at no cost, to the city's compost facility. The city of Dubuque also has recycling options through its yard-waste collection program.

Mizejewski noted pumpkins are perfect for composting since they are 90% water and break down quickly after they are cut. Before adding to your compost pile, he advised removing the seeds to dry, then leaving them out for birds and small mammals such as chipmunks. Or you can collect the seeds and plant them to grow pumpkins for next season.

"Now, not only is that going to result in you having your own little private pumpkin patch, but the flowers that pumpkins put out, pumpkins are part of the squash family, and they actually can be an important source of nectar and pollen for some of our wild native bees," Mizejewski added.

There is one exception - he said if you've painted your pumpkin or sprayed it with anything to keep animals away, don't offer it to wildlife or put it in a compost bin. In those cases, it's best to just toss it out.


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