Carving Lanterns or Landfills: Experts Worry about Pumpkin Waste This Halloween

The October tradition of pumpkin carving is linked to high levels of food wastage, according to a study which maps out the environmental ramifications of celebrating Halloween.

Research by the food brand Knorr and environmental charity Hubbubb outlines a staggering 18,000 tonnes of pumpkin flesh going to waste, approximately more than 14,000 Big Bens weighed together. “There’s not much use for pumpkins beyond its traditional value, and the flesh almost always finds its way to the garbage disposal,” says Mirah Sohail, 21, mirroring habits of 60% consumers of fresh pumpkins for Halloween.

The ecological concern finds adequate ground against the current pumpkin harvesting rates which have shot up by 35% in the United Kingdom, where almost 10 million pumpkins are grown every year. 95% of these pumpkins are subsequently used for carving lanterns, making Halloween the third-largest commercial holiday. Beyond commercial use, pumpkins have little demand, as those not used are often destined to a fate of natural decay.

Pumpkin flesh contributes to 1.3 billion tonnes or £15bn of food wastage across UK homes, according to Tessa Tricks, the head of food programmes at Hubbub. “It’s all too easy for people to forget that Halloween pumpkins are still food,” she exclaimed in a news release.

Pumpkin flesh feeds into the global food waste system, earmarking a third of human-made greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. Leftover fruits and vegetables rotting in landfills directly add to methane gas emissions, which is one of the leading contributors of global warming.

Jenny Linford, an author of various cookbooks and a member of the Guild of Food Writers, believes festivals like Halloween have become money-spinners. Her concern also draws attention to the alarming condition of a deteriorating environment. “The way the world is going environmentally, we need to try and change our fundamental lifestyle,” she added.

Marion Nestle, a food studies academic at the New York University, outlines potential options to deal with the problem, which include education campaigns to teach people how to cook pumpkins or for cities to develop pumpkin compost programs.

Organisations like Toast Ale, a craft beer producer, are following suit by launching UK’s first commercial beer brewed out of pumpkin flesh, called “Dubble Dubble Toil and Trouble” which goes on sale next month. Toast Ale has also previously fashioned beer out of surplus bread, to assert sustainable means of production. Food enthusiasts are increasingly advocating for innovative ways to use pumpkin leftovers, making delicacies like pies and soups. In exceedingly novel ways, pumpkin waste is also being used to generate electricity to run homes and vehicles.

Observing new traditions of food habits emerge over the years, including the likes of plant-based burgers and vegan alternatives, Marion believes climate consciousness is here to stay. “It seems to me that the responsibility for this is widely shared,” she added.