Front porches across America (WHTM) Halloween and the little ghosts and goblins have come and gone. All the candy has been handed out (except for your personal reserve) and the Halloween decorations are coming down so that the Thanksgiving decorations can go up.

Now, what do you do with that pumpkin on the front porch?

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According to, we throw away over 1 billion pounds of pumpkins each year, much of it in the form of retired Jack O’Lanterns. Tossing pumpkins in the garbage may be the easiest way to get rid of them, but many of them will end up in landfills. Sealed underground, with no oxygen reaching them, pumpkins-or any organic waste, for that matter- will not break down properly. Instead of decomposing with the help of aerobic (oxygen-using) bacteria, The organic material gets broken down by anaerobic (non-oxygen-using) bacteria, and in the process releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. (Landfills are one of the largest sources of methane in the United States.)

So what to do instead? What you can do with pumpkins after Halloween depends on what you did to the pumpkin before Halloween. So let’s start with some ideas for recycling uncarved, unpainted, unbleached, plain ol’ intact pumpkins that were just sitting around being decorations.

Eat the pumpkin: Pumpkins are squash, and squash is edible. Assuming your uncarved and intact pumpkin is showing no signs of rot, you can wash it off, cut it in half, scrape out the insides, peel it, cut it up, and bake or boil it until tender. Mashed, cooked pumpkins can be substituted for canned pumpkins. Halloween pumpkins are bred to last long and aren’t as sweet-tasting as other types of pumpkins, but hey, that’s why we’ve invented ingredients. Brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, butter, and ground cinnamon, just to name a few, can all flavor pumpkins.

Eat the seeds: At whatever point you open up your pumpkin and remove the innards, be sure to save the seeds. Clean them off thoroughly, and let dry. You can boil, roast, or bake the seeds (some recipes call for boiling first to soften them, then roast or bake.) The internet has all sorts of ideas on how to season them.

If you don’t want to eat the seeds yourself, you can add them to your bird feeders – after you clean them off, of course. (Do not leave sugared or seasoned seeds out for animals.)

Projects: You can also use pumpkin seeds in craft projects, for kids or adults. (Today’s fun fact-in the 1967 movie Camelot Vanessa Redgrave, playing Guenevere, wore a wedding gown with a veil embroidered with thousands of pumpkin seeds. It’s one of the things that won John Truscott the 1968 Oscar for Best Costume Design.)

Donate your pumpkin: Food pantries can put your pumpkins to good use, as can farms, zoos, and animal rescues.

Feed your woodland friends: You can put your pumpkin out either whole or cut up, and let your local fauna have at it. Squirrels will chew their way in, and if you have deer you might get to see them break it apart with their hooves.

Compost your pumpkin: If you have a compost bin, you can put your pumpkin to work making soil for you. You’ll want to cut it up so it will compost faster, and of course you want to remove the seeds so that your compost bin doesn’t turn into a pumpkin patch. If you don’t have a compost bin you can bury pieces of pumpkin in your garden, where they can decompose and add nutrients for next year’s growing season.

Now, what are your options for a carved Jack O’lantern? When you open up a pumpkin for carving air gets inside, which accelerates the process of decomposition. This means you don’t have as many options for disposing of your pumpkins. You can put them out for animals, and zoos and farms might still be able to use them, but only as long as they aren’t showing any sign of getting moldy. And of course, food banks will have no use for them. So your options basically come down to wildlife food and compost. (Presumably, you saved the seeds for use, as described above.)

What about painted pumpkins? This is a matter of some controversy, mostly because there hasn’t been much research on the matter. Nobody really knows if paint or marker inks really penetrate the outside skin of the pumpkin. Some people say that if you thoroughly wash the outside of the pumpkin, then peel off the skin, it should be ok for other uses. Others feel you should not eat, compost, or feed animals a painted pumpkin. Your call, but if you feel the least bit of unease about reusing a painted pumpkin, it’s probably best to consign it to the trash.

Lastly, there are bleached pumpkins. This one stirs up a lot of controversies every year. The idea is that if you submerge your carved Jack O’lantern into a dilute bleach/water solution the pumpkin will last longer because the bleach kills off bacteria and mold. (The suggested dilutions vary from 1 part bleach to ten parts water to 1 part bleach to 768 parts water.)

This idea has raised a lot of concerns that bleached pumpkins might poison wildlife that eats them. On the other hand, some people point out that sodium hypochlorite, the chemical that bleaches, breaks down to water and table salt when exposed to air and sunlight. On the other other hand the question comes up whether the bleach will break down properly when shut away from air and sun inside a pumpkin. (The problem is there’s no hard data about what actually happens to a pumpkin after it’s bleached. Somewhere out there a scientific experiment is waiting to be performed…)

Once again, it’s your decision what to do. You may – or may not – want to trash bleached pumpkins just to be on the safe side. (As for next year, some websites suggest using a mix of one part vinegar to ten parts water to preserve a pumpkin.)