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As jack-o’-lantern candles burn out on Halloween night, experts say it may be more damaging to the environment to toss them into the trash. Instead, they suggest composting or setting them out as a snack for wildlife.Trees.com, a company made up of horticulture experts, arborists and gardeners geared toward providing knowledge and guidance for successful gardening, conducted a survey recently that found 82% of Americans have bought or plan to buy pumpkins this year.One-in-four of those pumpkins, according to the survey, will likely end up in a landfill this year.The issue with throwing away pumpkins, according to Jo Cosgrove, an ecological and horticultural restoration consultant with Trees.com, is that as they decompose, they emit methane.This greenhouse gas, she said, is 80 times stronger than carbon dioxide and has a far more significant impact on global warming.Currently, she said, 16% of methane emissions come from waste in landfills.“Pumpkins that decompose without being digested by some critter or another, or composted properly, produce a staggering amount of methane,” she said.With around 270 million Americans buying at least one pumpkin, and many buying more than 10, anywhere from 164 million to 344 million pumpkins will wind up in landfills come November.Additionally, she said pumpkins need about 16 gallons of water per pumpkin plant, per week.By throwing those pumpkins away, she said, all of the water and fossil fuels used to cultivate the plant essentially go to waste when they could potentially be composted.Composting, according to Cody Rhoden, a small game biologist for the Kentucky Department for Fish and Wildlife, is the recycling of food or other organic waste into fertilizer, which helps provide a range of environmental benefits, including improving soil health, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, recycling nutrients and mitigating the impact of droughts.“Similar to other fruit or organic waste you might generate, cut it up and throwing it in a composter is a good idea, or you can just bury it in small holes in your garden, a few pieces here or there, kind of like composting in the actual ground where you’re going to be working in the future, he said.This is a particularly good idea, he said, if the pumpkin is beginning to rot.If the pumpkin is still in good shape, however, he said it can be cut up and placed in a yard or a bird feeder to feed wildlife.“It’s an organic thing that animals can definitely eat. To my knowledge, there’s no toxicity to any animals that it could hurt or effect,” he said. “It’s a really good idea as a wildlife attractant in some cases. So squirrels might get at these things, and birds might picks at the seeds, so if you have a bird feeder or something like that, or if you have a backyard, you can put it out somewhere and watch and see who comes and visits it.”Additionally, Rhoden said pumpkin seeds are typically hearty and durable and can be harvested to plant pumpkins for next fall.For individuals who may not be able to compost or find better alternatives to tossing pumpkins in the trash, Cosgrove said donating pumpkins to wildlife rescues or simply purchasing smaller pumpkins can also be helpful.“When you buy a pumpkin this year, a small way to do your part is to consider going small if you can’t dispose of it in a responsible way that complicates it’s decomposition. Small pumpkins require less water to produce, and they produce less methane in the landfill and take up less space,” she said.
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