Orange is the New Black … For One Week Only

Source: Severn Trent

The pumpkin has become synonymous with the fall season, and the Jack-o-lantern is one of the most iconic symbols of Halloween. The history of the Jack-o-lantern is fascinating, but the iconic pumpkins are quickly forgotten the day after Halloween. The pumpkins themselves disappear from our porches, but where do they ultimately go?

What Once Was Black … Is Now Orange

The answer to where pumpkins go may find its answer in an interesting pattern. The week after Halloween, landfills and garbage centers around the country find themselves turning a new color: rather than the black and white of traditional garbage bags, the centers suddenly turn orange.

Source: Tori Miller/Zero Waste Renfrew

The visual phenomena has led to some interesting research. Pumpkins are more in demand during October than any other time of the year, and the sad fact of the matter is that after Halloween, the majority of them are left to rot in landfills, contributing to the color change.

The Unseen Cost of a Beloved Holiday

In America alone, more than 1 billion pounds of pumpkins are ultimately thrown away. Some of them are thrown away the very day after Halloween, some take a few days longer, but they all contribute to 30.3 million tons of annual food waste in the United States alone.

Source: Michigan State University

This pattern of throwing away pumpkins after Halloween is concerning not just for the pounds of waste that it contributes to our already-overflowing landfills. It’s also concerning for the environment. Pumpkins are organic waste, and as they decompose in landfills, they release methane gas into the air.

The Environmental Impact is Staggering

Carbon dioxide always draws the most amount of attention from the media and corporations when discussing greenhouse gasses. While CO2 is an important gas to pay attention to, methane is a little sneakier when it comes to its impact on the environment, and more devastating.

Source: Swansea Council Recycling Team

Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas, accounting for 16 percent of global emissions. It’s also much scarier in its impact on the environment. Methane traps heat at a rate 28 times more potent than CO2, and though CO2 lasts in the environment longer, methane can do significantly more damage in the short term.

A Practice With an Unlikely Source

With the potential environmental impact so high, the question becomes where the tradition of pumpkin carving came from, and why we continue to do it today. The tradition actually has its source in an interesting place. Not close to home, but in an Irish myth.

Source: David Andrews

The story tells of a man named Stingy Jack, who tricked the Devil in order to get out of paying for a drink. He tricked the devil so many times that when he finally passed away, he wasn’t let into Heaven or hell. Instead, he wandered the afterlife with a carved turnip lit by a coal, which came to be known as the “Jack of the Lantern.”

Americans Took the Story and Ran With It

The story of Stingy Jack was first published in the 19th century, and Irish immigrants took to carving turnips in imitation of the vegetable in the story. When Irishmen started to immigrate to the United States, they brought over the tradition of vegetable carving, but Americans took it and made it their own by turning to the pumpkin.

Source: Instagram @ inessakaagman

The pumpkin is one of the earliest vegetables documented by Europeans as native to America, and it has been associated with the harvest season for centuries. When the Irish brought the tradition of carving vegetables to America, though, the act of carving pumpkins turned the simple pumpkin from a harvest symbol to one specifically for Halloween.

A Potentially Costly Use of Space

Pumpkins take up to 100 days to grow into maturity, meaning that a good deal of the growing year is dedicated to growing enough of the vegetable for Halloween. Some people have wondered if that same farmland might be better suited dedicated to something else, something a little less frivolous.

Source: Instagram @ andelinfamilyfarm

Despite some of the reservations regarding the resources needed for Halloween pumpkins, the tradition persists and has become a staple in American culture. Pumpkin carving is on every internet list of October activities, and contests have even sprang up that add a level of competition to the tradition.

Contests to Add to the Festivities

The contests regarding pumpkins during the fall season are impossible to count. Giant pumpkin growing contests, number of Jack-o-lanterns carved, the most detailed Jack-o-lantern, the list goes on. The competition adds an exciting element to an otherwise generally harmless tradition, and allows for some collaboration with friends and family for the prize.

Source: Instagram @ jols_lou

There have even been pumpkin-carving competitions that have sprung up as exclusively hosted on the internet, rather than local and in person as they have been in the past. This has opened up the tradition for a host of new participants, people who can take a photo of an impressive carving and post it online for potential admiration and accolades.

The Pumpkin Goes Beyond Our Front Porch

The symbol of the pumpkin and the jack-o-lantern have become staples in pop culture as well. Movies with pumpkins on the cover are immediately clocked as Halloween or horror movies, and there are even several movies that have used the icon as an integral plot point.

Source: Instagram @ zzzoya

The cultural impact cannot be ignored when it comes to pumpkins, their carving, and what the mean for Halloween and the fall season. But the environmental impact still stands, and with the planet warming at alarming levels year over year, the question must be posed: what can be done about it?

There’s Ways to Have Our Cake, and Eat It Too

Many environmentalists have suggested that personally composting pumpkins rather than sending them to the landfill may have a friendlier environmental impact, given that they are organic waste. Eating the pumpkins is an option as well, which would keep the vast majority of the vegetable out of the garbage.

Source: Instagram @ suffused_with_grace

Taking care of our planet is becoming more and more of an imperative as the years go on, and the environmental impact of even the smallest activities have to be considered. Carving jack-o-lanterns with your family is a well-beloved tradition, but remember that there are ways to enjoy your time with family, as well as minimize your impact on the planet.

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James Cross

Written by James Cross

James Cross, an enigmatic writer from the historic city of Boston. James' writing delves into mysteries, true crime, and the unexplained, crafting compelling narratives that keep readers and viewers on the edge of their seats. His viral articles, blog posts, and documentary-style videos explore real-life enigmas and unsolved cases, inviting audiences to join the quest for answers. James' ability to turn real mysteries into shareable content has made him a sensation in the world of storytelling.

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