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Dear Wally,

Happy autumn! We scaled back on our Halloween decorations this year, reusing our spooky stuff from last year, but couldn’t resist the fun of carving jack o’ lanterns. We enjoy roasted pumpkin seeds for snacks so those don’t go to waste, but I feel bad throwing out the pumpkin when the holiday is over.  I know we can’t eat it, but are there any ways to keep it out of the trash?

Signed,

Your Pepita Pal

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Dear Pepita Pal,

Reusing holiday decorations makes Wally very happy! Pumpkins are a renewable and recyclable resource, and making the most of those delicious and nutritious seeds, you can feel good about your choice for festive and fun decorations. While they do create a bit of a conundrum for disposal, because they create a lot of food waste (organic matter) in your trash, there are a few things you could do to avoid adding this extra waste to the landfill:

  1. Feed animals – if the pumpkin is free from wax, decorations and anything artificial, you could feed it to farm animals.
  2. Compost it – if you have a backyard compost system, cut the pumpkin into smaller pieces and work it into your compost bin. If you don’t compost yet, now is a perfect opportunity to achieve your #YardGoals and start a compost pile. Wally will be featured in a new video to show you how, so stay tuned!
  3. Yard waste – add it to your yard waste container. Although the curbside yard waste program is not able to handle all our food scraps yet, exceptions are made each year for undecorated pumpkins and jack o’ lanterns (no paint, wax, glitter, stickers, etc.).

Unfortunately, if it has been decorated with anything inorganic, the pumpkin will have to go in the trash. Keep that in mind as you look ahead to the rest of the holiday season; choices you make for your holiday tree can also make the difference between it being recyclable, or being trash.  Fake snow, also known as flocking, will prevent a tree from being recycled/composted – even if it’s “organic” it will be rejected from the recycler.

Holidays can also lead to more food waste, and no one can afford to waste food these days!  There is a tendency to over-prepare feasts for guests, and celebrations should be small this year which may create more challenges to keep food waste under control. Use a food calculator like those found here to plan meals and shopping lists.  

Remember that imperfect food can be perfectly healthy and tasty. Save stale bread and limp celery to use in stuffing. Think about using all parts of the food, like making mashed potatoes with skins on for extra fiber and flavor.

If you do end up with too many leftovers, the freezer is your friend. Save portions for future quick meals, or to use in soups, frittatas and burritos.  Check online for creative recipes to use up leftovers and random ingredients.

You can also donate food to those in need. Thanks to the Good Samaritan Act of California businesses, restaurants and good faith donors can donate edible food to local food banks, nonprofit organizations, or directly to individuals without liability.  Although celebrations should be limited to immediate household members for safety, sharing holiday food with neighbors who may be missing their families could bring them a little cheer during this difficult year.  

Wishing you a happy and waste-free holiday season!

Yours truly,

Wally WasteNot