Pumpkin

Pumpkins can be recycled in your curbside yard waste cart without a bag, even in areas of Ventura County where residents are normally required to bag food scraps. In Thousand Oaks and Santa Paula, where garbage service is provided by Athens Services, residents place all food in yard waste carts without a bag anyway, but in the rest of the county, where curbside collection service is provided by Harrison Industries or WM (formerly Waste Management), neglecting a bag may feel like a violation of the rules.

Normally, most Ventura County homes keep food separate from yard clippings to help our local compost facilities avoid violating permit conditions. Within two years, a site operated by Agromin on the Limoneira Farm, near Santa Paula, is expected to complete requirements preparing the facility to accept and compost food scraps along with yard clippings. In the meantime, too much food in the compost piles could subject the facility to regulatory penalties. However, according to Ventura County Environmental Health Division manager Sean Debley, regulators currently exclude whole and carved pumpkins from being considered food waste.

In the meantime, bags of food collected by companies associated with Harrison Industries are separated from yard clippings at Gold Coast Recycling and Transfer in Ventura, and bags of food collected by the cities of Oxnard and Port Hueneme are pulled from conveyor belts at Del Norte Regional Recycling and Transfer in Oxnard. Bags of food WM collects with yard clippings are pulled and processed by Agromin. In all cases, until a local facility is permitted to handle food, the food, after separation in bags from yard clippings, must then be separated from the bags at the Simi Valley Landfill and trucked out of the county for composting.

It might have been more practical to wait for a local food composting facility to be permitted, but state mandates did not allow for a delay.

California Senate Bill 1383, passed in 2016, required all cities and counties to implement a wide variety of programs to divert organics, including collection of food scraps from homes. The main purpose of the legislation is to reduce climate changing emissions by cutting the amount of rotting material in landfills. Other possible benefits of the resulting composting include recycling of soil nutrients, conservation of water, business development, improvement of agriculture and gardens, and reduction of pesticide and fertilizer pollution.

Since collection, trucking and processing yard clippings and food scraps creates other kinds of pollution, some might opt instead for composting at home. Putting your pumpkin in a backyard composting bin or a worm box also captures the gardening benefits. You can enhance your own soil and benefit your own garden with the resulting compost.

Pumpkins, however, have lots of seeds. Pumpkin seeds in a yard waste cart are not a problem because commercial compost facility operators bring the temperature of compost piles up over 130 degrees for several days, preventing seeds from sprouting in finished compost.

For home composting of pumpkins, you may do better to scoop out the seeds first. You can roast the seeds for a tasty snack, or, if you want pumpkins for next October, dry this year’s seeds and plant them in June and July. It takes 90 to 120 days for most pumpkins to fully mature. In the meantime, as the pumpkins grow, you will have a low-water-using vine, sometimes up to 20 feet long. Each pumpkin plant typically produces two to five pumpkins, so you will likely have plenty to recycle the following year.

Of course, the above pumpkin recycling tips do not apply to you if you are an artisan pumpkin decorator using artificial items banned in official jack-o-lantern contests. Self-adhesive plastic rhinestones, glue-gunned beads, studs and rivets are not welcome in yard waste recycling carts or home compost bins; throw away those extreme creations. No one wants Halloween pumpkin bling contaminating compost for flower beds in spring.

David Goldstein, an Environmental Resource Analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, is available at 805-658-4312 or david.goldstein@ventura.org.